Sunday, June 22, 2014

Hero Worship and the Military

Cpl Kyle Carpenter, USMC.  Hero.
Captain Benjamin Summers of the United States Army has penned an editorial for the Washington Post worth of your time and understanding.  In it, he addresses the "hero worship" issue that exists between the U.S. military and the society from which it springs.  Captain Summers is to be commended, as he will invariably raise the hackles of the growing dependency class that has sprung from overly generous entitlements and a powerful group of networked interest organizations dedicated to their increase.

It is not difficult to see how we got to this point.  We drafted young men who went off to die in what became a very unpopular war.  We then decided the draft was inconsistent with our values, so we went to an all-volunteer force.  Over the years, the maintenance and sustainment of that force became increasingly expensive, as the military was forced to compete with the civilian job market in the "battle for people".  Salaries and benefits rose.  An web of ever-increasing inducements resulted, including child care, medical benefits and educational stipends.

At the same time, we--as a society--rethought our reaction to the Vietnam War.  We had grown ashamed of our participation in it and to some extent, ashamed of our role in the world.  Among other things, Ronald Reagan helped get us over that.  We became proud of ourselves again.  We began to admire the military.  Our actions in Grenada helped showcase the effectiveness of the all volunteer force.  The bombing of the Embassy in Lebanon created great sympathy for the Marines killed there.  The removal of a corrupt regime in Panama followed closely by the first Gulf War showed that we could indeed have a powerful fighting force without a draft.

And we began to feel guilty.  No longer was military service something that everyone at least had the possibility of experiencing. No, it now became that which others did.  We created essentially an army of mercenaries, detached from the greater civilization, paid to do our dirty work.  We admired them, but we did not understand them.  It was the way zoo visitors regard the animals.
This is NOT a Hero. 

And so now we are left in the situation that we have created a military that does not necessarily "look like" America, who fights our wars for us (while we become "exhausted" by war) not under penalty for desertion but for a package of pay, benefits and retirement that are by any account, generous.  Additionally, we feel guilty that our own sons and daughters are not part of this force, and perhaps, we feel guilty that we ourselves have not served.  Who among us sees pictures of Navy Seals or Air Force fighter pilots and does not compare our self, badly in most cases? Nowhere has this impulse reached its height greater than in the U.S. Congress, a place that once was dominated by those who had served in the military, but which now can scrape together only a handful of members who understand what serving actually feels like.

This sense of guilt, this sense of having others do the dirty work for us has created a situation in which not only can legislators not find the courage to question the utility/effectiveness of the generous benefit packages they provide, but that they find great political benefit in pilling on even more, playing to this zombie-like adoration of the military.  Whereas once this great nation reared up and sent its WWII veterans to college en masse, unleashing a dynamic force that benefited this nation for decades, we now provide funding so that the children of the currently serving can attend private high schools.  As a young man, I joined a Navy in which I was told that after twenty years, I could retire and enjoy medical care at military treatment facilities.  That now has morphed into a program that provides me world class healthcare at civilian facilities for the cost of one latte a week, a cost that was supposed to increase with inflation but which had not done so between 1998 and 2013 due to Congressional cowardice.

When there was a draft, the public and legislators had borne similar burdens to those who serve.  They had a better idea of the deprivations AND the benefits.  They recognized the difference between a legitimate "hero" and someone who served honorably--and there is a vast difference.  And they had the moral standing to be able to more sensibly determine what was useful and what was excessive in determining total compensation for the force.  They can no longer do this. We are a society with a huge guilt complex that plays out in what we have created, which is a new dependency class made up of those who serve and have served aided and abetted by veterans groups that wave the bloody shirt any time a politician has the guts to say, "hey, why don't we look at reforming this..."

I applaud Captain Summers for his piece in the Post.  But somehow, I have a feeling that he is just another voice in the wilderness, one more voice to be drowned-out by the din of entitlement and dependency.


ADM J. C. Harvey, Jr USN said...

CAPT Summers wrote a very good article that deserves both wide dissemination and even deeper discussion by "We The People".
The current public narrative regarding those who serve today and those who have served, our veterans, has taken an unhealthy direction and needs to be corrected for the long-term good of all concerned - our citizens, our service members and our veterans. John C. Harvey, Jr, Adm USN (Ret) and currently Secretary for Veteran and Defense Affairs for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Ocean Oak said...

Agree with CW's sentiments and commend "AWOL - The Unexcused Absence or America's Upper Classes from Military Service and How it Hurts Our Country" (Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer) to his reading list...

As a Vet who did NOT receive a hearty welcome home from Viet Nam I believe it is more critical than ever to draw from all walks of life (yes, the DRAFT) to serve. But I wouldn't limit Service to the Military. A robust Peace Corps, VISTA, AMERICORPS, TFA, etc are all ways in which our self focused, self absorbed youth, whom the 60s generation created, can reverse the dangerous path of creating an isolated mercenary fighting class.

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