Sunday, January 5, 2014

America's Disinterst In Its Hereditary Military Caste

I read with interest Andrew Bacevich's recent article "One Percent Republic."  I compared it to the notes I took when David M. Kennedy presented The Modern American Military at the Commonwealth Club last year.  Both Prof. Kennedy and Col. Bacevich accurately describe America's relationship with its citizen-soldiers after more than a decade of war against Islamic radicalism.  The Bacevich article could read very well as the follow-up to the Kennedy anthology.  Modern describes how the all-volunteer force allows the US to conduct war with reduced accountability to the American people, and "One Percent" describes the resulting alienation of the American people from their military.

Kennedy, in his talk, contrasted the high ratio of general officers whose children serve in uniform with the low ratio of Congress members whose children serve.  Anecdotally, I have observed a high degree of multigenerational service among officers below flag rank.  The Society of the Cincinnati and other hereditary orders are the closest thing the United States has to an aristocratic nobility.  I used to wonder whether those officers fortunate enough to perform duty in and around the Military District of Washington were able to leverage any hereditary connections during their careers.  There's even a Hereditary Society Community to keep track of all these hereditary societies.  I looked at the pictures of their annual reception . . . held in Washington DC, of course.  Pedigree matters in America.  Trace your lineage to a hero of our past wars and you get invited to high tea with people who don't have to fight in our current wars.  God bless America.

American expeditionary deployments have indeed increased dramatically since the all-volunteer force came into being after the Vietnam War, as Kennedy noted.  Americans are simply no longer interested in being accountable for war.  It's just another spectator sport providing amusement to a passive public.  This fulfills the prophecy Samuel Huntington made in The Soldier and the State in the 1950s that the American people would become more traditionally conservative in their tolerance of a large defense establishment.  Little did he realize just how conservative they would become.  American "conservatism" today primarily conserves Wall Street's grasping ethic and the middle class' unfunded entitlements.  Its liberal opposite is more like a Siamese twin, conserving and expanding every benefit program that progressive academics dreamed up.  TR Fehrenbach described in This Kind of War how liberals and conservatives checked each other's power and informed each other's ideas constructively during WWII and the early days of the Cold War.  The balanced dynamic has given way to a Janus-faced pantomime of difference, regardless of partisan noises.

Americans could write the next chapter in their history but they now prefer it to be ghostwritten.  Watching reality TV is more compelling.  Americans want handouts and our plutocrats know how to keep us pacified.  A people who lose interest in the burden of self-governance invite the entrance of actors who will lift the burden from their shrugging shoulders.  Bacevich notes the entrenchment of wealth at the apex of society, and Kennedy notes the military establishment's freedom of action in crafting policy.  We will soon see whether plutocracy and stratocracy can co-exist in America.  The Founding Fathers' own aristocratic pretensions often go unnoticed, and they intended the Electoral College to represent the nation's most enlightened beings.  This new elitist phenomenon isn't all that new anyway.  Generation X has a saying for all this . . "whatever."

Nota bene:  This article is dedicated to the memory of TR Fehrenbach, who passed away last month at the age of 88.  His passing received little note in news media.  I will never forget reading This Kind of War while on active duty in South Korea in 1995.