Why We Should Care

Author: Gary Hart

Among the many important issues not being discussed in this presidential election year is the relationship between our society and its military.  It is not a subject that lends itself to the sclerotic ideological march of the right.  It is out of sight and therefore out of mind.  And too many on the left continue to exhibit discomfort about military matters.  (The last two Democratic president have both picked Republicans as Secretary of Defense.)

But those who think about these matters know that the civilian-military gap is wide and widening.  In a republic, this is cause for concern.  And the welcome and hardy band who take the trouble to monitor this site know that its author is preoccupied by the ideal of the republic.

When the United States adopted an all-volunteer military following the deep division over the Vietnam War, the civilian-military gap was guaranteed.  Put simply, conscription—the draft—guaranteed the reverse.  The families of those selected for military service, whether wholesale during World War II or randomly thereafter, cared about their sons in harm’s way and followed with considerable attention troop deployments, new conflicts, and most of all combat engagements scrupulously.  Additionally, letters from those sons gave vivid insights into the hazards, and occasional rewards, of military service.

This remains true for the all-volunteer force, but its occupants are there by choice.  This changes the dynamic of the relationship of the military to the broader civil society.  If you do not have a son, and now quite possibly daughter, in uniform, you are at a much greater distance from day to day military operations.   This is true of the vast majority of Americans.

The republican ideal stressed the citizen-soldier, because that ideal is based on duty.  It is the duty of all republican citizens to participate in the life of the community and nation by paying taxes, voting, and defending the republic.  Too many Americans don’t like doing any of these things.  We have become a democracy of rights, but have forgotten we are also a republic of duties.  Thomas Jefferson called himself a democratic republican.  My political touchstone is this: we must protect our rights by performance of our duties.

The question, with no easy answer, is whether the civilian-military gap can only be closed by a selective service.  That would be the most direct way, but even that way has problems.  Today’s higher tech military requires better trained and educated troops.  Sad to say, the broad cross section of American young people is not uniformly trained and educated and therefore capable, without extensive additional training, of operating today’s sophisticated military equipment.  Indeed, potential recruits who fit mental, physical, and moral standards are a shockingly low percentage.

The consequences of citizen unawareness are these: troops who feel that those they protect don’t care; difficulty in relating to civilian society after mustering out; a closed political-military system whose weapons deliberations are far from public view; widespread citizen ignorance about what our military does; increased confusion about the role of special forces, drone warfare, and the limits of both air and ground power against dispersed terrorists; and, perhaps most of all, the stresses of a military career on military families.

This last factor is most troubling.  An all-volunteer force is made up of professional soldiers in large part and those soldiers have families.  Wars are won by people, not weapons.  Those people have wives and husbands and children.  How many every-day Americans know or care about military housing, medical care (including psychiatric care), schools, and recreational facilities for the troops and their families.  Long term troop deployments and sea duty take men and women away from their families for many months.  Do we care?

Clearly, there is no magic answer to the growing civilian-military gap.  The burdens we place on those who protect us, burdens they willingly accept, require us to pay more attention. It is as simple as this: the people who volunteer to protect us deserve our concern and our support.  They earn it every day.

One Response to “Why We Should Care”

  1. Paul Borg Says:

    Dear Senator Hart,

    Those engaged in military service and domestic law enforcement are as much America’s children as those who are not. Our own bodies have a military institution built in! We would be in a sorry state if our antibodies refuse to attack hostile intruders or worse, decide to turn on the healthy cells! We take care of our antibodies by making sure the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health of our bodies is as close to ideal as possible. We must take care of our Warriors and PEACE officers by making sure the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health of our nation is as close to ideal as possible.

    The skills and motivation our antibodies have are encoded in their DNA, a code that was written and probably rewritten over countless generations of living organisms. Our Warrior’s and PEACE officer’s skills are honed by long periods of high quality training that produces in the Warrior, a HUMAN being capable of literally destroying the temporal existence of another (hostile intruder) in order to protect their homeland and its people and in the PEACE officer a HUMAN being that uses every means possible to restore peace within the homeland, resorting to lethal force only if all else fails. Their motivation must be simple, for the Warrior, preservation of the homeland and its people, for the PEACE officer to maintain an environment at home that allows everyone to live and work in peace. If any other motivations creep into these institutions the purpose will be compromised and failure to perform will most likely be its outcome. These are great burdens for anyone to bear and not everyone is capable of bearing them and still remain balanced as a human being.

    The military and police are inherently dangerous powers and must be respected. It is the Love between the Protectors and the Protected that will manage the relationship. The stronger the bond the better. These are trying times, both internally and externally. If goodwill prevails we will see the civilian-military divide shrink and proper balance restored.

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