Hidden Wars

A couple days ago, while having the brake pads replaced on my silver four-cylinder base-model 2006 Honda Accord, I found myself in a waiting room with hours to kill and a lot of magazines to read. I came across a recent TIME article that really got me thinking.

The article says that, in the U.S., the divide between soldiers and civilians has never been bigger. Many outside the armed forces are ignorant of even the most basic details of how the military works, what it’s currently doing, and what daily life is like for service members. Meanwhile a lot of soldiers grow more isolated from the country they serve.

The percentage of Congress that’s made up of veterans has dropped from 77% in the 1970s to 22% today.

The article got my attention because I’m part of the problem. What do I know about the military? I know we’re in Afghanistan, and pulling out of Iraq. I know we were involved with the Libyan air strikes and that we’ve sent “advisors” to help fight the LRA. But…specific details of how the Afghanistan war is progressing? Knowledge of the military command structure? An understanding of what everyday life is like for a soldier? Things I can do, as a civilian, to help those who are risking their lives? On all those subjects, I’m hazy at best.

This is a big deal. Democracies rely on the people to be informed about what their country is doing. In the U.S., I see a population increasingly distracted by entertainment, increasingly apathetic about what their guns are doing and why. And it seems to me that this is how democracies fall.

I mentioned recently that I’ve started learning about a new subject every week. This week was Mozambique. I think sometime soon I’ll take a week and learn more about the armed forces.

How much connection do you feel to your country’s military, and how well do you understand them?

12 responses to “Hidden Wars

  1. I was in training for the Air Force for 9 months before I got medically discharged, and I learned a bit. At least from the enlisted trainee pov.

    For one, I hated it. HATED IT. Most of the people there didn’t join to serve their country or anything like that. They just wanted the job and the security that came with it.

    I hated most of the people in my flight (the group you’re put into when you arrive at Basic Training). But I hated most was the hypocrisy of it all.

    There were rules that for me, made no sense. And the only way to succeed was to break them…without getting caught.

    This was Integrity First? I graduated boot camp not more disciplined or more confident. I just learned how to run and learned never to not stand out in any way unless you wanted to get screamed at.

    I know this is just training and the real military life was probably waaay different and there were some who did have integrity. Going to a warzone was probably different as well, and etc.

    But at least I know what it’s like for a trainee.

    • Wow, I had no idea! What led you to get into the Air Force?

      • It was a bad decision to begin with. I look back and wonder what the hell happened…

        See, I was young and lacked serious, critical amounts of self-esteem.

        My mom used to be in the Army. I think she had this sense of duty to make sure me and my brother were very well taken cared of. So since my brother had the SAT scores to pull it off, mom got him to enroll in college and win a ROTC Army partial scholarship (when she died, he quit, went to another college and got another degree in something completely different).

        I bombed math and must have worried my mom or maybe she just didn’t like the idea of taking out loans to put me through college. Whatever the reason, she strongly suggested I enlist in the Air Force (thinking about this, this probably ruined my self-esteem even more). Thinking I had no other option, I signed the contract because that’s what she wanted me to do.

        The rest is history.

      • Sounds like a rough time. I guess at least now you know it’s not for you. And hey, there’s got to be material in there for at least one story, right?

  2. I have three brothers in the Army, but I wouldn’t say I am any sort of expert on what it is like for them. Not really. One of my younger brothers shared the most with me, telling how American civilians would come up to him in public places and call him a baby-killer (and other things), simply because he was in uniform.

    He wasn’t even allowed to respond to that.

    I wouldn’t say our military is perfect or filled with only men and women of honor, but my brother put his life on the line. He was shot at. He took a bullet. And he gets abused by the citizens of his own county?

    I wish more people would take the time to educate themselves. The average soldier doesn’t get a whole lot of say in what he does or where he goes. Don’t like a war we’re in? Blame Congress.

  3. The % of Congress is very interesting, and perhaps telling.

    On Veterans Day last week, I posted about the (limited) experience I have had with Andy’s brother being a Marine. What I know, I know from him and their family. (Also from sitting on a plane next to one young female Army member who told me she joined so she could go shopping with her own money. o_O)

    As Amber said, there’s going to be a variety of reasons that people join, not all of them the “best.” But that’s true of any profession, and I think no matter what their personal motivations, we have to understand and appreciate that these men and women are putting their lives at risk in order to keep us safe.

  4. I’m like you, Brian, in that I’m really, really far away from the military, war, etc. etc. I think it’s largely an economics thing, in that if you (or your parents, I guess) can afford to attend a private college, you probably aren’t looking to finance your education by going into the military. Food for thought, I guess….

    I try to keep somewhat on top of things the military is doing, but we’re in so many countries at this point I wonder if anyone knows what we’re doing everywhere. And since the media doesn’t report on much of this it’s hard for any of us to learn more.

    Earlier this year I read WAR by Sebastian Junger, then watched the documentary Restrepo he did with Tim Hetherington. (This was shortly after Tim Hetherington was killed reporting in Libya.) Both were good, and it was definitely interesting to read about the war in Afghanistan before seeing the raw footage of the actual events described in the book. They really changed my understanding of what’s going on in Afghanistan.

  5. I don’t really know much about the way the military works or how it’s structured either. For vet’s day, my class was supposed to write a thank you letter to a soldier we knew or, if we didn’t know any soldiers, than the letter would be given to random people. And guess what? I didn’t know what to say. I had no clue what the military had done over the past decade or two, except the hazy idea they were killing terrorists in Iraq or something. I thought the % of congress was interesting, and also agree. Our nation is screwing up in several different ways now, from the school system to health care to the economy. And since this has also been sort of on the edge of my conciousness, bugging me for a while now I think that if citizens don’t know what their governments are doing then they democracy doesn’t function as well as it should.

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