Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Duty, honor, country. Thanks.

There was an article in The Guardian the other day about Germany moving to an all-volunteer military, and one phrase leaped out at me.

The military was founded in 1955, and conscription – introduced two years later – has been seen as a necessary means to ensure the defence forces maintain a close relationship to civil society in order to prevent a repeat of the way in which the Nazi party was able to manipulate professional soldiers in the 1930s.

A close relationship between the military and civil society is an interesting subject, one seldom discussed so far as I can determine, and the idea of conscription, which we called “the draft,” as an instrument of maintaining that relationship is fascinating. The draft was in place when I was in the service, and it was not yet a lottery system, and even then those of us in uniform felt that there was a vast gulf between us and the civilians we had signed up to protect. We didn’t really care, this was before Vietnam, but it was there.

Today, that gulf is far wider. For all our talk of “supporting the troops,” we don’t. We put bumper stickers on our cars, but we don’t even know what actual “support” of the troops would be. Support would be sending our own sons and daughters to fight beside them, even if that is not what our sons and daughters want to do. Support would mean sending our sons and daughters to replace them, so that their first tour of combat is their last one. Support would mean that the sacrifice is shared by the nation who waits at home in the form of taxes to pay the cost of war and the material deprivation that sends the materials of war to the combat front. Support would be a war that is as unpopular with the home front as it is with the soldiers whose lives are being lost.

Close relationship with the military? We have no relationship with our military. We praise their sacrifice but we are unwilling to share it in any part or form. We thank them with such effusiveness and keep them at arm’s length because they are paying a price that we are unwilling to pay, and unwilling even to acknowledge.

And they “soldier on,” doing what they do. Duty, honor, country.


Bartender Cabbie said...

Very good and right on the money.

John said...

I agree. I'm reading your blog this morning following your comment at Newshoggers regarding voters who make decisions based on paid thirty-second ads. (Also spot on.)

At the time I was drafted I hated the concept and only served the two-year obligation because to do otherwise would have left me with a social stigma that I knew would follow me for the rest of my life. Eventually I changed my mind about conscription and by the time I was thirty-five the so-called "volunteer" military was well in place. By then I felt that it was not only short-sighted but potentially dangerous to have a paid warrior class. The military should have soldiers who are there, not because they aim to be warriors, but because they are discharging a civic obligation. The result would be a stronger military commanded by officers whose real leadership would rely more on motivation than rank authority.

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