Inside the Civil-Military Divide, Post-Massacre

30.03.12

Categorie: Kevin Knodell |
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PFC Colin Pilcher in training, Marzak, Jan. 24, 2012.

PFC Colin Pilcher in training, Marzak, Jan. 24, 2012. David Axe photo.

by KEVIN KNODELL

Has the dialogue surrounding the recent killings in Afghanistan been overly sympathetic to the alleged killer, Sgt. Robert Bales? I’m in total agreement with David: the argument that an Afghan life is less valuable than any other life … is wrong.

But as someone living in the South Sound, five minutes away from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, I’ve observed a parallel trend that I find equally troubling. There is increasing resentment on the part of some civilians toward the soldiers who live here. This has been getting worse for some time, as Americans frustrated with foreign policy and the cost of war turn their resentment on those in uniform. Service members are the easiest symbol of American foreign policy.

Even those without an overtly hostile attitude towards the troops can be unhelpful.

A vanishing proportion of Americans serve in the military. Fewer and fewer have family ties to the military. Fewer feel any sort of connection with those in uniform. The military community is shrinking and becoming more isolated than ever.

I don’t know what the solution is. On the one hand, I’m glad fewer Americans have to endure war or the loss of loved ones in combat. The downside is that Americans get overly comfortable with the fact that it won’t be their son, daughter, mom, dad, husband, brother, sister or friend going off to war.

Too many Americans feel comfortable passing judgement on soldiers, without looking in the mirror at the people who elected the officials who sent these men and women to war in the first place. Many Americans view it as the military’s war and the military’s problem. I hate to break it to you, America, but this is our war and our problem. Calling soldiers imperialists and murderers doesn’t make you better then them.

There’s been a lot of talk about Vietnam and how this war compares. Unless our society does some soul-searching before the coming demobilization, the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan could have a homecoming worse than what Vietnam vets experienced. I hope it doesn’t come to that.

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7 Responses to “Inside the Civil-Military Divide, Post-Massacre”

  1. void says:

    I agree with a lot of what’s written here, but I take exception to the following:

    “A vanishing proportion of Americans serve in the military. Fewer and fewer have family ties to the military. Fewer feel any sort of connection with those in uniform. The military community is shrinking and becoming more isolated than ever.”

    It’s not like the force is shrinking right now and it’s larger than it has been since 1993. If there’s a sense of a lack of connection between the current armed forces and the civilian community, I would think this is a media and political thing. With the end of the Iraq War, the dying interest in Afghanistan, fewer call-ups of National Guard and Reservists and the movement to the shadows of the rest of what used to be called the GWOT, those daily reminders of our soldiers and who they are as people are gone. If there is a disconnect it’s because the political establishment no longer requires bleachers of soldiers as backdrops, to bolster their national security credentials or as a foil against their opponents. If there is alienation, it’s due to a shift in the narrative in the media to a different sort of story, than the one that laid the onus of blame for foul ups on the military brass and political leadership that dominated the Iraq war. Individual Americans and their families are as in this as they ever were.

  2. Kevin Knodell says:

    You raise some valid points, and I don’t entirely disagree with you.

    I do, however, stand by that statement.

    I would tell you that a study was conducted that said in 1988 about 40 percent of 18 year olds had a veteran parent compared to 18 percent in 2000, and this is projected to fall below 10 percent in the future. It’s not about the force itself shrinking, that’s not a concern.

    Increasingly, wars are fought by military families, who’s children and childrens’ children serve. They are in many ways becoming seperate from mainstream society. It’s something that is happening incrementally and generationally.

    This has been something I’ve observed both as a cadet training alongside prior service veterans and wearing a uniform in the classroom and on campus, and as a civilian advocating for the Student Veterans Association, and it has been happening for years.

  3. SM says:

    I also wondered whether “fewer and fewer Americans have a friend or family in the military” is true, outside the unusual period from the ’40s to ’70s when a large minority of American men were conscripted. The same goes for the idea that soldiers tend to come from a smaller part of society … I have seen statistics that since about 1990 the US military has similar demographics to the rest of society, just younger, more male, and slightly better educated. Apparently your military attracts a lot of non-whites looking for a meritocracy, which isn’t the case in my country.

  4. void says:

    I don’t Kevin, you’re citing two dates that correspond to the height of the Reagan expansion of the 80s (before the 90s draw-down) and comparing it to 2000, when no one dreamed we would have a 11+ years of war and an expansion in the force. I think you are correct in the state of the nation’s feelings for the force, but not for it’s causes, and not, particularly in it’s relationships to members. I think the demographics don’t support it. Two million Americans have served overseas in these wars, that’s more than Vietnam. There are more combat veterans in the 20s-30s than anytime since WWII.

    Having said that, I agree, we as a nation are separated from the military and the repercussions will not be good. But I believe the situation most resembles the late stages of the Vietnam war. People just stopped caring about it and wondered why it hadn’t ended yet.

    SM, you are correct, particularly with immigrants from south of the border. It’s a quick way to citizenship.

  5. void says:

    pardon my atrocious grammar

  6. void says:

    Outside chance, did you have a male relative who was a sergeant in armor in the 90s?

  7. Kevin Knodell says:

    No close Male relatives that I’m aware of

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