A burden too heavy has been placed on the shoulders of U.S. ground forces in the nation’s longest wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. No level of respect and verbal support for the young men and women in service of their country can mitigate the mental and physical consequences of repeated combat tours. The volunteer military service is less than one percent of the nation’s population. Another one-plus percent, close family member, carry a loving and anguished support burden, but the rest of us are completely out of the active loop – and that is what Pentagon, military industries, Congress and the White House want.
As obscene as it is to imply that any war can be called “popular,” it is certainly true that when any war becomes “unpopular” to even a vocal and active minority of the population in a democracy, the war has been lost. This was Lesson One learned from the Vietnam War, and effective steps were taken to reduce the possibility that this would be allowed to happen again.
Military conscription was ended in June 1973. Noteworthy also was that in 1973, the Case-Church Amendment was passed by the U.S. Congress that prohibited the use of American military in Vietnam after 15 August 1975, unless the president received congressional approval in advance. The significance of this was that it effectively ended a war that was never declared by Congress as provided for in the Constitution. Since World War II, none of the wars fought by the U.S. military have been constitutionally declared. That legal point aside, over 117,000 military personnel have been killed, and additionally over 284,000 wounded in undeclared wars since WWII.
The death and destruction of the Vietnam War was vividly seen on evening television news programs. Pentagon rules now require war correspondents to be embedded within combat units and their reports are carefully censored. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are sanitized to the point of invisibility, but the nature of combat death and injuries are now well known. Combat medical technologies have greatly advanced, and wounds, which in the past would have ultimately resulted in death, now have a different outcome. Life is sustained, but frequently with quality of life diminished. This is particularly seen in head wounds. Most significant has been the nature of combat that has resulted in a high incidence of cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
These conditions await each multiple return to the combat theater, and there is no predictable end to the deadly cycle for the few that serve. The established correlation between PTSD and risk of suicide is an additional sad issue.
The cost of the War on Terror never appeared in the recent election. Will either political party consider the Pentagon’s budget for cost cutting?
It is not unpatriotic to question the democratic value and risks of a hardened professional Army, a true warrior class tested by a decade of combat. It will be the fruit of our political decisions to fight an undeclared war based upon lies about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and a non-state event, War on Terror, currently being massively fought in Afghanistan, but with equal opportunities in a number of other countries.
A first clue for the future will be a proposal in the new House of Representatives to increase the size of the Army. This is the classical path for the end of every empire.