Monday, May 23, 2005

Putting Military Recruitment Into Perspective

In the June issue of Harper's Lewis Lapham puts the military's recent recruiting shortfall into some much-needed perspective. The reason that we consider recruiting numbers a problem is more long-term cultural fallout from World War II, the only war in the history of the United States (except for maybe Korea) that did not face significant opposition and therefore problems keeping troops in the army. The American Revolution was rife with defections, the War of 1812 saw New England nearly secede, the Mexican War was severely opposed by Whigs (and spawned Thoreau's famous essay on civil disobedience), in both the North and the South during the Civil War, large sections of the population opposed their governments and did whatever they could to get out.

In post-Civil War America you saw significant opposition to America's colonial grab during the Spanish-American War and the follow-up war against the Filipino people. World War I also witnessed large opposition, particularly among those of Irish and German descent, America's relatively large radical communities, many religious groups, and large sections of the Progressive movement. We don't need to go into opposition to Vietnam.

Only in World War II did American react as a united whole to a military action and that is only because we were directly attacked by one power and because the nature of the other major Axis power was so diabolical. But the children of the World War II generation were so in awe of their parents that they have based much of our ways of looking at the world on that generation. This is another example of this phenomenon. Ignoring the fact that almost every way in American history has generated large-scale opposition, many people today cannot understand why the present war hasn't inspired WWII-style patriotism and WWII-style military recruitment. Rather, they should be asking why WWII did inspire those things and make their plans according to the norm in American history rather than the anomaly.

Rather unfortunately, Lapham closes his argument with a titanicly bad idea--to allow corporations in Iraq to have their own private armies as opposed to having the US military protecting their interests. The situation now is far from ideal but I can't think of a worse idea than private armies.