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.