In case you hadn’t heard, a week ago yesterday was Veteran’s Day. There were parades. The NFL turned its attention from pink accouterments to genuflecting about how awesome all the vets and soldiers were and are. Then the following Tuesday, SSG. Salvatore Giunta was award the Medal of Honor for his deeds in Afghanistan after his patrol was ambushed. His was the first Medal of Honor awarded to a living recipient since the Vietnam War.
Two old generals came out today and in an opinion piece in the Washington Post, pointed out that if the folks that sent him into battle had done their jobs, SSG Giunta wouldn’t have needed to be a hero:
Memories fade fast. Already the process of denial has begun today, while smoke still obscures some battlefields in South Asia. Politicians on both ends of the political spectrum have called for cutting the share of the ground force budget as a means of paying down the national debt. The experience of Sgt. Giunta and his gallant band of brothers should remind lawmakers and the rest of our country of an equally important debt: to those who do the dirty business of killing and dying. We hope policymakers watched Tuesday’s ceremony at the White House and paused to reflect on Giunta’s story. They should be asking why the richest nation on Earth could not have done more to help this small infantry unit spot the enemy ambush from the air and defeat them with overwhelming killing power. For Giunta’s sake, please: No more fair fights.
Indeed. SSG Giunta should never have had to be heroic, had the nation that sent him to war provided him with the tools to properly conduct it. In a nation as rich as ours, no serviceman should ever find himself engaged in a fair fire fight because no one is our equal militarily. If a war is worth fighting, it is worth fighting to win as quickly and decisively as possible. The central paradox of inflicting violence, of waging war, of killing and destroying things–is that the proper motivation for killing and destroying is that the killing and destroying will quickly end, not that it drag on interminably.
But it is clear from our actions in both Iraq and Afghanistan that victory is not the purpose of either exercise. If victory–meaning peace–were our object, is it at all fathomable that we could fail? We have the firepower and resources to destroy the will to resist in either nation. We choose not to do so.
Why? Perhaps because we can afford to waste treasure and lives and make heroes out of Giuntas. Perhaps because the nation has an existential need to be fighting wars. Perhaps because the leader of the administration that started each war needed them to make him feel Presidential. Whatever. The bottom line is that we could have victoriously ended either fight long ago, but chose not to.
Veteran’s Day has become a guilt-fest for all those that haven’t served in the military. Guilt is a luxury item. It is only indulged when fortune disparately smiles on someone. The non-military types believe it their good fortune to have others that are willing to fight their battles for them, and so lavish praise on them out of guilt. And so they should feel guilty. They elected the feckless leaders that sent the soldiers into wars without end while asking the rest of the nation to shop. They luxuriate in decadent SUV’s idling in highway parking lots with air conditioners blasting cool air while good young men and women sweat and bleed so their comfortable lives won’t suffer interruption.
But here’s the reality: Our active-duty military is a mercenary force. Everyone that has entered the military since at least about 2002 has known full well that they would most likely be required to kill people and destroy things, directly or indirectly, during their time in service. They are paid for the privilege. Which is why neither the Administration nor the American people much care, outside of the guilt-fest of Veteran’s Day, that our servicemen are all too often involved in fights that aren’t fair. They figure they volunteered for it. Which is also why the Administration can indulge in two aimless wars, wasting life and treasure with no ultimate purpose in mind. The American people won’t object, because the Administration hasn’t asked any sacrifice of them. The military won’t object, at least not too loudly, because fighting wars, even when done very ineffectually, is the purpose of the military. With no political consequences to pay in keeping the battles raging, the Administrations, nearly seamlessly between Bush and Obama, have seen fit to do just that.
There is a way out. The burden of service should be shared equally. Reinstitute the draft. It would make politicians think twice before expending American lives and treasure as they have done in Iraq and Afghanistan. Greatly expanding the pool of potential heroes might paradoxically make it less likely that heroics are necessary. If going to war meant that the cheer captain with scholarship offers to all the good universities in the locale had to postpone her dreams of soccer-mom bliss for the tears and fears of wallowing in the mud ducking bullets in some remote outpost of the empire, the political calculus would dramatically change. The Administration would not be able to treat the US military as its personal expeditionary force. Perhaps even the Congress would begin to show some spine and not bend over backward every time the Administration decides it wishes to dispose of a rogue leader in some faraway land.
Ever since the end of World War Two, presidential prerogatives have rarely been questioned regarding the deployment of US forces in overseas battlegrounds. Now that the Cold War is two decades past, it is high time that Congress reassert its role as a check on executive power to put American forces in harm’s way. If it doesn’t, we run the risk, like the Romans before us, of losing the republic to a succession of maniacal emperors.
Note: With re-instituting the draft, I do not mean expanding the size of the active military. Draftees should do their initial training and be assigned to a reserve or national guard unit. The military should have only a skeleton-crew of trainers and administrators. If the Administration wishes to fight an overseas war, it should have to activate, by lottery, reserve and national guard units to do so.
The Washington Post Op-ed can be found here: