Party Here, Sacrifice There
When I was General Counsel of the Army, I was quite disturbed by the disconnect between our nation's military and the larger nation. The problem has never been that the military is out of touch with the rest of the nation--the problem is that those of outside of the military have grown to believe that military service is something that "others do." As a recent op-ed in the New York Times well argues the problem has gotten worse. Indeed, I would argue that one reason what Bush finds it so easy to stay in Iraq despite wide opposition is that very few are sacrificing anything by staying in Iraq:
Read it all here.
IN January 2006 I stepped off a C-130 in Tal Afar, Iraq. As I began my 13-month deployment, I imagined an American public following our progress with the same concern as my family and friends. But since returning home, I have seen that America has changed the channel.
Young investment bankers spend their impressive bonuses on clubs in Manhattan and many seem uninterested in the soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a Princeton graduate and a former financial analyst, I was once a part of this world, and I like returning to it, putting the Spartan life of Tal Afar and Anbar Province behind me. But even as I enjoy time with the friends who have welcomed me home, my thoughts wander back to other friends who continue to fight as the city parties on.
Serious problems with the war in Iraq are well chronicled, but I am struck by one that does not seem to trouble the country’s leadership, even though it is profoundly corrosive to our common good: the disparity between the lives of the few who are fighting and being killed, and the many who have been asked for nothing more than to continue shopping.
Those who rationalize this disconnect have argued that our soldiers are volunteers, happy doing what they signed up to do. While it is true that most soldiers are devoted to country and comrades, and are focused on their mission, the assertion that soldiers are cheerfully returning for multiple combat tours is grounded in statistics and arguments that are misleading.
Few of today’s soldiers expected 15-month deployments separated by home stays of less than 12 months. The stress on Army families is enormous, especially since at least four of those months at “home” are generally spent training in the field. Sacrifices like these were the norm in World War II, and families left behind could draw strength from the knowledge that everyone was in the same situation. Today’s military families shoulder this burden pretty much alone.
The Army is badly damaged. The relentless deployment schedule drives many highly trained junior officers and noncommissioned officers out of the Army, while the Pentagon resorts to stop-loss and call-ups from the Individual Ready Reserve to stop the bleeding. These measures are abusing the very Americans who have already made the greatest sacrifices in the war effort.
Never in my life have I seen such commitment, with soldiers and officers working in hazardous conditions upward of 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for over a year, barely able to pause long enough to commemorate their fallen friends. Meanwhile, in the banking houses of New York, the shaky credit markets and the Dow are the things that matter; the problems facing our soldiers 8,000 miles away seem to capture little attention.
Can we continue an interventionist foreign policy with a country divided in this way? The president says that America is engaged in a struggle between good and evil, but is he addressing all citizens when his policies touch so few of us? To ask this question is inevitably to raise the issue of whether we should reinstate the draft. As a recent infantry officer who has younger siblings, I recognize what a profound question this is.
A draft would have one of two consequences. The first is that it might actually relieve the strain on today’s soldiers and end the “backdoor draft” of volunteers who have already served while their civilian peers remain comfortably undisturbed. I am aware that Army leaders fear that a draft would hurt the professionalism of today’s force. However, the lowering of recruiting requirements, as well as the offering of big signing bonuses to impressionable high school students, is already diminishing standards.
The other possible consequence is that serious consideration of a draft could set off such a violent reaction from the American public that the pressure on politicians to abandon their cliché-ridden rhetoric and begin a well-considered withdrawal would be overpowering.
Read it all here.