As another Memorial Day recedes in the rearview mirror, the carnage continues in Iraq, and the American public — though it has come to disapprove of the four-year-old conflict — remains quietly disengaged.
A large part of the blame for this goes to the advent of the all-volunteer military, which allows most people, unless they have a friend or loved one in harm’s way, to view the war as something abstract and remote, and to be mostly inured to the steady drip of bloodshed on all sides.
As Andrew Bacevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University, wrote in a recent op-ed in the Boston Globe, “ ‘We’ have forfeited any say in where ‘they’ get sent to fight. When it came to invading Iraq, President Bush paid little attention to what voters of the First District of Massachusetts or the 50th District of California thought. The people had long since forfeited any ownership of the army. Even today, although a clear majority of Americans want the Iraq war shut down, their opposition counts for next to nothing: the will of the commander-in-chief prevails.”
At the same time, Bacevich wrote, “If ‘they’ — the soldiers we contract to defend us — get in trouble, ‘we’ feel little or no obligation to bail them out. All Americans support the troops, yet support does not imply sacrifice. Yellow-ribbon decals displayed on the back of gas-guzzlers will suffice, thank you.”
For those who grew up during the Vietnam War, and perhaps other conflicts, the prospect of being drafted carried a distinct sense of anxiety. Yet disconnecting the sentiment of the American people and the exercise of military power seems even worse.
Beyond a small group of protesters who gathered last Friday outside US Senator Jack Reed’s Providence office — and who talked of continuing to do so weekly — the war in Iraq remains a distant thought for most.
The troublesome news from Iraq is unrelenting, as evidenced by a headline on a New York Times’ story published Tuesday on the front page of the ProJo: “After four years, soldiers are having their doubts; Those who believed during prior deployments that progress was possible now worry that they are training their own attackers.”
While the Bush administration warns of how Iraq has become a base of terrorist activities, this is a problem mostly of our own making.
Meanwhile, with more Rhode Island troops about to be deployed abroad, and with reports that the White House plans to draw back the US troop presence in Iraq next year, the outlook remains uncertain at best.
Looking forward, Bacevich wrote, “The truth is that the sinews of military power lie among the people, who legitimate war and sustain it. For the United States to remain a great military power will require a genuine reconciliation of the military and American society. But this implies the people exercising a greater say in deciding when and where American soldiers fight. And it also implies reviving the tradition of the citizen-soldier so that all share in the burden of national defense.”
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