27 December 2014

Are Americans Seduced by War?

Andrew Bacevich seems to think so. Or he seems to think that what he thinks in the heat of a unique political moment defines the whole of human experience.

He wrote a book ten years ago called The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War. (Oxford, 2005).

As OEF concludes this week, it is instructive to look back on critics of U.S. war policy during our longest war. Bacevich is foremost among them. Clearly, the Iraq War left scars on the body politic that will take a long time to heal. Maybe generations. And while My Public Affairs isn't a political blog, the military often bleeds into politics, and one's take on a military issue exposes one's political biases.

Bacevich's biases come blazing through in The New American Militarism. One thought that just recently occurred to me is that, as a Veteran of the Vietnam Era, perhaps he harbors a tinge of envy of the Soldiers who serve today amid overwhelming public plaudits.

In short, his thesis is that Americans have fallen in love with warfare, soldiers, and the military-industrial complex that feeds it all. He adds Hollywood into the mix of evil causes, and submits that whole arrangement is bad for the Republic.

There is, of course, a lot to substantiate his indictment. But in his zeal, he overreaches clumsily. One of his favorite targets is the All-Volunteer Force. Those like him who spoke and wrote so disparagingly about the AVF a decade ago should be mightily embarrassed now. Not because they were wrong, but because they were so self-assured in their error.

It was no monument to courage to speak ill of the AVF during the nadir of the Iraq War. In The New American Militarism Bacevich wrote:
Four years after 9/11, the reserves are close to breaking-- both recruiting and reenlistment are in free-fall. Active duty forces are finding it increasingly difficult to replenish their ranks. Last year the U.S. Army experienced its worst recruiting year in a quarter-century.
Well what a shock that in the middle of two wars it became slightly harder to recruit! At around the same time California (and probably the rest of the country) was in a teacher recruiting crisis. I don't recall anyone advocating a nationwide conscription of engineering students to begin mandatory teacher credential education.

But that's exactly what Bacevich prescribed to man the Armed Forces. He relied on pure hyperbole too, describing a cyclical shortage as a "free-fall." In 2005, the worst year for Army recruiting, around 73,000 young men and women enlisted, leaving the largest branch of the military about 7,000 short of it's goal. Recruiting rebounded the next year.

Today the military is shedding Soldiers. Where is the outrage?

Maybe Bacevich reserved it for the reserves. One of his prescriptions for reversing the dangerous militarization of American culture and politics is to "revive the moribund concept of the citizen-soldier." His penchant for lambasting and ridiculing reservists betrays his wilful ignorance of the fact that Guard and Reserve Soldiers are just that.

But he can't admit that the reserves are up to the task. He shamefully blames the Abu Ghraib scandal on the ill-preparation of reservists. Bacevich slandered the nearly one million Guard and Reserve Soldiers and Airmen who have served overseas since 9/11.

Scandals like Abu Ghraib are inexcusable. To excuse them because the perpetrators had civilian jobs in the communities they lived in before deploying is a bigger scandal. How a conscript Army would perform better is left unexplained.

Bacevich has no need for a reserve force to fight overseas.  What he wants is a World War II-style mobilization of "citizens" conscripted into the Army. Does anyone who believes that a total war model is the right one for today's small wars really think that the country would get behind a mass mobilization, or that any credible politician would propose it?

While The New American Militarism is thoughtful and sometimes circumspect, its author made the mistake so common among anti-Iraq War commentators a decade ago of projecting his attitude toward that particular war at that particular time to a sweeping denunciation of the military for all time.

At the close of OEF, we can see what a mistake it was, and we know that Americans certainly are not "seduced by war."

(Photo by SPC Nevada Jack Smith)

1 comment:

  1. Well, I'm glad that this Bacevich's predictions didn't come to pass. I think that in general Americans love our troops, but don't love war.