Have we built an American Foreign Legion?
I strongly recommend reading this in full. In fact, TomDispatch deserves to be in the top rank of the “favorites” list of every American concerned about his or her nation, as it provides unsurpassed coverage of key issues.
This article discusses a long-standing theme of the FM site, the growing stress on the fabric — the people — of our Armed Forces (see links to other posts at the end of the post). As our imperial wars grow in number and duration, our chain of foreign bases ever-larger, the burden grows accordingly. When inevitably something in the apparatus snaps we will cry “black swan event” and recite the mantra of 21st century America: “It’s not our fault.”
Note: Before going to today’s featured article, note this previous post with a different perspective: America needs a Foreign Legion, 18 April 2008.
“Is the U.S. Military Now an Imperial Police Force?“, William Astore, posted at TomDispatch, 15 February 2009
Introduction by Tom Engelhardt
While the Army struggles, not particularly effectively, to deal with its suicide problem, political and military leaders struggle no less unimpressively to deal with the larger problems of military stress. Their unanimous solution to the global policy version of post-traumatic stress disorder: Cut down on those tours of duty and repair the military by significantly expanding U.S. forces. The obvious response, the one that could bring the military back to a state of health, is of course roundly ignored: Downsize the global mission. Bring American troops home.
A leaner, meaner, higher tech force — that was what George W. Bush and his Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld promised to transform the American military into. Instead, they came close to turning it into a foreign legion. Foreign as in being constantly deployed overseas on imperial errands; foreign as in being ever more reliant on private military contractors; foreign as in being increasingly segregated from the elites that profit most from its actions, yet serve the least in its ranks.
Now would be a good time for President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to begin to reclaim that military for its proper purpose: to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Now would be a good time to ask exactly why, and for whom, our troops are currently fighting and dying in the urban jungles of Iraq and the hostile hills of Afghanistan.
… As the Obama administration begins to deploy U.S. troops back to the Iraq or Afghan war zones for their fourth or fifth tours of duty, I remain amazed at the silent complicity of my country. Why have we been so quiet? Is it because the Bush administration was, in fact, successful in sending our military down the path to foreign legion-hood? Is the fate of our troops no longer of much importance to most Americans?
Even the military’s recruitment and demographics are increasingly alien to much of the country. Troops are now regularly recruited in “foreign” places like South Central Los Angeles and Appalachia that more affluent Americans wouldn’t be caught dead visiting.
… With respect to demographics, it’ll take more than the sons of Joe Biden and Sarah Palin to redress inequities in burden-sharing. With startlingly few exceptions, America’s sons and daughters dodging bullets remain the progeny of rural America, of immigrant America, of the working and lower middle classes. As long as our so-called best and brightest continue to be AWOL when it comes to serving among the rank-and-file, count on our foreign adventurism to continue to surge.
Diversity is now our societal byword. But how about more class diversity in our military? How about a combat regiment of rich young volunteers from uptown Manhattan? (After all, some of their great-grandfathers probably fought with New York’s famed “Silk Stocking” regiment in World War I.) How about more Ivy League recruits like George H.W. Bush and John F. Kennedy, who respectively piloted a dive bomber and a PT boat in World War II? Heck, why not a few prominent Hollywood actors like Jimmy Stewart, who piloted heavy bombers in the flak-filled skies of Europe in that same war?
Instead of collective patriotic sacrifice, however, it’s clear that the military will now be running the equivalent of a poverty and recession “draft”to fill the “all-volunteer” military. Those without jobs or down on their luck in terrible times will have the singular honor of fighting our future wars. Who would deny that drawing such recruits from dead-end situations in the hinterlands or central cities is strikingly Foreign Legion-esque?
Caught in the shock and awe of 9/11, we allowed our military to be transformed into a neocon imperial police force. Now, approaching our eighth year in Afghanistan and sixth year in Iraq, what exactly isthat force defending? Before President Obama acts to double the number of American boots-on-the-ground in Afghanistan — before even more of our troops are sucked deeper into yet another quagmire — shouldn’t we ask this question with renewed urgency? Shouldn’t we wonder just why, despite all the reverent words about “our troops,” we really seem to care so little about sending them back into the wilderness again and again?
Where indeed is the outcry?
The French Foreign Legionnaires knew better than to expect such an outcry: The elites for whom they fought didn’t give a damn about what happened to them. Our military may not yet be a foreign legion — but don’t fool yourself, it’s getting there.
William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), taught for six years at the Air Force Academy. He currently teaches at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. A TomDispatch regular, he is the author of Hindenburg: Icon of German Militarism(Potomac Press, 2005), among other works. He may be reached at email@example.com.
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To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp interest these days:
- About An Army near the Breaking Point – studies & reports
- About America’s national defence strategy and machinery
Posts about our military:
- Recommended reading: transforming the Army, the hard way, 15 January 2008
- America needs a Foreign Legion, 18 April 2008
- Militia – the ultimate defense against 4GW, 31 May 2008
- Lawrence Korb of CAP and CDI advocates a militia, 4 June 2008
- Time: “America’s Medicated Army”, 12 June 2008
- “VA testing drugs on war veterans” – The Washington Times and ABC News, 18 June 2008
- Is post-traumatic stress disorder more common now than in past wars?, 17 July 2008