America is now in its fifteenth year of war, even if our elected leaders want to call it something else. Thus, we’ve entered into an age of persistent conflict, in which this generation of service members has been directly or indirectly engaged the entire time without mandatory conscription.
The second and third-order consequences of this are feelings of indifference, disengagement, and just outright blissful ignorance relating to our military from the rest of the general public. The sheer lack of understanding toward this era of veterans by our populace is not only disheartening, but in many respects, scary.
Let me state upfront, I do not blame our American citizenry whatsoever for not being involved in this war, or for where we all find ourselves in this moment of time. This civilian-military divide is not the fault of the American people, it is the fault of our senior policymakers. No one directed our citizens to do anything. When this war broke out, our politicians told the U.S. military to “get ready” and then told our civilian population to “go shopping.”
The American civilian-military divide has never been this acute. A mandatory draft would be bad for our military, because if we want to remain the most formidable force in the world, then we must have professionals in our military, and people who really want to serve; but in the long run a military draft would be beneficial for our country. We as Americans are faced with a distinct paradox going forward. This paradox is not just with our population, it starts at the top. One percent of America’s population cannot continue to carry the burden of fighting for the rest of the nation, when we are facing threats, and conflicts with no end in sight.
People who serve in the military in “go-to-war units” do not have time for a bunch of nonsense. They must be discreet about decisions being made because of the nature of the threats they face, and will ruthlessly crush behavior that is contrary to mission accomplishment and teamwork. In the back of their minds they know that there is a real chance that they could end up on the battlefield together.
The military is an extremely personal experience, more so than any civilian job out there, because troops are forced to live together, and possibly risk their lives together. How many people actually wake up each morning and ask themselves, “What is the worst thing that can happen today to myself, my buddies, and fellow service members?” In the military, relationships are forged typically through tough realistic training and combat. These relationships are intimate. The more demanding the unit is, the more personal relationships will be. These relationships are closer than with those family members you share the same blood with, and in looking back, I had subordinates, peers, and leaders who knew more things about me than my immediate family ever will. They knew all my weaknesses and my strengths because the military tests us on every level — spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally, and academically. When you are required to deploy into harm’s way, these people are the only family you have, and these are the people that will bring you back home to your original family.
Going forward from here: Americans are going to be paying for all of these wars for generations to come. Maybe the only real way to close this current civilian-military divide is mandatory conscription. Such a small sliver of the population cannot continue to carry the burden for the rest of the nation. It is unreasonable and unstainable. If mandatory conscription is unachievable, than I argue there needs to be a much broader and robust engagement structure in our civilian communities. Civilian-military outreach programs need to be built in every city hall all across America. Since the majority of our elected leaders have never spent one day in uniform, then they too need to be involved in closing this divide. They should volunteer time at the Department of Veterans Affairs, or other places where veterans are in need of help, and integration into our communities after serving. This current civilian-military divide paradigm we now find ourselves in after fighting the longest war in American history needs a fundamental change in strategy. As George Washington once stated, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive how the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.”