Does America Really Respect Its Military Men and Women?
Why might America's respect for its military be a mile wide but less than an inch thick? Less than one half of one percent of its population serves, making civilians more cavalier about deployment.
Michael Desch is Professor and Director of the International Security Center at the University of Notre Dame. He was the founding Director of the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs and the first holder of the Robert M. Gates Chair in Intelligence and National Security Decision-Making at the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University from 2004 through 2008. Prior to that, he was Professor and Director of the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. From 1993 through 1998, he was Assistant Director and Senior Research Associate at the Olin Institute. He spent two years (1988-90) as a John M. Olin Post-doctoral Fellow in National Security at Harvard University's Olin Institute for Strategic Studies and a year (1990-91) as a Visiting Scholar at the Center for International Studies at the University of Southern California before joining the faculty of Political Science at the University of California, Riverside (1991-1993).
He received his B.A. (With honors) in Political Science (1982) from Marquette University and his A.M. in International Relations (1984) and Ph.D. in Political Science (1988) from the University of Chicago. He has worked on the staff of a U.S. Senator, in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the Department of State, and in the Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division of the Congressional Research Service.
He is author Cult of the Irrelevant: Political Science and the Relevance Question in American Foreign Policy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, forthcoming 2018); Privileged and Confidential: The Secret History of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2012) with Kenneth Michael Absher, Roman Popadiuk, and the 2006 Bush School Capstone Team; Power and Military Effectiveness: The Fallacy of Democratic Triumphalism (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008); Civilian Control of the Military: The Changing Security Environment (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999); and When the Third World Matters: Latin America and U.S. Grand Strategy (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993).
MICHAEL DESCH: So if you ask most Americans, "Do they respect and have confidence in our men and women in uniform?" they will give a resounding "yes."
But when you scratch the surface, this patina of respect for our military turns out to be a mile wide but less than an inch deep.
First of all very few Americans are willing to actually serve in uniform. During World War II—admittedly a total war and probably the peak of mobilization—about 13 percent of our population was in uniform. Today the military participation ratio is less than half of one percent.
And so the burden of America’s global presence has been borne disproportionately by a very small percentage of our society. And I don’t think there’s an easy fix to this.
Going back to a draft, for example, would not guarantee that the burden of service would be equally felt. And likewise there are all sorts of political and practical arguments about doing it.
So what I’m calling for is simply a broader recognition of the fact that—behind our sort of gaudy pro-military rhetoric and our cheering at football game flyovers or at NASCAR skydiving jumps—that we also think about affirmative support for our military, also involving care about when we send the men and women in uniform in harm’s way. And it’s easy to do that when our kids or the kids of our best friends are not likely to serve in uniform and to bear the burden of any decision to use military force.
And so that I think also ought to be a way of supporting the troops. Not only waving the flag but also saying, “We’re not going to ask you to potentially make the ultimate sacrifice unless we’re really sure it’s necessary to the security of the rest of our country.”
And many of us I think in the "restraint camp" feel a moral obligation to our men and women in uniform to be careful and be selective about the use of military force given that such a small percentage of our countrymen are actually bearing that burden.
Why might America's respect for its military be a mile wide but less than an inch thick? Less than one half of one percent of its population serves, making civilians more cavalier about when and where to deploy its military, says Michael Desch, professor of political science and founding director of the Notre Dame International Security Center. When supporting our troops translates to flyovers at NFL games and skydiving events at NASCAR races, we fail to confront the sacrifice we actually make of the military men and women sent into harm's way. Truly respecting our troops, and having confidence in their ability, means caring more about when and where they're deployed. The Charles Koch Foundation aims to further understanding of how US foreign policy affects American people and societal well-being. Through grants, events, and collaborative partnerships, the Foundation is working to stretch the boundaries of foreign policy research and debate by discussing ideas in strategy, trade, and diplomacy that often go unheeded in the US capital. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org.
If you're lacking confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, try writing your life story.
In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?
But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.
What's dead may never die, it seems
The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.
BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.
The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.
As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.
The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.
"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.
An ethical gray matter
Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.
The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.
Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.
Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?
"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."
One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.
The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.
"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.
It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.
Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?
The dilemma is unprecedented.
Setting new boundaries
Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."
She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.
A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.
- Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
- If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
- It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
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