25 July 2007

Their War--My War

The Washington Post published (I'm shocked) an excellent article on the disconnect between the American warrior class and the mass of the (largely unarmed) public.

I'm going to cherry-pick a little. Overall, it friggin' rocks.

"Infantrymen, on the other hand, learn that the military's basic job is to break the enemy's will by killing him, or threatening to. Looking at their training from the inside, infantrymen conclude that their job hasn't fundamentally changed since the days when naked men threw spears at one another to protect their families. It's an ancient role, and they're proud of it."

It's hardly infantrymen alone, though their job has changed least. At the basic level, Soldiers are killers, regardless of how you dress it up in fancy words. The difference between a Soldier and a bandit is in intent and restraint. We kill those who deserve it, bandits prey on the weak regardless.

"But these days, that part of the job apparently makes America's civilians uneasy. World War II headlines celebrated accomplished military killers and called them heroes. Second Lt. Audie Murphy mowed down dozens of attacking German soldiers, won the Medal of Honor and went on to become a movie star. Today, U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan who win medals for successfully doing their jobs while obeying the laws of war might get local coverage. But the brightest national spotlight is reserved for killers who are war criminals, such as the alleged perpetrators of the Haditha massacre, or heroes who are victims, such as prisoners of war. American civilians no longer seem comfortable labeling a soldier as both a killer and a hero.

"In fact, they're not particularly comfortable with the military in general. "

Yeah, ain't that the truth. You know who actually is tracking on what the Armed Forces are for? Little boys. About 12 or younger, they generally will ask, first thing, a Soldier returning from Iraq, "Did you kill anyone?" They understand why we are. The rest of the country does their best to ignore it. God forbid you actually admit that you really do enjoy that part of the job.

Part of it is the politically-correct pacifistic twaddle where no one is ever judged on a moral basis. Because for killing to be heroic, for it to be morally just, it requires a determinate of who is just and unjust. And that requires judgment between right and wrong, with no mealy-mouthed phrases making both sides in a conflict somehow equivalent.

Part of it is that American society has become removed from death. They experience massive quantities of cinematic "death" substitute, while removing themselves further and further from the reality of death.

Anyway, I meander.

"The military is at war, but the country is not," warns University of Maryland sociologist David Segal. "And the military resents that."

Well, you know, that's only half true.

I do resent hypersensitive civilians whining about how awful the war is when they aren't actually at war by any definition I can comprehend.

"When recruiters began approaching the teenage sons of Montgomery County peace activist Pat Elder, he turned his energies to counter-recruiting. He and a few other parents were upset that recruiters had free access to students during lunch period at Walt Whitman High School. They
succeeded in restricting recruiters' visits to the guidance office, where interested students now must make an appointment."

Yeah, but if we recruit black kids, then we are racist. And if we recruit from lower-income demographics, we are "taking advantage" of the poor. Never mind that the Army has a 98% high school graduation rate, 14% better than the general population. And never mind that the really poor and uneducated generally can't handle the training.

"But in the past 30 years, the officer corps has undergone a revolution. In the most recent comprehensive study, conducted in the late 1990s by the Triangle Institute for Security Studies, Republican officers outnumbered Democrats 8 to 1. In 2006, only 16 percent of Army Times active-duty readers, who are mostly senior in rank, declared themselves Democrats."

Let me throw out a semi-random guess that should someone bother to break the studies out by officer/NCO/lower enlisted, the NCO Corps would pretty much look like the officer corps, at least politically.

"There's clearly some self-selection going on, too, because nearly half of all Army recruits are following in the footsteps of a parent who has served. We seem to be creating an American warrior class."

If the idea of a hereditary warrior class doesn't concern you greatly, you're not familiar enough with history to be permitted in an adult conversation regarding politics. Of course, the only way to change that trend would be for some rich liberal bastards to join my beloved Army. I'll enjoy that way more than some of you might guess.

"But Segal worries that the military's low visibility in American society is leading to estrangement. 'People say they support the troops, but I don't know how long one can sustain that if one doesn't know what a soldier is.'"

Given the lack of Soldiers in most communities, this is probably not going to change any time soon.

"In a nation of more than 300 million people, less than 1 percent serve in all the armed forces combined, active duty and reserve. Compare that to previous wartimes: 4 percent served during Vietnam, 12 percent during World War II, 11 percent during the Civil War. "

No kidding. I've said that before.

"Faculty and student leaders argued that ROTC was an academically limited program that shut
down discussion instead of broadening the free and open exchange of ideas. In 1969, the Yale faculty voted to stop giving academic credit for military science courses, which are taught by the military officers who run ROTC and are open to any student, not only cadets. In response, the military closed down the Yale ROTC programs. The same thing happened at many leading schools nationwide."

Then they wonder why your average Soldier has no use for liberal idiots who don't understand what they are talking about when it comes to things military.

"The consequences appear to be suspicion and stereotyping. Those Triangle Institute for Security Studies surveys reveal that only 1 percent of military leaders think civilian leaders are very knowledgeable about the military. More than one-third of civilian leaders believe the military is dishonest, and fewer than half believe it's attracting high-quality recruits."

The second statistic explains the first.

"Today, only a very few of our top leaders have a family member in harm's way. The faces of the children of America's policy and opinion makers are missing from the mirror our military holds up to us. When they join the military, it makes news, not a difference."

No kidding. The Bush twins probably wouldn't be worth a damn as privates, and Chelsea wouldn't last 20 seconds in boot camp. But I'm sure that someone in Congress has offspring who might be worth having my unit. But here's my question--what's in it for them? Very few people join the Army for basically sociological reasons. I mean, why would rich snots put themselves through the difficulty of military service in the hopes that it would reverse a trend over 50 years in the making? I have a hard time believing this would ever happen. And coercing it--a draft--would be as catastrophic a policy as possible.

"It disconnects the people from the kind of commitment and sacrifice that goes into this. You ask the question, so what? So what is: You then raise another generation of Americans thinking they have no obligations, thinking they have no responsibilities, thinking that they're born into this world as an American so we'll pay these kids over here to go join the armed forces. That's the real danger here. Service. Citizenship. What is the responsibility of a citizen?"

Damn good question. I don't have an answer anymore. It's no longer a given that a person will defend his family and home, much less his nation.

One final note:

"That's patriotism," Close says. He acknowledges that outsiders, those who haven't lived this iconic moment, can hear about casualties and feel sad and make the connection between the policy decision and the end state. "But the families give up the one they love for their country. It's the families, the way of life. If you don't serve, you don't understand."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't asked how you feel about killing because I haven't seen the elephant; however, at least some of us sillyvillains do know what a soldier's job is, amd we're proud of you.

5:19 PM  
Anonymous Karl Gallagher said...

what's in it for them?

Back a century ago military service was proof that someone was of high enough moral character to be trusted with political power. Heinlein's Starship Troops was just trying to expand that from the office-holders to the voters. Now there's a lot of people who only want certified brainpower--Yale-certified ideally--in their Presidents and don't care about character.

Scares heck out of me, actually.

7:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the "He can't be President....nobody I know voted for Nixon" argument. There oughta be a good latin phrase to describe this, but it escapes me.

It boils down to the fact that "SOME Americans don't understand the military...others have an education." While media cannot replace reality, an education does count for something.

What the WaPo write has said is that he is either uneducated or just stupid. The effect is the same...s/he really has nothing valid to say on the matter.

8:11 PM  
Anonymous J_O_A said...

hey Sapper,

You should go more into the dangers to a democracy / republic of having a hereditary military class.

9:32 PM  
Blogger A Soldier's Girl said...


It boils down to the fact that "SOME Americans don't understand the military...others have an education." While media cannot replace reality, an education does count for something.

It counts for what when the world goes pear-shaped? When it comes down to it, looking at pretty plates in history books doesn't mean that you understand the military or you understand what motivates us.

I'm not sure if you're in, were in, or know anyone who's in, but the writer of the article is dead on in a lot of respects.

The culture is divorced from death, from the military and one of these days, it's gonna come back to bite the Ivy League in the ass.

11:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You should go more into the dangers to a democracy / republic of having a hereditary military class."

That's easy...

Eventually the civilian powers that be come up with a no-brainer idea--maybe even something that really should be done--tell the military class to go do it and the military class says "Fuck you, we're starting our own country."

At which point, the pacifistic bunch get to learn warfare the hard way.

Alternatively, the shifting of practical, applied power into one small group then not connecting with them to make them feel like part of the family sets up the potential for the small group to decide it knows what's good for everyone else...

That second one isn't the most likely, at least anytime soon. Still, give it several generations and you'll have the dichotomy between Samurai and population all over again...

That said, I think the greatest differences between a lot of college-aged students and soldiers are twofold: 1. The perception that not being an individual and "special" is a demonstration of weakness. 2. The belief that everyone is essentially nice at heart and misunderstood... or they are sick and need help.

Most college students I encounter have either a heady degree of narcissism or are the children of such and can't imagine trusting anyone else to take care of them except--maybe--mom and dad. Their idea of being a member of a group has no responsibility on their parts. Therefore, military service is alien at more than a simple cultural level. They are crippled by an inability to belong...

Additionally, an inability to judge other people by any set of values strong enough to let them be comfortable with the prospect of doing violence--except to protect their own ass--is another major factor in alienation. This baseless set of morals makes it easy to live in an environment where no two people share the same background or values, but it puts them at risk to anyone who can "enable" themselves to do violence.

Just my two cents worth.


11:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a blue star active duty Army wife living in the liberal Bay Area I regularly get the "well, you signed up for it" treatment.

But I can say I've done something. Two deployments, a stop loss, and an extension. And a bunch of other crap thrown at me too (in five years of marriage we've only spent 3 weeks together in one stretch).

It is a war of the Army and Marine corps. Not an American war.

12:21 AM  
Blogger Just A Decurion said...

"SOME Americans don't understand the military...others have an education." While media cannot replace reality, an education does count for something.

Sorry, no. An education from the halls of academia means diddly-dick when it comes to understanding Soldiers or warfare. Thanks for asking!

"What the WaPo write has said is that he is either uneducated or just stupid."

I can tell you didn't read the original article. I love commentators who giddily comment away, without clicking on the embedded links. That's an essential part of my writing style.

4:56 AM  
Anonymous Bill McD said...

You're very right. There is a definite... disassociation from death among the vast majority of the populace. Most people experience dead things in only 3 ways:

1)The neatened-up body in the casket at the funeral home.
3)driving past roadkill.

For some, there's the death of pets, but that's maybe 1 death every decade, and even that these days is made clean and sanitary through the veterinarian.

I'm not claiming to have the experience of killing that you have, or the perspective on soldiering that you do. But it seems I've dealt with death far more often, on a scale simultaneously far more intimate and far more impersonal, than most of my friends, and I do think there's something... missing... with people for whom death remains an abstraction, a thing that happens to the old or to someone else's family. I think there's something missing for people who don't have that direct mental connection of 'this was alive, it died so I'd keep living' regarding their food.

The vast majority of the people in this country don't seem to understand anymore that life is predicated upon death, and that the very basic relationship between life and death means that we will always need those who are willing to kill on our behalf, to risk themselves on our behalf.

It would be nice if every problem could be resolved through mature, reasonable discussion. It would be worthwhile and productive for us to pursue every means we have at our disposal to attempt to work toward the goal of achieving that wondrous condition. It would also be naive of us to think we're anywhere near that point.

10:21 AM  
Blogger sophia said...

Yeah, I don't like to think of soldiers as killers. I know there is a disconnect for me. I want to understand the mindset of a soldier. I know I can't be thankful for my freedom, but not acknowledge the role of the military who not only protects but who also kills and detroys that has allowed us to have that freedom. I keep thinking that reading your blog will help me to bridge the disconnect.

And yes, my little boys do understand better than I do.

2:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It counts for what when the world goes pear-shaped?

Not every person who is willing to serve the country is eligible to do so, as you well know. In lieu of actually donning a uniform and taking the oath, education has to be the next best thing. It is, (here I agree with Decurion) NOT the same as being there and doing that.

Not every person can be a doctor or airline pilot either. And no amount of education can replace experience. But ANY education in the arts of soldiering, medicine and aerospace is much better than NO education when it comes to rational national dialog.

That is the whole point of the WaPo article....that this writer and everybody he knows has NO contact with military people and NO education in the matter either. He is fundamentally confessing his ignorance, and projecting this ignorance on the rest of the population. This is a logical fallacy: not every person in America IS ignorant of these national issues, and thereby ineligible to comment upon them. Some of us have an education, and therefore can give an informed opinion on these critical matters.

6:14 PM  
Anonymous Zach Bush said...


1) The writer is a she, not a he.
2) The writer has constant contact with military people.
3) The writer is not ineligible to comment upon them.

From the very end of the article you may have noted "Kristin Henderson, who is married to a Navy chaplain, is the author of While They're at War: The True Story of American Families on the Home Front. She can be reached at kh@kristinhenderson.com."

Did you read the article?

11:49 PM  
Blogger Fearthuinn min an Saille said...

Ya know, I never gave the concept of joining up a second thought as a kid, mainly because I knew I wouldn't make it through boot camp, least, not without the further punishment for mouthing off to the person yelling in my face. But I can't say I really understood military culture till I started working at an Army-Navy store. And it hit home.

So yeah, there is a huge disconnect, and I'm glad your wife pointed me to the article, as well as your opinions on it. The thing that gets me the most about some of the people in this country, who decry the military, is the fact that they can sit there, in their alarm secured house where the police will automatically come if that alarm goes off, and have some semblance of safety....because someone else is willing to go the line for them if something does happen.

The people in our military are willing to kill people to protect the rest of us who don't pick up arms to defend the greater country against a threat. Hell, even the people I talked to in Norway, understand that if something happens to them, that requires a military, even they hope the US will help them out. Why? Not enough people to maintain a conscripted military that would have enough might to defend itself, even against its neighboring countries.

11:55 PM  
Blogger Zero Ponsdorf said...

One element both here and in the article that seems to slips through the cracks somehow - this disconnect is a two way street.

It's alluded to, and perhaps suggested, but not stated aloud.

Some responsibility falls to those who've been there, done that.

Mind you I don't know how, but that doesn't change the reality.

Nobody can understand, but there should be some effort beyond stating the obvious if we're to deal with it. Lest the split WILL take on a life of it's own.

2:54 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Great post. I added you to my blog roll too. Keep up the good work.

Speaking as an Army brat with a lot of combat vets in my family, I'd like to say thank you for your service.

6:27 AM  

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