Cheap At Half The Price
Pat got me all fired up with a recent post: reflections of a conversation he’d had … a Chicago visit, a cup of coffee, a stranger, and a question.
Part of Pat’s post went like this:
First, to counter Kennedy's assertion [an Op-Ed article to which Pat had linked) that today's military does not reflect mainstream America: in just my small unit here, we have teachers, college students, police and corrections officers, network administrators, engineers, a car salesman, a stockbroker, a farmer, truck drivers, and machinists, just to name a few. We represent mainstream America, and we have families, communities, and employers who are sacrificing while we are here. This reality, this representation of America, is why, after Vietnam, the military leaders of the time decided to rebuild our Armed forces in such a way as to prevent our political leaders from ever being able to do what LBJ did in Vietnam; fight a major war without mobilizing the citizen-soldier. You can talk smack about Generals all you want, God knows I do, but they recognize that war needs to cost politicians political capital, or they will be far too quick to wage it. Today's military cannot fight without the Guard and Reserve, and that is a GOOD THING. The military should not be committed to action without sacrifice by mainstream America because only then are those who decide to commit us held accountable.
My answer in response goes like this - but brace yourself… I think this is the longest post I've written for (Pro)Claiming Age:
The Militia Act of 1903 reorganized the military – not an action taken in response to LBJ and not an action in any way connected to Viet Nam. From 1903 forward, the National Guard comprises approximately one half of the Army’s available combat forces and approximately one third of support services. The U.S. Army is currently hovering around the enlistment total of 400,000 - Marines, Air Force, and Navy add another approximately 700.000.
On the outside, even if half of the 400,000 Army could be said to be National Guard, the numbers fail to support your argument that the President cannot commit the military to action without the participation of the citizen-soldier, mainstream America. Even if 200,000 strong, the citizen-soldiers to whom you refer as a lynchpin for decision-making in the President’s foreign policy would constitute only 7/100s of the American population – a far cry from “mainstream” America. Mainstream American is hardly fighting a war, even if its military are, and the Guardsmen and women that constitute so large a component of the activated U.S. Army nonetheless represent no more than 20% of the active military complex, even IF half of the active-duty Army could be said to be Guard.
The fact that we know citizen-soldiers only speaks to the relative social segregation of full-time, active-duty military personal who, in the “normal” ebb and tide of American life, “mainstream America” would be less likely to say we knew. CITIZEN-soldiers, on the other hand, are taken from “among us” when they are taken to war when “regular” soldiers are not. Whether or not recruiters “tell the truth” when a young person considers enlisting with the National Guard, the fact remains that society more understands the commitment along lines equal to those of your guy in Chicago … weekend warriors and full-time military are not and were never meant to be the same thing, not even when the Militia Act of 1903 reorganized them.
The confusion may come with the lack of this little bit of knowing:
Prior to September 11, 2001, National Guard personal could be required to spend no more than a cumulative six months of active duty on overseas assignment. Strains placed on U.S. military forces following 9/11 resulted in an increased cumulative total of 18 months. Additional strains felt as a result of the invasion of Iraq increased the total time to 24 months where it stands today – though conversation is currently underway in consideration of further upward revision of that total.
The issue is not whether or not the National Guard has always been activated as support for the U.S. Army in times of need but whether or not – or maybe how fast – the National Guard is now being morphed into another branch of the “full-time” Army. Check the trade in benefits; it’s quite a deal really. The U.S. government gets a dozen or so full divisions of active-duty personnel at the price of a weekend a month and two weeks in the summer – a standing army for the price of a weekend militia or ready reserve.
Even IF my kids had been told the truth when they enlisted (and they were not), they would have been told that the maximum amount of overseas active duty they could be called upon to serve would have been six months. Would they still have signed? I don’t know … probably yes, all circumstances being what they were then. BUT, does “mainstream American” know the contract was dramatically changed after it had been agreed upon? that its CITIZEN-soldiers have subsequently been conscripted and forced to the service of full-time Army under threat of incarceration? I don’t think so! "Mainstream America" hasn't known that such a thing COULD happen in America! But a lot of surprising things are happening in America right now, and more Americans are beginning to notice.
Finally, Pat, you said, “The military should not be committed to action without sacrifice by mainstream America because only then are those who decide to commit us held accountable.” And upon this idea we do agree.
Mainstream America is beginning to wake up to the sacrifice it is making for a war it never imagined itself to be engaging, and mainstream America is begining to call its representatives to account. I have hope for what that can mean. I have hope for the restoration of political and administrative integrity to levels equal with and responsible to our national passion and pride. Accountability is a very good thing.
technorati tags: Soldiers, Integrity, NationalGuard