Warrior Politics


Joe Klein, in a post entitled "Heroes Trashed":

Well, I suppose it was inevitable that the Weekly Standard would figure out some way to trash the 7 enlisted men from the 82nd Airborne, who wrote the courageous Op-Ed piece about the unreliability of our Iraqi allies in the New York Times last Sunday.

By all means, read the Standard piece in question, written by seven Iraq War veterans: Whatever you think of its arguments, it's a model of respectful disagreement. (No thuggery here!) That Klein takes this as an example of "heroes" being "trashed" is emblematic of the difficulties involved in having soldiers, whether generals or enlisted men, take part in political debates as soldiers - a problem that extends to parents and relatives of military personnel as well, and runs from Cindy Sheehan on the dovish left to these commercials from the hawkish right. In each case, there's an assumption that our soldiers are invested with a unique political as well as moral authority, and that to question this authority is to disrespect (or "trash") their sacrifice.

Writing for the Atlantic earlier this year, Andrew Bacevich argued that this state of affairs owes something to the "irresponsible politicking of generals and admirals," something to "the abdication by Congress of its constitutional duties on matters of peace and war," and something to the foreign-policy blunderings of "an imperial, irresponsible, and habitually dissembling administration." But he suggested that it's also a predictable consequence of the move to all-volunteer force:

Military service, once viewed (at least nominally) as a civic obligation, has become a matter of choice. As a result, the burden of “defending our freedom” no longer falls evenly across society. Those choosing to serve do not represent a cross section of America, and most are presumably well aware of that fact.

To assuage uneasy consciences, the many who do not serve proclaim their high regard for the few who do. This has vaulted America’s fighting men and women to the top of the nation’s moral hierarchy. The character and charisma long ago associated with the pioneer or the small farmer—or carried in the 1960s by Dr. King and the civil-rights movement—has now come to rest upon the soldier.

Bacevich's conclusion ought to be appended to any "veterans speak out" op-ed or advertisement that appears from now till the conclusion of the war:

On matters of policy, those who wear the uniform ought to get a vote, but it’s the same one that every other citizen gets—the one exercised on Election Day. To give them more is to sow confusion about the soldier’s proper role, which centers on service and must preclude partisanship. Legitimating soldiers’ lobbies is likely to warp national-security policy and crack open the door to praetorianism.

You have to subscribe, of course, but the full piece is well worth reading.

Photo courtesy of the Defense Department.