We Americans love our troops and especially the commanding generals. We always have. Washington was our first commanding general and our first President and the tradition has remained strong that a winning general could ride the adulation to the White House (even before it was the White House). Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Dwight D. Eisenhower all became Presidents and – if rumors are true – Obama was worried so much about David Petraeus running for President that he made him head of the CIA rather than head of the Joint Chiefs.
But I think we are starting to get carried away with our idolatry. Or, it may be more accurate to say, everybody, including the generals, are starting to believe the bullshit. During the Vietnam war, I read and heard lots of stories of civilians – maybe mostly college students – dissing and taunting Soldiers (and Marines, Sailors, and whatever Air Force GIs are called). As an aside; I do want to emphasize that I was not a recipient of hazing although I was in the Army during the run-up to the biggest part of the war in Vietnam and I was dating a woman who lived in the Haight-Ashbury. End aside.
I think the difference was that people were afraid of being drafted, of being sent to Vietnam, and took it out on everybody from President Johnson on down. Now nobody has to do military service and people feel guilty about sending those poor bastards – over, and over, and over again – into the grinder, so they overcompensate with reverence. And, as the military has gotten smaller and more elite, the top officers, especially the generals, have become incredibly entitled.
During the Civil War, the commanding general, Ulysses S. Grant, had been a civilian just a couple of years before. Much of the time, he wore a privates uniform with his stars pinned on the shoulders, and – more to the point I am trying to make – he had a staff of only eight people and he didn’t wear his medals (he had lots of them). During World war II, Dwight D. Eisenhower wore a simple uniform and only wore his top three medals. Eisenhower had a civilian driver and a small military staff. At the end of my so-called military career, I was a driver for a three-star, General Andrew Lolly, and he had a total staff of three (me, the sergeant/driver, a Captain, and a Colonel). Now it is an entirely different story.
Former defense secretary, Robert Gates, complained I was often jealous because he had four enlisted people helping him all the time. Mullen’s got guys over there who are fixing meals for him, and I’m shoving something into the microwave. And I’m his boss. General Petraeus, who wears every medal he ever got – of which, by the way, only ONE is for bravery under fire – had a staff of fifty when he was the commanding general in Afghanistan.
When there was a draft, there was more exposure of the average person to the military and more exposure to the average person by the military. The military priesthood was not as strong and isolated as it is now.
This lack of a draft has led to an isolation and the resulting arrogance that is hurting the military and our country. I think we should bring back the draft and reading an article by Tom Ricks, sent to me by Richard Taylor, has only reinforced that belief. The thrust of the article which starts by quoting General McChrystal saying I think we ought to have a draft. I think if a nation goes to war, it shouldn’t be solely be represented by a professional force, because it gets to be unrepresentative of the population. I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk. You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game. is how it will help the country. (The article really promotes a two year National Service for everybody with only some people going into the military.) Ours is a time when almost nobody contributes to the National Collective and the sign of a good American is wearing a flag pin and paying as little taxes as possible and the article paints an alternative that I think would make us a better country. I suggest you read it.
But, maybe even more importantly, a Draft would also help end the isolation that is currently ruining the military. The Army hasn’t fired a general for not doing a good job in a long, long time. General Petraeus, even with his staff of fifty, didn’t win the war in Afghanistan or anywhere else for that matter. The military has ceased to be accountable and guys like Petraeus keep getting less accountable.