Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Last Full Measure of Devotion - at a discount rate

As the war in Iraq drags on, I would like to point out something that all Americans should agree with regardless of whether you support the war or, like me, thought it idiocy from the start. That something is this: the burdens of this war have not been equally shared by the American People.

The Army and Marines are at war, the rest of us are not. It is not fair. It is a national disgrace.

We have never before asked, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, of so much from so few. And yes, we owe them so much. But we should never have asked for so few to bear the burden of this war. The Army said it needed more soldiers before we invaded. It still, over five years later, does not have them. We should be ashamed of ourselves. If the "surge is working," imagine if we had enough troops at the start! But here is the problem: regardless of whether the surge is working or not, we are still fighting in Iraq and we are sending the same soldiers over and over and over again. That is despicable.

It is not ok to say "well, they volunteered." The idea of our "all-volunteer military" was never, NEVER, intended to be like that of the French Foreign Legion. They are not a mercenary force and must not become one or we are all in danger. In World War Two we did not use only our pre-war all-volunteer military. We as a nation went to war, not just the Army and Marines.

An "all-volunteer military" is a standing army, in peacetime and for short and quick engagements, not for times of extended war. That has ALWAYS been the case in American history. We have had an "all-volunteer military" before - in fact, for most of our history the Army has been all-volunteer. We only initiated a peace-time draft - for the first time in US history - in 1940, to prepare for World War II. Why? Because it was understood - and always understood - that an all-volunteer military serves in peacetime so that we are prepared for war, but once we are in a war that lasts, that can't be handled quickly, the nation will - and should and must - mobilize. That is what we have done in the past. We did that because it was the right thing to do - whether our wars were just or unjust, our nation went to war as a nation. Agree or disagree, but we were in it together. E Pluribus Unum. The United States. When we don't do that we lose the war - and we lose our soul. And we are losing our national soul.

We have not mobilized. Five years down the line, with the Army and Marines worn out by repeated combat tours, we still have not mobilized. Whether you agree or disagree with Mr. Bush's Iraq policy, we should have mobilized to fight a war that we as a people authorized. We should be angry - and ashamed - of our betrayal of our volunteer military. We have betrayed our troops.

This is not, as some have called it, "Mr. Bush's war." Mr. Bush had to get - and he recieved - Congressional authorization for invading Iraq. OUR NATION DECLARED WAR, NOT MR. BUSH BY HIMSELF. And yet we let the same soldiers return to Iraq again and again and again and again. How disgraceful and shameful.

When the idea of a draft for this war was first raised, pre-invasion, many who "support the troops" were against it because it would harm the professionalism of an all-volunteer military. I disagree. We can keep the professionalism by having a limited - call it a "token" if you will - draft, ensuring that most of the Army remains volunteers, but ensuring that when our nation is at war that we all face the risk that we or our loved ones will face danger and might die. Perhaps a draft of 10% of the force - if the Army has 550,000 soldiers, we draft 55,000 young men and women to serve alongside the volunteers, and the same percentage for the Marines - and we ensure they serve in combat. For each draftee that does not make it through training and join a unit, we draft another. 1 draftee among 10 volunteer soldiers will not harm the professional nature of our all-volunteer military, and it will mean something much more - that our nation feels it is at war instead of just the military being at war. We will be in it together - as we should be when we declare war - not the Army, which does not and should not have the power to order our nation to war. We have that power - and we should face the consequences. Anything less is national cowardice.

And if that is "politically impossible" for this war, what does that say about this war? And what does it say about our nation? If our nation truly must wage war, it must do so. If not, it should not. To say we must wage war but not me or my family, send somebody else, I'm busy is a recipe for the destruction of the republic, a dangerous recipe for military adventurism without domestic political safeguards, and a recipe of absolute betrayal of our troops so many bumper stickers so easily - and falsely - claim to support.

If the nation is not willing to draft soldiers to fight the war, then the nation is not willing to fight the war and the People will have spoken. Agree or disagree as you may, that is the will of the People and that is supposed to be how our nation conducts itself - with the People as sovereign. Those who would not want to even ask the People to do so because they are afraid the People will refuse such a draft are doing two things:

1) betraying the troops they falsely claim to support - by not supporting them, and
2) betraying the cause of democracy they claim this war is all about.

For those who refuse to "enable" this war by a draft because they disagree with it, they are doing two things:

1) betraying the troops they falsely claim to support - by not supporting them, and
2) betraying the cause of democracy they claim their opposition to this war is all about.

Since 9/11 we have acted as a terrorized nation filled with cowards. Tough talk? Shocked by my words? Then imagine this: you are at a party with 1,000 people. There are 300 "bad guys" outside who attack and try to kill guests. 100 party guests who see what is going on rush to defend everybody inside the party, and they are outnumbered and are struggling to hold back the "bad guys." The rest of the 900 guests continue to party. The band plays on, the dances go on, the guests feast on shrimp cocktails, while the initial 100 guests fight to hold back the angry horde of bad guys who want to rush in and attack everybody. The host of the party occasionally takes the stage and says "let's have a round of applause for the volunteers!" and the guests cheer and then go back to partying. When the volunteers are exhausted they stagger back inside to rest - and after catching their breath, they are ordered back to the fight by men in tuxedos munching on shrimp who pat them on the back and say "I support you" and then return to the dance floor rather than help. When some guests criticize the way the fight is being conducted, the host tells them they don't understand the nature of the "bad guys" and the crowd boos the critics, accusing them of not supporting the 100 volunteers. The 100 volunteers return again and again to the fight. The 900 guests never do - they just continue partying while talking about how much they admire the volunteers. Eventually few of them even want to talk about the fight, they mostly ignore it.

Now imagine a similar scenario, except the "bad guys" didn't start it, and the 100 volunteers warned that it would be a disaster and said they needed help - and were ignored. Now imagine 5 years of this. You don't have to do so, it is the war in Iraq.

We as a nation have betrayed our Army. The Army remains loyal to the will of the People, but we as a people have not remained loyal to our Army. We have not supported them. We have instead partied on. Now we don't even talk about the war - it has mostly disappeared from the news.

A friend of mine who was killed last year - a great man, I served with him for years and my wife and his wife went to college together and we introduced them, and they were the only guests at our wedding (we eloped) - has two daughters. He served long before 9/11 and long after. He died from an IED in Iraq. The pain from his death continues - and most of us have no idea of that pain, it is not real for us, the dead are, for most of us, not real people, the soldiers in Iraq are not people we know. Our nation is not at war, only the military. My friend's wife wrote this recently about the death of her husband (I didn't ask her for permission to post this so I have redacted all identifying info):

I remember standing in the Atlanta airport, stranded, telling my crying daughter we would make it home and it was going to be ok, but not knowing where home was or if it was going to be ok. And fitful sleeps, violent dreams, and living off a cup of coffee and a brownie, one of our friends brought by. And reading the last letter, mailed just days before his death, then finding the notes hidden in our Christmas stockings, "Daddy will be home soon, I love you."

[redacted]'s loss is still so hard to fathom. But he loved me enough, to help me find my strength and use it. He loved me enough to show me the way. He loved me enough to make me a home. He loved me enough to show me how to have pride in honor, duty, and country. Our wounds will never heal fully. It is a daily struggle of learning to live with them, and trying to finding the joy in today and remembering the joy of the past.

A joy of the past... One of my favorite stories that makes me smile and laugh was our last motorcycle trip together to Charleston, North Carolina. It was gorgeous, the flowers were blooming the spring weather was perfect, and our new headsets were working great. We could talk helmet to helmet or listen to the radio. As we were headed back, I began one of my many bla, bla, rantings, or so [redacted] must have thought. He unplugged my headset so he wouldn't have to listen! I couldn't believe it, "plug me back in," I tried to scream through the helmet. He motioned back that he couldn't hear me, and I could see the huge grin behind his helmet. "Every husbands' dream," I thought, as I now sat in silent solitude on the back of the bike, "a mute button for the wife." A few miles down the road, I was magically plugged in again, on the condition that my rantings were over, and we had a good laugh.

Well, enough of my rambling, remember the grin, the huge arms and broad shoulders, and all those funny stories. In our hearts he will live forever.

He certainly will live on in my heart. Those fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan are real flesh-and-blood people. They don't want to die. They don't want to be deployed. They love their families. They prefer being home to read bed-time stories to their children over facing danger and filth and tragedy in a foreign land for years at a time. But they do it because they obey the orders of the People - imagine the dedication to democracy it takes to obey such an order. Now imagine it if you have a family and you are facing your fourth tour. Imagine if, like a dear friend of mine, you are facing another tour in Iraq and your son was killed in Anbar province in 2005 because he followed in your footsteps. What have you done to support him? Plaster a bumper sticker on your car? How brave and selfless of you. For those who think he chose to serve in Iraq because he volunteered, my friend did not volunteer to fight in Iraq - he joined the Army in the early 1980s. He served - and continues to serve - to protect and defend the Constitution. He remains loyal to it. He didn't start the war. We did. What are you doing to support him? Don't you think you should do a little to support the Constitution too, since you and the rest of us are the reason for his being in Iraq? Or is it ok to just let him and his family bear the cost for our decisions?

We have betrayed these soldiers. We are dancing at the party and ignoring what we ordered them to do, as if it were their decision to wage war instead of our own. "Oh, I was against the war so it is not my fault." Yes, it is. Our nation declared war and you are part of it. That you let others bear the burden is not ok. And many soldiers were against the invasion too - but they did their duty. It is our duty too. We have shirked it. We have let a mere few bear the burden and that is national cowardice. We refuse to make hard choices - although we made the "easy" decsion to go to war. We started it, we have avoided the consequences, letting the same few face the danger time and again. That is cowardice. There is no other word that fits. It is cowardice.

If our nation thinks the way to wage wars is to send the same men again and again and again and again while the rest of us continue to party, we have become an evil and despicable people. If you disagree and think us better than that - then I ask WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SUPPORT THE TROOPS? Call your congressperson, write to your Senator, and let them know we should have a "token draft" - and you should do this whether you are for or against the war. This isn't about politics, it is about support for our troops. It is about our nation bearing responsibility for our national decisions. It is about self-government. It is about whether democracy should survive in the United States.

And if you do not, all the bumper stickers you paste on your cars are nothing but lies. And you know it.

7 comments:

Rick98c said...

"If our nation thinks the way to wage wars is to send the same men again and again and again and again while the rest of us continue to party, we have become an evil and despicable people."

Well, yeah...that's it right there. I work with a number of Bush-loving war supporters, but none of their military-age children are in service or planning to serve. They wave flags and put stickers on their cars and that's it. The hypoccisy is stunning, but after all how can I really blame them when that's all their beloved leader who gets his info straight from God has asked them to do. That and go shopping.

I would have agreed with you about the draft a few years ago, but I am so sick at heart by now about the mindless insanity of it all that the idea of anyone being killed, maimed or stuck with PTSD for life from this war of choice that didn't "sign on the dotted line" knowing full well what they were getting into horrifies me far worse than what you describe. Your plan should indeed be the requirement for future conflicts, but we have to bring the current unending slow bleed to an end first.

Anonymous said...

i am the only person in my circle of friends and one of two people in my office of 25 who has had a close relative in Iraq/Afghanistan--my officemate has a nephew; I have a stepson and grandson who have a combined 5 tours of Iraq. I also have another grandson who is joining the Marine reserves, with the plan to go active after his freshman year at college is done. Needless to say, I feel like my family has given quite a bit, but we've been especially blessed--especially because so far no one's been hurt despite being deployed to Anbar and Diyala provinces during particularly hairy times.

As much as I don't want to see anyone else go in the meat grinder, I agree with JD. If this war is the chosen foreign policy of this country, and this war is part of the "global war on terror," where is the sense of moral obligation? In short, how can we get the American people to take this seriously if there is no draft, no way of having everyone contribute to the common good? If nothing else, perhaps a national conversation about the draft would force us all to examine what the hell we're doing uninvited in countries halfway around the world. As far as I can tell, Americans have stopped talking about iraq/afghanistan and the media doesn't even report on it anymore. Our people in uniform are treated like mercenaries by the government that sent them, and Americans can't even look up from their TVs long enough to notice.

Sad days indeed for the good ol' USA.

bg said...

" In short, how can we get the American people to take this seriously if there is no draft, no way of having everyone contribute to the common good?"

If I remember my history correct, the only way we were able to do it in WWII was because we forced it upon the people with a draft and other war measures that affected the daily lives of every American.

I don't understand why congress can authorize the country to go to war without also authorizing a full mobilization of the country. ISTM that full mobilization, i.e., draft, war bonds, etc, should be part of the package. You go all the way, or not at all. When the U.S. government decides to make a commitment of troops that will last longer than a year, there should be a law that requires full mobilization (and all that entails), or withdrawal.

Rick98c said...

BG,

I don't think there is any way we would have attacked Iraq if your proposal was law. I'm all for it.

No more going to war without total commitment. Just think of all the wars we would have avoided.

Aviator47 said...

bg-

IIRC, Rummy & Co said OIF would be a few months. No need to mobilize. Congress simply gave the administration what it asked for at first. Real questions weren't raised until the folly of it all became apparent.

"War on the Cheap" just doesn't work, especially when it's a very questionable war at that.

Al

bg said...

Al,

I agree, I know, I was there. Before the invasion, we were constantly asking questions about how long we would be there, and everyone at all levels insisted that it would be like Desert Storm. A few hours of fighting, a few months of clean up, and almost everyone would be home by Sep. That was the plan, and it was generally accepted by all from CFLCC down.

I think if we had a law that required full mob, it would be retroactive. In other words, Rummy can have his 12 months to conduct the "limited" action, but if after 12 months, if a certain level of commitment is still required, the law should force the President and Congress to either order a full mobilization, or a withdrawal to a much lower, sustainable level (a level predetermined by the law which should purposively be so low that no war could be fought).

I know I am dreaming here, but perhaps this could be a lesson learned from this war.

Aviator47 said...

bg: "I know I am dreaming here, but perhaps this could be a lesson learned from this war."

Each of the armed forces has an institutional mechanism for learning lessons from their operations. Unfortunately, neither the executive branch or the legislative branch have such an institutionalized facility.

IOF was conducted in a manner totally inconsistent with Army doctrine. Has this "lesson" been learned? Three years into the post "Mission Accomplished" period, and Rummy and Co still saw nothing wrong with the lack of a coherent Phase IV plan, no less the patheticly small force package.

Now, whether or not anyone acts on the "lessons learned" actions of the military is a separate issue, but at least we have put the mechanism in place. When you have an executive who states over and over again that he has never made a significant mistake, it is clear that learning is not on the agenda.

Al