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.
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