August 5, 1999
In "Fort Leavenworth and the Eclipse of Nationhood" (September 1996), Robert D. Kaplan visits the fort that has been called "one of the most sacred places of the army's emotional geography," where almost all of the military's top officers have studied military doctrine and tried to envision the future of war by examining hypothetical and historical battle scenarios and running simulated war games. (Almost all of these exercises assume that the intervention will be an international one, in which the United States will form coalitions with France, Britain, Germany, and other countries rather than fighting alone.)
Fort Leavenworth was built in 1827 to guard the frontier. As Kaplan explains,
Kaplan foresees a future in which the gap between the military and society will widen, as war becomes more and more governed by technology, and technology becomes so complicated that civilian policy-makers won't be able to grasp it. But he also suggests that the "dissolving of distances" engendered by technology could eventually "dissolve the nation." America, protected by oceans, is a country whose very character has been defined by isolation. Now, "as nation-states begin the slow, inexorable process of melting into a transnational muck, the U.S. Army must maneuver to help the American nation preserve some semblance of a continental identity." The problem is, how does a military formed by and wedded to the idea of nation states adjust to this new mission? At Leavenworth, the army is trying to make the transition, but Kaplan is not optimistic.
The task of protecting a new kind of nation could be made even more difficult if the military does not see eye-to-eye with those it is supposed to defend. In "The Widening Gap Between the Military and Society" (July 1997), Thomas E. Ricks argues that the army is becoming an increasingly insular subculture that views itself as distinct from and superior to the society is represents. "Society," Ricks says, "is now at odds with the classic military values of sacrifice, unity, self-discipline, and considering the interests of the group before those of the individual." The gap is a result of several interweaving factors. With the switch to an all-volunteer, professional force, Ricks explains,
The political and economic elite has, according to Ricks, "an uncertain grasp of military affairs," and takes little interest these days in the military except as an instrument of national policy. Finally, the military, which traditionally has been nonpartisan, is identifying itself more and more strongly with the fringes of the Republican Party. Ricks finds these trends worrisome.
Whether or not Ricks and Kaplan are correct about the ways that both the military and America itself will change over the coming years, it seems clear that we should take an interest not just in what percentage of targets our precision-guided bombs destroy, but also in the larger issues of how the military as an institution is both shaping and adapting to a changing world.
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