The detachment of the military from civil society is a real problem. In fact, it was the initial impetus for this blog. I’ve always tried to help non-military readers understand the service. I usually try to stay away from jargon and frame the discussion so that civilians can grasp what the issues are. How successful I’ve been is debatable.
I haven’t really digested this article, part one of a three part series. The author raises some valid concerns with our all volunteer force.
For nearly 40 years, these volunteers have defended the United States’ national interests, and over time they have changed the nation’s approach to warfare, foreign policy, domestic politics and even national character. Most often, these affects appear to be subtle, like the growing distance between the military and the civilian population, or the percentage of Americans who have relatives in the services. Still, the consequences have been profound, making it easier for the U.S. to go to war with little public scrutiny.
I think the author is largely correct that the All Volunteer Force has changed our approach to war and foreign policy to some degree. But a bit further down, he says:
Vietnam is a vivid example of an administration hitting the brakes. In 1968, the draft focused public attention on the war. Protests shook the nation. Young people publicly burned their draft cards, and in a stunning about-face in domestic politics, President Lyndon Johnson declined to seek a second term in office.
I think we need to be very careful making to direct a comparison between Iraq and Vietnam. While there is some separation between civil society and the military community today, the big difference between Vietnam and Iraq in terms of public perception is not solely attributable to that. There is an enormous difference in the rate of casualties, and let’s be honest, casualties are the most likely cause for public disaffection with a military venture. By 1968, there were half a million US troops in Vietnam, and they were suffering about 1000 killed per month (very roughly). In Iraq, and Afghanistan, the total number of troops deployed was about one fifth of that, but the casualties are at a much lower rate.
I strongly suspect that if we deployed the same size force, and suffered the same rate of casualties, public support for Iraq and Afghanistan would suffer much the same fate as in the war in Vietnam, whether that force was volunteer or draftee.