Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, begins this powerful critique of the United States in the years after the draft with a baseball game in Boston on Independence Day, 2011. The occasion was, he writes, “a masterpiece of contrived spontaneity” in which the military presented itself in various certifiably patriotic ways while fans in the stands applauded loudly, especially when a young woman — described as “serving aboard the carrier USS ‘Ronald Reagan,’ currently deployed in support of the Afghan war” — emerged “from behind the flag covering the left-field wall.” To those in attendance it clearly was a thrilling experience. To Bacevich — and to me — it was repellent. He writes:
“Here was America’s civic religion made manifest. In recent decades, an injunction to ‘support the troops’ has emerged as its central tenet. . . . Fulfilling that obligation has posed a challenge. . . . Rather than doing so concretely, Americans — with a few honorable exceptions — have settled for symbolism. . . . To stand in symbolic solidarity at a ballpark with those on whom the burden of service and sacrifice falls is about as far as they will go. . . . The message that citizens wish to convey to their soldiers is this: although choosing not to be with you, we are still for you (so long as being for you entails nothing on our part). Cheering for the troops, in effect, provides a convenient mechanism for voiding obligations and perhaps easing guilty consciences.”
(Metropolitan) - ‘Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country’ by Andrew J. Bacevich
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Bacevich has written a book that precious few people in Washington will like, at least those people — and there certainly are too many of them here — who are connected in one way or another to what Dwight Eisenhower in 1961 called the “military-industrial complex,” in his much-praised and now almost totally unheeded farewell address to the American people. Bacevich, whose credentials for writing about the military are impeccable — he is a graduate of West Point, served for a year in Vietnam and did duty in the Persian Gulf before leaving the Army about two decades ago with the rank of colonel — is outspoken in his criticism of the all-volunteer Army. It’s not the soldiers whom he criticizes but the politicians who overreacted to opposition to the war in Vietnam and abolished the draft, thus establishing all-volunteer armed services, “a civil-military relationship founded on the principle that a few fight while the rest watch.” He writes:
“Rather than offering an antidote to problems, the military system centered on the all-volunteer force bred and exacerbated them. It underwrote recklessness in the formulation of policy and thereby resulted in needless, costly, and ill-managed wars. . . . From pulpit and podium, at concerts and sporting events, expressions of warmth and affection shower down on the troops. Yet when those wielding power in Washington subject soldiers to serial abuse, Americans acquiesce. When the state heedlessly and callously exploits those same troops, the people avert their gaze. Maintaining a pretense of caring about soldiers, state and society actually collaborate in betraying them.”