America’s Post-Democratic Military

Three_soldiers
America’s citizen-military no longer exists

W.J. Astore

In October 2005, during the Iraq War, historian David M. Kennedy noted that “No American is now obligated to military service, few will ever serve in uniform, even fewer will actually taste battle …. Americans with no risk whatsoever of exposure to military service have, in effect, hired some of the least advantaged of their fellow countrymen to do some of their most dangerous business while the majority goes on with their own affairs unbloodied and undistracted.”

We have, in essence, a post-democratic military in the U.S. today, which is the subject of my latest article for TomDispatch.com.  You can read the entire article here; what follows is the first section on how our citizen-soldier tradition morphed into a professional force of volunteer-warriors augmented by privatized forces of mercenaries and corporations.

From TomDispatch.com:

In the decades since the draft ended in 1973, a strange new military has emerged in the United States. Think of it, if you will, as a post-democratic force that prides itself on its warrior ethos rather than the old-fashioned citizen-soldier ideal.   As such, it’s a military increasingly divorced from the people, with a way of life ever more foreign to most Americans (adulatory as they may feel toward its troops).  Abroad, it’s now regularly put to purposes foreign to any traditional idea of national defense.  In Washington, it has become a force unto itself, following its own priorities, pursuing its own agendas, increasingly unaccountable to either the president or Congress.

Three areas highlight the post-democratic transformation of this military with striking clarity: the blending of military professionals with privatized mercenaries in prosecuting unending “limited” wars; the way senior military commanders are cashing in on retirement; and finally the emergence of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) as a quasi-missionary imperial force with a presence in at least 135 countries a year (and counting).

The All-Volunteer Military and Mercenaries: An Undemocratic Amalgam

I’m a product of the all-volunteer military.  In 1973, the Nixon administration ended the draft, which also marked the end of a citizen-soldier tradition that had served the nation for two centuries.  At the time, neither the top brass nor the president wanted to face a future in which, in the style of the Vietnam era just then winding up, a force of citizen-soldiers could vote with their feet and their mouths in the kinds of protest that had only recently left the Army in significant disarray.  The new military was to be all volunteers and a thoroughly professional force.  (Think: no dissenters, no protesters, no antiwar sentiments; in short, no repeats of what had just happened.)  And so it has remained for more than 40 years.

Most Americans were happy to see the draft abolished.  (Although young men still register for selective service at age 18, there are neither popular calls for its return, nor serious plans to revive it.)  Yet its end was not celebrated by all.  At the time, some military men advised against it, convinced that what, in fact, did happen would happen: that an all-volunteer force would become more prone to military adventurism enabled by civilian leaders who no longer had to consider the sort of opposition draft call-ups might create for undeclared and unpopular wars.

In 1982, historian Joseph Ellis summed up such sentiments in a prophetic passage in an essay titled “Learning Military Lessons from Vietnam” (from the book Men at War):

“[V]irtually all studies of the all-volunteer army have indicated that it is likely to be less representative of and responsive to popular opinion, more expensive, more jealous of its own prerogatives, more xenophobic — in other words, more likely to repeat some of the most grievous mistakes of Vietnam … Perhaps the most worrisome feature of the all-volunteer army is that it encourages soldiers to insulate themselves from civilian society and allows them to cling tenaciously to outmoded visions of the profession of arms.  It certainly puts an increased burden of responsibility on civilian officials to impose restraints on military operations, restraints which the soldiers will surely perceive as unjustified.”

Ellis wrote this more than 30 years ago — before Desert Storm, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, or the launching of the War on Terror.  These wars (and other U.S. military interventions of the last decades) have provided vivid evidence that civilian officials have felt emboldened in wielding a military freed from the constraints of the old citizen army.  Indeed, it says something of our twenty-first-century moment that military officers have from time to time felt the need to restrain civilian officials rather than vice versa.  Consider, for instance, Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki’s warning early in 2003 that a post-invasion Iraq would need to be occupied by “several hundred thousand” troops.  Shinseki clearly hoped that his (all-too-realistic) estimate would tamp down the heady optimism of top Bush administration officials that any such war would be a “cakewalk,” that the Iraqis would strew “bouquets” of flowers in the path of the invaders, and that the U.S. would be able to garrison an American-style Iraq in the fashion of South Korea until hell froze over.  Prophetic Shinseki was, but not successful.  His advice was dismissed out of hand, as was he.

Events since Desert Storm in 1991 suggest that the all-volunteer military has been more curse than blessing.  Partially to blame: a new dynamic in modern American history, the creation of a massive military force that is not of the people, by the people, or for the people.  It is, of course, a dynamic hardly new to history.  Writing in the eighteenth century about the decline and fall of Rome, the historian Edward Gibbon noted that:

“In the purer ages of the commonwealth [of Rome], the use of arms was reserved for those ranks of citizens who had a country to love, a property to defend, and some share in enacting those laws, which it was their interest, as well as duty, to maintain. But in proportion as the public freedom was lost in extent of conquest, war was gradually improved into an art, and degraded into a trade.”

As the U.S. has become more authoritarian and more expansive, its military has come to serve the needs of others, among them elites driven by dreams of profit and power.  Some will argue that this is nothing new.  I’ve read my Smedley Butler and I’m well aware that historically the U.S. military was often used in un-democratic ways to protect and advance various business interests.  In General Butler’s day, however, that military was a small quasi-professional force with a limited reach.  Today’s version is enormous, garrisoning roughly 800 foreign bases across the globe, capable of sending its Hellfire missile-armed drones on killing missions into country after country across the Greater Middle East and Africa, and possessing a vision of what it likes to call “full-spectrum dominance” meant to facilitate “global reach, global power.”  In sum, the U.S. military is far more powerful, far less accountable — and far more dangerous.

As a post-democratic military has arisen in this country, so have a set of “warrior corporations” — that is, private, for-profit mercenary outfits that now regularly accompany American forces in essentially equal numbers into any war zone.  In the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Blackwater was the most notorious of these, but other mercenary outfits like Triple Canopy and DynCorp were also deeply involved.  This rise of privatized militaries and mercenaries naturally contributes to actions that are inherently un-democratic and divorced from the will and wishes of the people.  It is also inherently a less accountable form of war, since no one even bothers to count the for-profit dead, nor do their bodies come home in flag-draped coffins for solemn burial in military cemeteries; and Americans don’t approach such mercenaries to thank them for their service.  All of which allows for the further development of a significantly under-the-radar form of war making.

The phrase “limited war,” applied to European conflicts from the close of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648 to the French Revolution in 1789, and later to conventional wars in the nuclear age, has fresh meaning in twenty-first-century America.  These days, the limits of limited war, such as they are, fall less on the warriors and more on the American people who are increasingly cut out of the process.  They are, for instance, purposely never mobilized for battle, but encouraged to act as though they were living in a war-less land.  American war efforts, which invariably take place in distant lands, are not supposed to interfere with business as usual in the “homeland,” which, of course, means consumerism and consumption.  You will find no rationing in today’s America, nor calls for common sacrifice of any sort.  If anything, wars have simply become another consumable item on the American menu.  They consume fuel and resources, money, and intellect, all in staggering amounts.  In a sense, they are themselves a for-profit consumable, often with tie-ins to video games, movies, and other forms of entertainment.

In the rush for money and in the name of patriotism, the horrors of wars, faced squarely by many Americans in the Vietnam War era, are now largely disregarded.  One question that this election season has raised: What if our post-democratic military is driven by an autocrat who insists that it must obey his whims in the cause of “making America great again”?

Come 2017, we may find out.

Lactation Station Nation

readyandresilient_header5
Where do lactating troops fit in this picture?

Walter Stewart (Guest Post)

Sleep tight tonight, America.  At least some of the roughly one million soldiers of your Modern Volunteer Army (MOVAR, a dated acronym), part of the “finest fighting force in the history of the world,” remain awake.

A relative few are awake because they are in harm’s way.  Sleep in “Indian Country,” as my gun platoon warriors called the Mekong Delta badlands in Vietnam, is difficult.  More of our MOVAR troops are awake because of the harm their countrymen did to their bodies and minds by launching them on one of this nation’s many undeclared and therefore unwinnable wars – their restlessness will last a lifetime.

And then there are those awake breastfeeding infants or “expressing milk,” whatever that means.

It’s hard for this old soldier to get his mind around the concept of lactating troops and the realities of dealing with new Department of the Army guidance, such as “Non-restroom lactation areas must include a flat space where the soldier can rest her breast pump.”  It’s even harder to fathom how lactating “Ranger Janes” can be anything but a drag on the common defense.

Regarding the common defense, I observe that in my pre-MOVAR days there were more than enough America males to fill the ranks of a far larger army – and from a national population roughly half what it is now.  Countrymen, what happened to turn so many of us boys to beating the war drums while hiding behind skirts?  To borrow a term from Arnold Schwarzenegger, it’s as if “girly-men” have taken over to do nothing more than cheer the troops into battle while chugging one cup of “finest-military-ever” Kool-Aid after another.  Too many of us, gentlemen, are pantywaists.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  Throw enough money at the MOVAR, promised big government facilitator Alan Greenspan, and more than enough quality males would enlist as servicemen.  Regrettably, this bit of Greenspan happy talk wasn’t any better than his pre-meltdown assurance of bank health, so now, with the ordered opening of all service positions to females, we launch on a quest to flesh out service ranks with quality women, some nursing, some expressing.

Having led troops in war and peace, I’m trying to figure out how I would accomplish giving female soldiers time to express milk “with the intent to maintain physiological capability for lactation.”  I’m not sure what that means, but if we’re at war can the noise of a lactation pump reveal friendly positions to the enemy?  These questions, and more, need to be asked and answered.  However, and with certainty, service seniors will just go along to get along.

That’s what I would do – go into survival mode.  Take the pay, perks, pensions, and “thank you for your service” platitudes, while remembering Rudyard Kipling’s admonition to keep your head while all those about you are losing theirs.

Lactation station nation, that’s us, pumping pap to those so delusional as to believe that in the world of warriors, males and females are universally interchangeable.

Walter Stewart rose from a private in the army of regulars, reservists, and draftees raised to fight in Vietnam, to a major general serving with the thousands of citizen-soldiers of the 28th Infantry Division, Pennsylvania Army National Guard. Now retired, Stewart is a strong advocate for a citizen-military and a saner world.

Betraying the military (and democracy) by loving indifference

A grim reality of military service that we often prefer not to see
A grim reality of military service that we often prefer not to see

W.J. Astore

Since the end of the Vietnam War, when it eliminated the draft, the United States has relied on an “all-volunteer military,” or AVM.  But that military, as one would expect, has not drawn equally from all segments of American society.  Its recruits have been more rural than urban, more Southern and Midwestern than from coastal regions, more conservative and evangelical than liberal and non-denominational, and certainly more working and middle class than from the affluent upper classes.

Is there a problem here?  Some would answer “no,” but today’s AVM is not the citizen-military of World War II, which drew in a fairly equitable way from all sectors of American society.  Today’s AVM defines itself as a breed apart, as separate from and superior to the masses who choose not to serve.  And in some sense it is a breed apart, because we have allowed it to become so.

This band of self-styled warriors is augmented increasingly by privatized military corporations, or mercenaries in plain speak.  (Indeed, some service members, when they leave the AVM, choose to join privatized military corporations, often doubling or tripling their salaries in the process.)  National Guard and Reserves complete the picture, units of which have been deployed to war zones far more frequently than anticipated since 9/11.

So, the U.S. military today is a curious amalgam.  An AVM or “professional” military, supported by privatized corporations/mercenaries and “weekend warriors,” deployed to foreign locations, acting to guard and sometimes to extend an imperial frontier, often celebrated by gushing politicians and a fawning media as “heroes” and as “the finest fighting force ever,” even as that military is connected less and less tangibly to the American citizenry.

And it’s that very decline in tangible connections that accounts for much of the military boosterism in America.  Most Americans lack any clear sense of what the military does; they certainly care less than they should; but what they are willing to do is to “salute” the troops by buying a beer in a red-white-and-blue can or putting a magnetic ribbon on their SUV as an expression of “support.”

A military that is not drawn equitably and broadly from the people is a military that is potentially corrosive to democracy.  Perhaps not surprisingly, today’s military is also one that is rarely sent on the people’s business in anything but name.  Instead, it is sent on the government’s business, a government riddled by special interests, a deeply compromised government.

Having served myself in the AVM for twenty years, I confess to respect aspects of it while increasingly being uneasy at its current composition and direction.  Why?  Because its composition is less than democratic, and its missions are even less so.  These hard facts are nothing new in history, even in America’s history, even when we had a draft.  Just read General Smedley Butler’s War Is A Racket. What’s new is our acquiescence as a people in the transformation of our military as warriors and mercenaries to well-heeled special interests.

Our nation has betrayed its troops in a strange way — by loving indifference.  Even as the military kills in our name, we choose to look away, sometimes in horror at the face of war, most often in lack of interest.  Even when we show interest, it’s the interest of cheerleaders jumping in celebration, or of fans enthusiastically or politely applauding from the sidelines.  The vast majority of Americans choose to have no real skin in the game.

What our military needs is not gushing cheerleaders or applauding fans but determined critics.  It needs to be challenged.  It needs a good ass-chewing, especially of its decision-makers at the top, the brass.  We sure as hell can’t wait for our “leaders” to do this.

Recent presidents have become cheerleaders-in-chief rather than commanders, nearly all of our Members of Congress have joined the pep squad, and the few critics who exist have been marginalized or attacked as being unpatriotic.

Even as our military becomes less democratic, less a representative sample of the people, we the people refuse to know our military.  We especially don’t want to know what it does in our name (especially the bad stuff, which is largely kept secret from us anyway).  So we end up worshiping a fantasy military, a manic pixie dream military, a figment of our imagination, an amalgam of films like Saving Private Ryan (WWII idealism), Top Gun (technological wargasm), and Act of Valor (Rambo/cowboy histrionics).

We refuse to know our military and what it does.  And if the people don’t know the military, and if the military is not drawn fairly from the people, you have a ripple, a rent, maybe even a fatal fault line, in the political and social life of the Republic.

We don’t know what kind of military we have, we don’t know what it does, but we worship it anyway.  That’s not democracy; that’s militarism as a national religion.

Uncle Sam Doesn’t Want You — He Already Has You

Uncle Sam wants us.  But who, exactly, is Uncle Sam?
Uncle Sam — He Already Has Us

The Militarized Realities of Fortress America

By William J. Astore (Featured at TomDispatch.com)

I spent four college years in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and then served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force.  In the military, especially in basic training, you have no privacy.  The government owns you.  You’re “government issue,” just another G.I., a number on a dogtag that has your blood type and religion in case you need a transfusion or last rites.  You get used to it.  That sacrifice of individual privacy and personal autonomy is the price you pay for joining the military.  Heck, I got a good career and a pension out of it, so don’t cry for me, America.

But this country has changed a lot since I joined ROTC in 1981, was fingerprinted, typed for blood, and otherwise poked and prodded. (I needed a medical waiver for myopia.)  Nowadays, in Fortress America, every one of us is, in some sense, government issue in a surveillance state gone mad.

Unlike the recruiting poster of old, Uncle Sam doesn’t want you anymore — he already has you.  You’ve been drafted into the American national security state.  That much is evident from Edward Snowden’s revelations. Your email?  It can be read.  Your phone calls?  Metadata about them is being gathered.  Your smartphone?  It’s a perfect tracking device if the government needs to find you.  Your computer?  Hackable and trackable.  Your server?  It’s at their service, not yours.

Many of the college students I’ve taught recently take such a loss of privacyfor granted.  They have no idea what’s gone missing from their lives and so don’t value what they’ve lost or, if they fret about it at all, console themselves with magical thinking — incantations like “I’ve done nothing wrong, so I’ve got nothing to hide.”  They have little sense of how capricious governments can be about the definition of “wrong.”

Consider us all recruits, more or less, in the new version of Fortress America, of an ever more militarized, securitized country.  Renting a movie?  Why not opt for the first Captain America and watch him vanquish the Nazis yet again, a reminder of the last war we truly won?  Did you head for a baseball park on Memorial Day?  What could be more American or more innocent?  So I hope you paid no attention to all those camouflaged caps and uniforms your favorite players were wearing in just another of an endless stream of tributes to our troops and veterans.

Let’s hear no whining about militarized uniforms on America’s playing fields.  After all, don’t you know that America’s real pastime these last years has been war and lots of it?

Be a Good Trooper

Think of the irony.  The Vietnam War generated an unruly citizen’s army that reflected an unruly and increasingly rebellious citizenry.  That proved more than the U.S. military and our ruling elites could take.  So President Nixon ended the draft in 1973 and made America’s citizen-soldier ideal, an ideal that had persisted for two centuries, a thing of the past.  The “all-volunteer military,” the professionals, were recruited or otherwise enticed to do the job for us.  No muss, no fuss, and it’s been that way ever since. Plenty of war, but no need to be a “warrior,” unless you sign on the dotted line.  It’s the new American way.

But it turned out that there was a fair amount of fine print in the agreement that freed Americans from those involuntary military obligations.  Part of the bargain was to “support the pros” (or rather “our troops”) unstintingly and the rest involved being pacified, keeping your peace, being a happy warrior in the new national security state that, particularly in the wake of 9/11, grew to enormous proportions on the taxpayer dollar.  Whether you like it or not, you’ve been drafted into that role, so join the line of recruits and take your proper place in the garrison state.

If you’re bold, gaze out across the increasingly fortified and monitoredborders we share with Canada and Mexico.  (Remember when you could cross those borders with no hassle, not even a passport or ID card?  I do.)  Watch for those drones, home from the wars and already hovering in or soon to arrive in your local skies — ostensibly to fight crime.  Pay due respect to your increasingly up-armored police forces with their automatic weapons, their special SWAT teams, and their converted MRAPs (mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles).  These vintage Iraqi Freedom vehicles are now military surplus given away or sold on the cheap to local police departments.  Be careful to observe their draconian orders for prison-like “lockdowns” of your neighborhood or city, essentially temporary declarations of martial law, all for your safety and security.

Be a good trooper and do what you’re told.  Stay out of public areas when you’re ordered to do so.  Learn to salute smartly.  (It’s one of the first lessons I was taught as a military recruit.)  No, not that middle-finger salute, you aging hippie.  Render a proper one to those in authority.  You had best learn how.

Or perhaps you don’t even have to, since so much that we now do automatically is structured to render that salute for us.  Repeated singings of “God Bless America” at sporting events.  Repeated viewings of movies that glorify the military.  (Special Operations forces are a hot topic in American multiplexes these days from Act of Valor to Lone Survivor.)  Why not answer the call of duty by playing militarized video games like Call of Duty?  Indeed, when you do think of war, be sure to treat it as a sport, a movie, a game.

Surging in America 

I’ve been out of the military for nearly a decade, and yet I feel more militarized today than when I wore a uniform.  That feeling first came over me in 2007, during what was called the “Iraqi surge” — the sending of another 30,000 U.S. troops into the quagmire that was our occupation of that country. It prompted my first article for TomDispatch.  I was appalled by the way our civilian commander-in-chief, George W. Bush, hid behind the beribboned chest of his appointed surge commander, General David Petraeus, to justify his administration’s devolving war of choice in Iraq.  It seemed like the eerie visual equivalent of turning traditional American military-civilian relationships upside down, of a president who had gone over to the military.  And it worked.  A cowed Congress meekly submitted to “King David” Petraeus and rushed to cheer his testimony in support of further American escalation in Iraq.

Since then, it’s become a sartorial necessity for our presidents to donmilitary flight jackets whenever they address our “warfighters” as a sign both of their “support” and of the militarization of the imperial presidency.  (For comparison, try to imagine Matthew Brady taking a photo of “honest Abe” in the Civil War equivalent of a flight jacket!)  It is now de rigueur for presidents to praise American troops as “the finest military in world history” or, as President Obama typically said to NBC’s Brian Williams in aninterview from Normandy last week, “the greatest military in the world.”  Even more hyperbolically, these same troops are celebrated across the country in the most vocal way possible as hardened “warriors” andbenevolent freedom-bringers, simultaneously the goodest and the baddest of anyone on the planet — and all without including any of the ugly, as in the ugliness of war and killing.  Perhaps that explains why I’ve seen military recruitment vans (sporting video game consoles) at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.  Given that military service is so beneficent, why not get the country’s 12-year-old prospects hopped up on the prospect of joining the ranks?

Too few Americans see any problems in any of this, which shouldn’t surprise us.  After all, they’re already recruits themselves.  And if the prospect of all this does appall you, you can’t even burn your draft card in protest, so better to salute smartly and obey.  A good conduct medal will undoubtedly be coming your way soon.

It wasn’t always so.  I remember walking the streets of Worcester, Massachusetts, in my freshly pressed ROTC uniform in 1981.  It was just six years after the Vietnam War ended in defeat and antiwar movies likeComing HomeThe Deer Hunter, and Apocalypse Now were still fresh in people’s minds.  (First Blood and the Rambo “stab-in-the-back” myth wouldn’t come along for another year.)  I was aware of people looking at me not with hostility, but with a certain indifference mixed occasionally with barely disguised disdain.  It bothered me slightly, but even then I knew that a healthy distrust of large standing militaries was in the American grain.

No longer.  Today, service members, when appearing in uniform, are universally applauded and repetitiously lauded as heroes.

I’m not saying we should treat our troops with disdain, but as our history has shown us, genuflecting before them is not a healthy sign of respect.  Consider it a sign as well that we really are all government issue now.

Shedding a Militarized Mindset

If you think that’s an exaggeration, consider an old military officer’s manual I still have in my possession.  It’s vintage 1950, approved by that great American, General George C. Marshall, Jr., the man most responsible for our country’s victory in World War II.  It began with this reminder to the newly commissioned officer: “[O]n becoming an officer a man does not renounce any part of his fundamental character as an American citizen.  He has simply signed on for the post-graduate course where one learns how to exercise authority in accordance with the spirit of liberty.”  That may not be an easy thing to do, but the manual’s aim was to highlight the salutary tension between military authority and personal liberty that was the essence of the old citizen’s army.

It also reminded new officers that they were trustees of America’s liberty, quoting an unnamed admiral’s words on the subject: “The American philosophy places the individual above the state.  It distrusts personal power and coercion.  It denies the existence of indispensable men.  It asserts the supremacy of principle.”

Those words were a sound antidote to government-issue authoritarianism and militarism — and they still are.  Together we all need to do our bit, not as G.I. Joes and Janes, but as Citizen Joes and Janes, to put personal liberty and constitutional principles first.  In the spirit of Ronald Reagan, who toldSoviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this [Berlin] wall,” isn’t it time to begin to tear down the walls of Fortress America and shed our militarized mindsets?  Future generations of citizens will thank us, if we have the courage to do so.

William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and TomDispatch regular, edits the blog The Contrary Perspective.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook and Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 William J. Astore

The Millionaires in Congress Don’t Care About Sending Your Son or Daughter to War

Please save us from flag lapel pins
Please save us from flag lapel pins

W.J. Astore

Yes, I know it’s a harsh claim that Members of Congress don’t care about sending your son or daughter off to war. Partly that’s because more than half of them are millionaires. And if they’re not millionaires now, they will be when they leave office and cash in as lobbyists and similar Beltway bandit jobs.  After all, it’s hard to sympathize with working-class families with sons and daughters in the military when 1) You’re rich (or at least comfortably well-off); and 2) You have no sons or daughters in the military, and never will.

I wrote to one of my senators in PA, Bob Casey, about the need to end our wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere — about the need to bring our troops home rather than continuing to place them in harm’s way for no reason that’s in our national interest. When I wrote, I asked him if he would send any of his four daughters to Afghanistan, or even if he’d urge any of them to serve our country in any capacity in the military. I never heard back from him or his staff, not that I was surprised.

Senator Bob Casey is a Catholic who went to Holy Cross in Massachusetts in the early 1980s. I’m a Catholic who did my ROTC service at Holy Cross in the early 1980s. We may have even crossed paths on campus. But Bob Casey is from a well-connected political family. I’m the son of a firefighter and a homemaker who joined ROTC to help pay for college. Bob Casey and his daughters have never had to think about military service except in the most abstract terms. They might applaud it, but they won’t do it.

The same was true for Mitt Romney and his five sons. Eager to salute the military; not eager to join and serve. Fortunate sons (and daughters), all.

You could say the same for virtually all Members of Congress today.  Almost no military service.  Few sons or daughters in the military, and certainly none in the front lines in combat branches.  Certainly, they’ll praise our troops.  They’ll salute the flag with vigor.  But what they won’t do is to send their loved ones into harm’s way.

Each and every time our Congress or our President sends troops into harm’s way, they should think whether they’d risk their own.  For example, it’s conceivable that President Obama’s oldest daughter, Malia, could join the military in 2015 at the age of seventeen.  (You can join the military at seventeen with parental permission.)  After basic and advanced training, many American teenagers have been sent into combat only to die before they’re out of their teen years.

Can we imagine such a tragic fate befalling the son or daughter of any prominent politician in the United States?  Of course not.  The burden of military service has perhaps never been shared equally in our history, but its inequality has never been more slanted than it is now.  The rich and privileged exempt their offspring from service (or at least from dangerous service), which only emboldens them when they cast their votes for more war.  In doing so, they risk nothing near and dear to them.  Heck, they may even pose as being “tough” and “uncompromising.”

Save me the flag lapel pins of our millionaire politicians and all their posing.  Want to support our troops?  If you’re young enough, quit Congress and enlist in the military.  Or be sure to encourage your own sons and daughters to join and serve in harm’s way.  At least then you can say you’ve made a sacrifice commensurate with those made by so many working-class families across the USA.