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Warriors and Citizens: American Views of Our Military

Retired USMC General James Mattis. Image credit: U.S. Embassy Kabul.

“Warriors and Citizens: American Views of Our Military” is a book that explores the connection between the American public and members of the military. Thirteen different contributors are featured, each analyzing the “gap” between the military and broader society, and what led to it. 

The book focuses on several factors that may be at the root of public disengagement with the military, including: 

  • The effect of high levels of support for the military 
  • And equally low levels of trust for elected leaders 
  • How public view has changed since service became voluntary 
  • And since we’ve been in a 15-year war (the book was published in 2016) 

Editors of “Warriors and Citizens: American Views of Our Military” include Gen. James Mattis, who was the first U.S. Secretary of Defense under President Donald Trump. As a general in the Marine Corps, Mattis served tours of duty in the Persian Gulf War, the War in Afghanistan, and the Iraq War. 

 

How Voluntary Service Has Changed America

“It has been said that 1 percent of our citizens serve and go to war and that 99 percent go to the mall…” 

Voluntary service is one of the main factors analyzed in the book. Since the end of conscription in the Vietnam War, the only Americans who have served have done so 100% of their own volition. While this is the mark of a “free society” that so many Americans value, it also contributed to a steep decline in the number of folks who have donned a uniform. 

Some people say the solution is to enact mandatory military service for all Americans, like they have in Switzerland and other nations. That not only would this teach people to value the military, but also to value their country and freedom. 

Others don’t go quite this far; former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, for example — who was an officer in the Navy and Afghanistan war Veteran — called for increasing the value of service across the nation… but not just in the military. He also wanted to build up the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, both voluntary service programs that draw much less attention than the U.S. military. 

And others still insist that mandatory service encroaches on the freedom that service members work to protect. After all, isn’t America all about freedom of choice and livelihood and opinion? Isn’t that what makes this country great? 

But it can’t be denied that since Americans stopped serving, there’s been a disconnect between the military and the citizens it protects. Civilians who hero worship the military fail to recognize its members as normal people; civilians who hate the military experience the same problem. And civilians who are indifferent make the mistake of ignoring a massive part of our nation — one we spend $716 billion a year on. 

 

How the War in the Middle East Has Changed America 

Of those three types of civilians mentioned above — the ones who hero worship, the ones who hate, and the ones who are indifferent — it could be said they were all influenced by modern times, where the U.S. has been at war for nearly two full decades. 

Such a long war creates a public divide. Some people agree that the war has been necessary, and some people think it’s been a waste of lives and resources, for many different reasons. 

A 2019 Center for American Progress (CAP) survey found that 68% of Americans believe the U.S. should focus more on the homefront than on foreign war to remain competitive in the world. And according to a Pew survey from the same time, 62% believe the Iraq War was not worth fighting; 58% believe the same about Afghanistan. 

What’s more, the war is unpopular across party lines. One of the main reasons Trump was elected was his promise to end the war in the Middle East. But it’s also been a driving force for Democratic presidential hopefuls, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, who cites his historic vote against the war in Iraq. 

Hero worshippers view the military as ardent protectors. 9/11 was a devastating attack on the American people, and the response of the military is one they see as more than justified; they believe it was necessary for the defense of the nation. But they also blindly support the military no matter what it does, and place military members on a pedestal — one where they can do no wrong. 

Military haters are oftentimes people who despise the wars in the Middle East and place the blame on the U.S. military. They see it as a relentless killing machine wreaking havoc on foreign communities, and as a result, they harbor hate for anyone who wears the uniform. 

People who are indifferent to the military likely hold no opinion because the horrors of war don’t touch them. Not only have they not experienced military service, but the nation has been at war for so long that they’ve become numb to any news of it, as it’s just “normal” now. 

 

Warriors and Citizens: American Views of Our Military 

Overall, “Warriors and Citizens: American Views of Our Military” is an in-depth look at how the American public and the military have drifted apart, and how it’s crucial to foster a mutual understanding if we want to stand as a strong, united nation. 

But the book is not devoid of hope. It offers up some solutions on how to close this gap (that you’ll have to read to find out) and also one important fact: the hero worshippers, military haters, and indifferent civilians are not all there is. 

There’s another breed of Americans who respect the military, but not in a blind way. They honor service while still remaining thoughtful about how we can be better. And the book suggests that this type of American is in the majority. 

An excerpt reads:

“Whatever they think of the wars our country is fighting, Americans no longer blame their military as many did during the Vietnam War. The enormous respect Americans have for our military is obvious in ways large and small throughout society: the near-universal convention of thanking men and women in uniform for their service; the now-standard practice of tributes to our military during major sporting events; airlines’ policy of boarding military passengers first (without apparent exasperation by other travelers); and — especially — the overwhelming support in Congress for increasing military pay and benefits, even when the military services themselves would like to curtail the rate of growth. 

No one gets elected in America running against the troops. Foreign troops serving in America are often amazed at the affection Americans demonstrate for our military personnel.” 

So, while many don’t agree with everything the government — and, by extension, the military — does, they still respect service members and the sacrifice they’ve made to be part of the armed forces. 

You can pick up a copy of Warriors and Citizens: American Views of Our Military here

 

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