John M. Lane
We in the United States are currently in a love affair with the Military. As fewer and fewer of us serve in uniform, this attraction only grows more intense. As a veteran, the “thank you for your service” compliments I get have greatly multiplied over the past twenty years. So, what has happened to cause this phenomenon?
Fawning reverence for the military is a new occurrence in American History. Approximately 15 million Americans served in uniform in World War II. I grew up around people who served in that war, including my father. Comparing today with the time of my youth is quite striking. I do not remember people thanking my father for his service. Ever. In World War II, service was expected, and the entire population participated in and sacrificed for the war effort in one form or another. Since so many people had served in uniform, there was a healthy skepticism of the military and a knowledge of the reality of what service life was like. Citizens doing their duty did not need to be thanked.
Of course, all of that changed with Vietnam. Although Vietnam was an ill-conceived war of dubious strategic value, a substantial portion of my generation served either in Vietnam or other areas of the worldwide Cold War confrontation with the USSR. Now, I am part of the last generation of Americans, of whom a substantial number served in the Military. We served. We know what Military life is really like. We have seen the inside of a barracks.
In our latest wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, about one percent of the US population has done the “heavy lifting” of sacrifice and warfare. They have dealt with the constant deployments, the injuries, the PTSD, and the deaths. For the rest of us, we just went go on with our everyday lives. We put yellow magnets on our cars, ate “Freedom” fries, flew flags, and “supported the troops.” No other sacrifice or commitment would be necessary. Unless you or a family member were there, it was a painless, sanitized war. I have concluded that this newfound reverence for the military comes from a deep uneasiness from the 99% about their role in the recent wars and the way those wars were started and conducted. This uneasiness manifests itself in a variety of ways. One is that the Military is now one of the most trusted, if not the most trusted institution in the United States. And yet the Military is now incredibly isolated from the general population, for a democracy to be maintained, that isolation is an extremely dangerous situation. The overwhelming majority of Americans have no real idea of what the Military does, what Military life is like, and what the Military’s role in a democratic republic should be. The average citizen has never heard of the term “civil-military relations”: the proper relationship between the uniformed military, the elected political leadership, and the body politic of citizens in a democracy. (More in another essay).
Likewise, today’s military has developed a deep distrust of the population they are supposed to serve. Across the political spectrum, politicians are only making things worse because most of them have no military experience either. Today, you do not have to step forward and volunteer to serve, you can play at being a soldier. You can wear camouflage and military khaki for every occasion. Hats, jackets, pants, shorts, athletic gear, and boots all designed to give you that soldierly look.
Veterans appreciate the “Thank You”, however, you should skip donning full battle dress and support full funding for the Department of Veteran Affairs or contribute to the Disabled American Veterans instead. Also, at a minimum, “Google” Civil-Military Relations. The “Founding Fathers” will “Thank You.”
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