Saturday, April 3, 2010
Our Warrior Class
By Alan Caruba
I come from a generation, just as several before it, that was drafted into military service. The Draft, conscription, goes back to the days of the Civil War and, before that, it was understood that able-bodied men would serve in militias.
After the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941, many American men lined up around the corner to volunteer to fight the Japanese. Others would be dispatched to the European theatre of war to fight the Nazis.
Still others waited to be drafted into service. During the years leading up to Pearl Harbor many Americans simply wanted to stay out of the Asian conflict that had begun with the Japanese invasion of China many years earlier and the European conflict that had begun when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. That changed in 1941.
The “greatest generation” fought and won. They did it by being absolutely merciless toward our enemies because that is the only real rule of war. Kill them before they kill us. Lose the war and you are their possession, their slaves.
World War Two was all-out war with civilians dying in the hundreds of thousands because the people’s will to fight on had to be extinguished. Dresden was bombed to dust; Berlin became a shell of shattered buildings. As American forces waited to invade the homeland of Japan, President Truman ordered the bombing of Hiroshima and, when the Japanese emperor and generals still refused to meet the terms of unconditional surrender, he bombed Nagasaki. World War Two ended.
I often tell people that the history of mankind is the history of war. It is always the history of winners and losers. It may take a short breath, but war is a constant throughout history and in the life of each new generation.
Shortly after the end of World War Two in 1945, the Korean War began when North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950. That war drew Americans back to a new battlefield until, on July 27, 1953, a truce was signed. The two Koreas are technically still in a state of war because no peace treaty exists.
Then, of course, for most Americans today there was the Vietnam War. Whether of the generation who fought it or those born after it, the Vietnam War remains the war we lost. It remains a cauldron of debate over its conduct. What emerged from that war, however, was an all-volunteer military, a warrior class.
Over the years of the Iraq-Afghanistan conflict I had occasion to write that these were the wrong wars in the wrong places, that the U.S. was wasting its treasure and young men (and women) there. I think, on reflection that I was wrong.
I think, now, that even this veteran of the U.S. Army, drafted in the 1960s, simply grew weary of these wars and neglected the broad history of conflicts dating back to biblical times.
A friend of mine, a professional soldier who served for 25 years, had this to say:
“When I first came in, the drill sergeants, platoon sergeants and sergeants majors were all ‘Nam vets and they all told us the same thing; we are an all-volunteer Army, none of us were drafted; having served in a conscript Army they all said that we wouldn’t want to be in conflict with a bunch of draftees who did not want to be there. They told us about disciplinary problems in the draftee military you would not believe.”
“The war we are currently engaged in is The One Hundred Years War and the sooner the American people get used to that, the better. I do not differentiate between the ‘Iraq War’ and the ‘Afghanistan War’; they are simply different theaters of the same war.”
In his new book, “Kaboom”, Matt Gallagher traces his transformation from an ROTC college graduate to his battlefield experiences in Iraq. He wrote:
“As I watched the platoon joke, clown, and ramble their way through the holiday dinner, I couldn’t help but think about the country that had produced them. These were the men in the flesh that society only celebrates in the abstract.”
“The NCOs had served in the army long enough to stop caring about the whims of the American culture they protected so effectively; the joes were just removed enough to not fully recognize how the same society that reared us had detached itself from us the day we signed our enlistment papers. In a voluntary military, we fought for the nation, not with it.”
Americans, most of whom honor our troops, have not had our lives personally touched by the Mideast conflicts. The way of life they are fighting to protect has barely been altered as they put their lives on the line every day in a combat zone or service in any of the branches.
Under such circumstances, it is easy to forget there are countless enemies, mostly Muslim, striving to bring down America and to kill us in the same fashion as they killed some three thousand of us on a single day at the beginning of this decade.
Withdrawing from conflict zones in Iraq and Afghanistan may seem like a good idea, an end to our casualties in battle, but those who are there, our warrior class, know that it would just be a brief cessation of what will be a very long war we cannot dare to lose.
© Alan Caruba, 2010