"You may not care about war," it has often been said, "but war cares about you." Perhaps, but Trotsky's dictum has ceased to apply to the United States since January 1973 when the country that relied on conscription from the Vietnam Civil War replaced a draft military with a volunteer force. Since then, only part of U.S. society has ever served in the military, let alone participated in combat. The rest, even people eligible for military service, were sealed off from the dangers of war. Since the wars after September 11th were financed by borrowing rather than higher taxes, Americans didn't even have to pay for them out of their own pocket.
In return, neither post-Cold War presidents nor members of Congress have to worry about mass demonstrations or election campaigns, which gives them more freedom to continue wars for years.
Today only 0.5 percent of the US population is on active duty. Veterans make up 7 percent. The proportion of young people embarking on or choosing a military career has declined. In a 2015 survey, 85 percent of 18-29 year olds said they would definitely or probably not sign up for military service even if needed, regardless of a majority in favor of the use of force to fight terrorism. Financial incentives, including bonuses up to $ 40,000 for first-time participants and $ 81,000 for those who re-enroll, don't seem to be enough. Despite a significant spike in bonus spending, the Military Times reported in 2019 that only 180,000 of the 1.2 million people who will live to be 18 years old and meet recruitment standards in any given year are ready and able to join the ranks to connect. While this is exactly what it takes to maintain the size of the total force, the Army, by far the largest branch, planned to spend $ 300 million on bonuses and promotions in 2017 to add another 6,000 to its ranks. Even though the Army cut its original 2018 recruitment target from 80,000 to 76,500, it still fell short of 7,600 for at least 10 percent of participants, despite abandoning quality standards. The shortage affected not only specialties such as explosives and ordnance disposal, cyber operations and electronic warfare specialists – jobs that require skills for which the military must compete with the private sector – but also entry-level infantry positions.
The burden of war falls not only on a small pool of recruits, but also on certain segments of society. In fiscal 2018, the southern states, where 38 percent of Americans lived between the ages of 18 and 24, provided 46 percent of all participants. In 2016, four of the states that were in the top 5 recruits for this year's cohort relative to their recruitable population were southern states: Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, and Florida. (Hawaii was the fifth.) Conversely, no southern state was among the five states with the lowest proportion.
Although there is a widespread belief that the economically least wealthy Americans are over-represented in the armed forces, this distinction belongs to the middle class. Families from the lower fifth of the income distribution are just as underrepresented as families from the upper fifth. At the same time, Douglas Kriner and Francis Shen in The Casualty Gap claim that soldiers from poorer parts of the country pay a disproportionately high price for fighting deaths and bodily harm than soldiers from more affluent areas. (This is in part because those with more training and advanced skills are less likely to serve in infantry combat units.) Aside from the physical strain it requires, military service also presents deep psychological scars. Nearly 19 percent of active duty veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder. Worse still, more than 6,000 veterans were killed each year between 2008 and 2017. The daily average for 2018 was 17.6. This far exceeds the national rate, which has also risen.
The unequal burden of protecting the United States has led to proposals like that of Elliot Ackerman, an eminent veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, that at least 5 percent of the active force, approximately 70,000 people, would require lottery from families with Top tax classes selected and assigned to combat units. The idea is that American leaders wouldn't have quite as much wiggle room to wage war if more children from the richest and most politically influential part of society – including, by the way, members of Congress whose median net worth exceeds $ 1 million and many people who do Land Top Cabinet Post – have been exposed to its dangers. "Forever Wars" can quickly encounter larger and more robust opposition in a short period of time. But would it work? It's impossible to tell, but historical evidence suggests that in some ways it would but not in other ways.
The main reason for skepticism is that the American public has been otherwise sealed off from the effects of the war. Successive post-Cold War presidents have insisted that the wars they waged or inherited, but continued, were essential to the security of the country. However, they did not ask their fellow citizens to pay more taxes for it as part of a civic duty. Instead, according to Brown University's Costs of War project, virtually all of the estimated $ 6.4 trillion previously spent or committed on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and on counter-terrorism in Pakistan has been loaned out. The Brown study also estimates that interest payments on this debt alone could add up to $ 8 trillion in three decades. So much for President Calvin Coolidge's attorney in his December 1926 State of the Union address that "a country laden with debt is a country without a first line of defense".
The armed forces enjoy great respect in the United States, but much of the awe is symbolic. Politicians, who are among the most ardent supporters of the recent wars in the United States, carry flag pens and make speeches to mention our "men and women in uniform". But most have never seen a war firsthand or lost a child. In fact, the proportion of lawmakers who served in the military has plummeted. In 1971-72 it was 73 percent, 1981-82 64 percent and 2019 17.8 percent. For the rest of society, airlines may offer military personnel priority boarding, and families may tie yellow ribbons around trees or stick Support Our Troops stickers on their bumpers. Such gestures are neither insincere, meaningless, nor should they be ridiculed, but they are free and symbolic of a way of fighting and financing the war that has virtually no public demands.
As a result, American presidents have gained a great deal of leeway for the use of force abroad. All the limitations in existence have been proven to be anemic. Look at the 1973 resolution of the martial powers. Not a single president has found it an insurmountable hurdle since it came into force. Although the Constitution (Article 1, Section 8) gives Congress the power to declare war, presidents abroad have used military force without seeking a formal declaration of war, claiming that any particular instance does not actually constitute war, or claiming that it this is the congress The use of funds for the military corresponds to the consent. Congress didn't even deny approval when the President requested it. The 1991 Congressional vote on the Iraq War was 250-183 in the House of Representatives (two members did not vote) and 52-47 with one abstention in the Senate. The scope for the 2003 Iraq war was even greater. With the 2001 authorization to use military force, Congress went much further and gave presidents carte blanche to use military force around the world. Efforts to end it or limit its duration have failed.
In light of this, it is not surprising that in the years after the Cold War (over the past 30 years) presidents used military force far more frequently – for war, occupation, regime change, and coercion – than in two other periods, each much longer were: 1789-1917 (128 years) and the Cold War (45 years). Although exact accounting is not possible for a variety of technical reasons, the approximate number (counting wars, reduced use of force and use in potentially hostile environments, but no peacekeeping and emergency relief measures) is 103 cases from 1789 to 1917, 34 during the Cold War and 73 since 1990. In view of the difference in time span, the last one stands out.
Kriner and Shen believe that Americans' attitudes towards war would change if they better understood how unequally the sacrifices required of war – military service, deaths and injuries – were shared. Their polls found that nearly half of Americans now believe they have been equally divided. However, they also found that people's support for wars diminishes when they learn that proportionally more soldiers from lower economic rungs are killed or wounded than from more affluent backgrounds. So Ackerman can have a point.
Unless the financial costs are more evenly distributed, politicians' ability to face open wars will not diminish. It is true that replacing a volunteer force with a force assembled by draft can prove more expensive, although experts disagree on this and are unpopular. And yes, politicians may fear that proposing war taxes would arouse voter anger. However, shared sacrifice, social justice, and civic duty should be part of the equation, especially when the inequality of wealth and power has increased.
To be clear, sharing the financial and human costs of war would certainly not rule out war. However, this is not a sensible goal unless the harsh realities of the world change and states no longer need armies to deter potential aggressors and defend themselves when deterrence fails. In addition, presidents can and will initiate wars, not to mention less dramatic use of force, such as drone attacks – an accident-free form of war on the side of the aggressor, if not for non-combatants.
However, a fairer distribution of the costs and risks of war could make a difference. What is special about the wars after September 11th in Afghanistan and Iraq is that they have been dragging on for almost 20 years. One of them, Iraq, was initiated against a country that posed no clear and present threat to the United States. These wars were also enormously expensive, killing and mutilating thousands of American soldiers and many more civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. All of this without producing anything remotely like success. The Hubristian goals of nation building and promoting democracy have not only proven to be chimerical, but have increased chaos and bloodshed. So the relevant question is whether presidents are less likely to continue such wars, and whether Congress is less willing to bless their continuation if the burdens were more fairly shared among Americans.
Now could be an especially good time to change the prevailing American style of war, which, given the growing social and economic disparities at home and the reminder – including the most recent – is a reminder that extremism and terrorism don't just come from or come from distant lands correspond to the prevailing perceptions.