More Boots on the Ground, They Say – As Long as They Are Not Wearing Them


Walter Stewart

Ruck-up America and grab your carbines and kevlars, it’s war on.

Of course, I wish it were not so, because I’ve been to war and have second place Vietnam War creds to prove it.  But hey, stuff happens, any national cemetery knows that.

I don’t think the current war – this one not only undeclared, but unnamed — had to happen, and I suspect our 40-plus years of post-draft snoozing is the reason it did. Pericles of ancient Athens predicted as much twenty-four centuries ago.

Pericles’ capture of the consequences of citizen somnambulance is right there in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War (Penguin Classics translation):

“For it is impossible for a man to put forward fair and honest views about our affairs if he has not, like everyone else, children whose lives may be at stake.”

Fair and honest views, how quaint!

The ancient Greeks knew a lot about human nature.  That’s why General Douglas MacArthur, in 1962, called on Plato, “that wisest of all philosophers,” to predict that “only the dead have seen the end of war.” I’m sorry to break it to the nation’s anti-war and anti-conscription people, but we are going to have wars, and, as Pericles sensed, there will be far more of them when the children of the 99% crowd do nothing but watch from the sidelines.  (Troops in the all-volunteer military today represent roughly 1% of the U.S. population, leaving the remaining 99% obligation-free.)

But throwing Pericles and 24 centuries of history under the bus in order to end the only guarantor of “honest views” – the draft — would not be easy.  That’s why President Richard Nixon, in the waning days of the Vietnam War, brought together a distinguished group of toadies and assigned them the mission of putting a happy face on it.

The group was called the “Gates Commission,” after its chairman, and never have so few done so much to harm a common commitment to a common defense.  I rate that damage right up there with the creation of the Federal Reserve, and the consequent destruction of fiscal constraint on the part of government spenders.  What’s not to like about more spending and more war, when most of us don’t have skin and blood in the game.

Pericles, in spirit at least, appeared before the Gates Commission, and his testimony is best heard in the primary concern the commissioners chose to dismiss: “An all-volunteer force would stimulate foreign military adventures, foster an irresponsible foreign policy, and lessen civilian concern about the use of military forces.” Wham!  Wisdom drawn from Pericles, a wartime leader, thrown under the bus.

Pericles also echoes in other commission dismissals: “An all-volunteer force will undermine patriotism by weakening the traditional belief that each citizen has a moral responsibility to serve his country.”  And another: “The presence of draftees in a mixed force guards against the growth of a separate military ethos, which could pose a threat to civilian authority, our freedom, and our democratic institutions.” Wham!  Wisdom drawn from Pericles thrown under the bus again, together with the wisdom of our citizen-soldier-favoring Founders and Framers.

And if Pericles speaking from the grave is not enough to make the case for a return to shared sacrifice in providing for the common defense, there are the facts John Della Volpe presented on MSNBC’s December 11, 2015, edition of “Morning Joe.”

Volpe was on Morning Joe to discuss a recent Harvard University poll that had 60% of millennials advocating “boots on the ground” against ISIS, with about the same percentage saying they were unwilling to wear those boots.  The legacy of the Gates Commission is the disgusting spore of chickenhawks like Dick Cheney and Bill Kristol, finding fertile ground in succeeding generations.

I’m sure the smart guys running ISIS notice.

Walt Stewart rose from a private in the army of regulars, reservists, and draftees raised to fight in Vietnam, to a major general serving with the thousands of citizen-soldiers of the 28th Infantry Division, Pennsylvania Army National Guard. Now retired, Stewart is a strong advocate for a citizen-military and a saner world.

13 thoughts on “More Boots on the Ground, They Say – As Long as They Are Not Wearing Them

  1. “More Boots on the Ground, They Say – As Long as They Are Not Wearing Them”

    Certainly that was the theme of the Republican clusterf#x*k in last nights clown fest called a “debate”.. All of them including rosy cheeked Rubio and liver lipped Cruz and even that strange woman couldn’t have been more adamant about how “WE” must get more boots on the ground not only in Syria but in the Ukraine. Not a single one of them has served a day in our military. Only Rand Paul had the cojones to stay out of that nonsense and argue against more boots.

    Hillary Clinton is not to far behind these clowns in her enthusiasm to see other young people marching off to bring chaos to another benighted land in the name of democracy and decency. Meanwhile as we carry the water into wars for Saudi Arabia and Israel’s middle east aspirations and our own quest for empire (particularly for oil) it is our democracy and citizens who are paying the price.

  2. After watching last night’s Republican “debate,” really more of a contest to see which Republican could bray for war the longest and loudest, I posted the following comment at our Facebook site, so I may as well post it here:

    I watched the Republican debate last night, and it actually made me sentimental for the days of Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush. The days of moderate Republicans are gone. Now all we get is juvenile posturing and bullying tough talk. By far the worst offender was Chris Christie, who vowed to shoot down Russian planes with no warning after announcing a “no fly” zone over Syria. World War III, anyone?

    But I blame the Democrats too, because they’ve pushed the Republicans further to the right. Obama is basically a moderate Republican, prolonging wars, sending in special ops and drones, vowing to destroy enemies. So the Republicans respond by inflaming war passions even further, calling for “carpet bombing” and all the rest. See? I’m tougher than Obama, they boast.

    So far Bernie Sanders is the only candidate willing to talk about ordinary people and their concerns: jobs, a living wage, health care, and education as well as issues like economic fairness.

    And Donald Trump actually made sense for a moment during the debate when he said the USA wasted $3-4 trillion on wars in the Middle East, and that we could have invested that money in America. So how did the other Republicans respond? Fiorina said Trump sounded like Obama, and most of the other Republicans called for more war.

    “If at first you don’t succeed, fail, fail again,” seems to be the motto of Republican foreign policy.

    • Speaking of frenzied frequent failure — i.e., the U.S. government’s ruinously militarized foreign policy — how about a little something from nine years ago:

      Flailing Flounders Fail Again

      The Flailing Flounders fail again
      It’s just that thing they do
      They start a war where none should be
      And then blame those they screw
      Insisting that we all forget
      The chances that they blew

      For instance, one should never fight
      In former colonies
      Whose thirst for independence makes
      Them very hard to please
      With foreign occupation that
      Just adds to their unease

      Once freed from under foreign heels
      The locals just can’t stand
      To have some armored men from Mars
      Defiling their proud land
      While shouting high-school English that
      George Bush can’t understand

      And all those dogs of war in train
      Who profit from the bone
      That Dick and George have tossed at them
      From their own doghouse throne
      Cannot survive the daily drive
      To IEDs now prone

      Then, too, within the Green Zone walls
      Where frightened puppets cow
      And bombs go off on schedule with
      No one who knows just how
      It seems the “surge” has trickled down
      To just a dribble now

      Yet John McCain says “No Plan B,”
      Which casts a mystic pall
      Upon kept correspondents who
      Would rather cringe and crawl
      Before unmitigated crap
      Designed to merely stall

      For when no evidence of plans
      From “A” to “Z” exists
      Who cares what alphabet conceals
      A crazy plot that twists
      All logic out of shape and time
      So that the crime persists?

      So Mad Dog Bomber, John McCain,
      Now finds himself adrift
      In gale force winds from Dubya’s gas
      That John has too much sniffed:
      A legacy of lunatics
      That John sees as a gift

      Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2006

  3. “But I blame the Democrats too, because they’ve pushed the Republicans further to the right. Obama is basically a moderate Republican, prolonging wars, sending in special ops and drones, vowing to destroy enemies.” W.J. Astore above

    Obama has mimicked Bill Clinton’s triangulation policies. It’s called in ‘plain talk’ “giving in to the enemy” before they launch an attack. That Italian guy, a century ago, who wrote The Art of War would turn over in his grave if he heard that as a tactic to win. It is the cowardly way that only careerists know to do when faced with a battle. That is why the Democratic Party today is largely a party of “careerists” rather than defenders of Democracy.

  4. PATRIOTISM: IT’S STRICTLY FOR SUCKERS!! A response to Gen. Walter Stewart

    FYI, when I completed my tour in the Army in July 1971 I had already “personally benefitted” from the Nixon-impelled transition to “VOLAR”–All-Volunteer Army. Pay for enlisted personnel was rising, and all Mess duties had been turned over to civilians in my unit (Hospital Company, Ft. Ord, CA). New, air-conditioned brick barracks were being erected to replace the “temporary housing” barracks from WW II I spent my entire hitch in. Thank you for shedding light on the opinions of the day that opposed the transition. I wasn’t aware of them at the time. I lacked access to daily TV and didn’t have time to read the San Francisco Examiner on a daily basis. Of course I tried to stay on top of the news, since the war I’d opposed from within the ranks still raged on in Southeast Asia.

    I have stated previously in this forum that I am open to the concept of universal service, but with the rather important proviso that a profound shift in the government’s interests would have to occur first (fat chance!): that we would be serving only to actually defend the territory and citizenry of the United States, not engaging in overseas wars of unjustified aggression. Some retorts to specific points the good general made: 1.) the current war HAS been given a name, it’s the Global War On Terror (GWOT), one of the wonderful legacies of the Cheney-Bush Gang. If a neutral observer, say the proverbial Man from Mars, was to look down upon our little world he would see that all the nations/regions/cultures under attack from the US War Machine are predominantly Muslim nations. He would thus conclude: a nation most of whose citizens identify themselves as Christians, and believe their nation was founded by Christians (rather than those wild-eyed Freethinking “Founding Fathers”!), on so-called Christian ideals, is making war against Islam. I firmly believe that is how Muslims all over the globe perceive the situation today. Thus, every additional US bomb, cruise missile, attack drone or Special Ops team guns-a-blazing that is hurled into this conflict potentially generates new enemies for the USA. Oversimplification? I think not!; 2.) Walter, you have distorted the concept of the “99% versus the 1%.” It is, in fact, overwhelmingly the CHILDREN of the 99% in the economic scale balance who enlist to do the fighting these days. Some offspring of the privileged doubtless enlist to serve as Commissioned Officers, to gain leadership experience to use when their planned all-conquering entrance into the realm of Big Business takes place. But most enlisting these days have been unable to find worthwhile employment in the civilian realm. Military service is their course of last resort. And they will be sent to fight in the interest of the 1% in the economic scale balance, to defend if not expand the privileges of same. If the 99% were class conscious they would resist the status quo and do everything in their power to keep their kids OUT of the military, but this being the USA such notions are deemed unthinkable, indeed downright “unpatriotic.” Funny how “patriotism” ends up benefitting only the extremely privileged, eh?

    Continuing on: 3.) since, in “The Republic,” Plato advocated a special, isolated upbringing for youth bound for military service, binding them to absolute loyalty to the state, it’s not surprising that the patrician ultra-jingoist Douglas MacArthur would speak approvingly of that musty old philosopher; 4.) yes, the concern expressed in the Gates Commission Hearings, as you have quoted, was certainly prophetic: “…stimulate foreign military adventures, foster an irresponsible foreign policy, and lessen civilian concern about the use of military forces.” But “…undermine patriotism…”??? “Patriotism” is at an all-time high, of course, if we define the concept as currently en vogue: knee-jerk waving of the flag every time the US military delivers death and destruction on foreign peoples rather than an expression of genuine concern about the state of our own, ever decaying civil society. Every “swingin’ dick” (a gem of an expression I retain from my Army days!) who puts on a uniform these days is declared a “hero,” for God’s sake!!; 5.) “The presence of draftees…guards against the growth of a separate military ethos…” etc. But unfortunately, the presence of draftees never prevented a war, a war in violation of international laws of conduct, a war launched on ginned-up pretenses (need I say more than “Gulf of Tonkin” or “Saddam’s WMDs”?). The presence of draftees was certainly a factor in the War Against Vietnam eventually blowing up in the US’s face. But I’m sure you were not cheering for that situation at the time, were you, Gen. Stewart? My cohorts and I in the American Servicemen’s Union (ASU) [1968-1975] were prosecuted and imprisoned for demanding the rights a citizen-soldier ought to have been entitled to, little matters like freedom of speech and the right to resist orders to participate in a criminal war like that waged in Southeast Asia. Not YOUR idea of a citizen-soldier, is it, General? [Honestly, I am not intending to display hostility to Walter Stewart the individual, but I have undying hostility to the Officer caste he represented in the military.]

    “Millennials” are, of course, subject to the incessant “patriotic” rhetoric spewed constantly by Democrats as well as Republicans. We should not be surprised to see them herded, indeed bamboozled (there’s a good old-fashioned word!), into expressing support for “boots on the ground” to combat the so-called Caliphate. Until a profound change of thinking–a mere embrace of the notion of independent thinking would help!–can arise in the USA, the prophecy of wars, wars and still more wars will be self-fulfilling. Personally, I will continue to vigorously challenge any claim, by any civilian or military authority, of any political persuasion, that this Eternal War On Terror is morally justified or in my interest, or the interest of the vast majority of the US population. That is what I call a Contrary Perspective.

  5. So, why is it that there are so many nations who don’t draft citizens into the military AND don’t choose to spread mayhem and bloodshed all over the globe then? Could it be that there’s a little more going on in the U.S. than the “all volunteer military” that’s causing this?

  6. Pingback: Walter Stewart: More Boots on the Ground, They Say – As Long as They Are Not Wearing Them | Vox Populi

  7. Pingback: What Does an ‘America-First’ Foreign Policy Actually Mean? | War Is Boring

  8. Pingback: What Does an “America-First” Foreign Policy Actually Mean? – Astute News

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