Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Troubling Thought

Tam, mistress of kewlness on the InterWebs, has a good post up about how the Roman military was eventually made into a hereditary service.  The soldier watching the Rhein border region was sitting in forts built and maintained by his father and grandfather, and would train his son to take his place.  Eventually these armies lost their connection to the empire they were sworn to defend.  This was brought on by this article, which is by the way the best written thing I've seen written about soldiers and their families in a long time.

There are still a lot of people joining up whose family hasn't produced a soldier or sailor in generations, but there is a significant minority of people whose "daddy, granddaddy, and his daddy before him" joined up.  My family has been in the military since my mother's Irish ancestor* got off the boat in New York and joined up, at least twice, for the bounty.  I wouldn't be surprised if at least one of my kids ended up in the military, and I'm trying to raise them to go in with their eyes open and with at least a few skills to ease their transition to life in the barracks.

The civilian population is, for the most part, disconnected from the military in general, and those who are or have been deployed to combat in particular.  To them, the military is either something they see in a movie or a video game, or a half-remembered uncle who went to Vietnam or a grandfather who fought in France.  A couple of times a year, they donate a quarter to the VFW guys in front of Kroger, maybe fly the flag on the 4th of July, and have a barbecue on Memorial Day.  If they have time, they'll watch "Saving Private Ryan" on cable and cry at the end. 

When the vast majority of the country has absolutely no connection to the military, and the military becomes an almost hereditary silo apart from the people they defend, bad things start to happen.  Military leaders start to look at the politicians who give them their marching orders as unworthy to lead, and the rank and file stop identifying with the country and start identifying with their commanders.  Remember, the best sheep dogs are raised with the sheep, and identify with them.

On the flip side, the civilians start to look at the military as either a money pit to be starved, as happened to the U.S. military in the 1920's and 1930's, or to be used as an international "feel good" force used to react to the crisis of the moment, as happened in the 1990's.  In this case, the sheep stop feeding the dog, or get him barking at all the little noises in the pasture until he is too exhausted to fight the wolves when they invariably come over for dinner.

Again, I see this as a big city/little town issue.  Louisville may have ceremonies at Cave Hill and Zachary Taylor Cemeteries for Memorial Day, but Bardstown had a chunk taken out of it a generation ago, and still remembers her sons every day.  Kids may go to the Patton Museum at Fort Knox every so often on a field trip, but a school that has 20 or 30 fathers, mothers, and teachers deployed with the National Guard is reminded of the war every morning.  I'll bet that the recruiters in the small towns and cities around the United States have an easier time getting recruits than those in San Jose or Chicago. 

One good off shoot of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is that there is now a good leavening of veterans entering the work force and politics.  Even if they are still a small minority of society, they can influence the rest of us to remember those who protect us.  The large use of National Guard and Reserve forces, while disruptive, will force communities to recognize that their peace and stability is bought at the cost of the lives and sweat of their fellow citizens.  Even though there will always be the "my daddy, and his daddy, and his daddy before him" soldiers, hopefully there will always be a majority of young people who join just because they think it's a good idea.

* Yes, I have a drop or two of Irish in me.  I'm a proud product of the American melting pot, but self identify as Norwegian since that's how I was raised.  If the president can identify as African, I can identify as Scandinavian.


Old NFO said...

4th generation here... And good point about small town recruiters! We 'should' start seeing an increase in congresscritters who have served, and who will support legislation that supports the military.

DaddyBear said...

The other good side of the coin on that is that legislators who've been in the Army will be more qualified to look at a military spending request and be able to tell what is truly needed by the services and what is someone's pet project. Hopefully we'll see more effective oversight over some of the military boondoggles that roll through the appropriation process.

Creative Commons License
DaddyBear's Den by DaddyBear is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at