Paul Huard, a high school teacher, military father and former journalist, published a piece in The Oregonian this past weekend talking about the increasing disconnect between Americans and their professional military.
Sometime in February, I will quietly remove a small pennant that has been a fixture in my classroom for more than six years. It is a Blue Star service flag, the symbol of a son or daughter on active duty in the U.S. military and a tradition dating back to 1942 when the banner allowed mothers to show publicly a child was fighting as a soldier, Marine, sailor or airman. Each star represented one child, and many families had flags with multiple stars. Entire neighborhoods often had these flags in their windows during World War II, and people were proud to display them.
…experience and education have shown me that for better or for worse the American soldier and America’s wars are things that educated people need to understand for the sake of understanding and keeping American democracy.
…awareness is becoming harder and harder to find in a nation where few choose to serve. About 1 percent of the nation’s population is currently in uniform as either active duty or reserve such as the National Guard, and that number will dwindle as factors such as budget cuts and the inevitable drawdown because of the end of the Iraq War take effect. During World War II, about 12 percent of the population was in uniform.
Because of the hatred expressed by the counterculture during the’60s toward returning Vietnam vets or because society today lives like a nearly nine-year war had no impact on the lives of a majority of Americans, we owe the military a free lunch at every Applebee’s from coast to coast. Most of the young people I know in the military just wish the average American understood what the military does and why it does it. They are grateful for the meal, but they want their fellow citizens to understand what the military does, how it gets the job done, and what the military should (or should not) be asked to do.
When Matt enlisted, a few friends and acquaintances asked me how I felt about sacrificing my son. I replied by stating that I was not sacrificing my son, but that I was supporting his informed decision, a decision that he made as an adult. He had other options in life. He received excellent advice from two veterans: a grandfather who served in the U.S. Army during World War II and a grandfather who served in the U.S. Army during the Cold War. He knew exactly what he was doing.
The crux of Huard’s argument is that military service has disappeared from the common American experience, that military culture is no longer American culture. I happen to believe this is true and, like Huard, I find it to be a disturbing development. A culture apart from its military is not only more likely to fail to give its military the tools it needs for successfully defending the national interest, it more likely to misuse and ignorantly abuse, or allow the abuse, of its military.
The ancient, and very Western, tradition of the citizen solider is crucial to the heath of any Republic but the demands of both modern warfare and personal liberty require a force of professional volunteers. It’s a balancing act that we’re failing at. We’re returning to a system of military clans, separate in culture and social status from the general population. Most American families and their soft, spoiled and entitled children don’t even conceive of military service as an option much less an opportunity. Yet nearly everyone I’ve known in the military either has kids in or are themselves children of veterans.