Traditionally, when the people of a democratic nation come to the conclusion that a war is no longer worth fighting, it takes large and extensive protesting in the streets, an army of peace designed to counter an army of war, to convince the government of its folly. Americans, however, have once again shown their penchant for innovation. Instead of hordes of people descending on the Mall in Washington, or dissident groups (peaceful or otherwise) setting up shop on our nation’s college campuses, a silent, yet equally effective, protest is being waged. Even more surprising, this protest has no organization, no center, and is being carried out by groups often no larger than two parents and a teenager.
Our country has an all-volunteer military. As such, signing up has to be sold to potential recruits. These days, recruiters don’t have much to work with. They are selling a military engaged in a war that we are seemingly losing and winning at the same time, and thus has given no indication of being resolved anytime soon.
There has always been a danger, increased exponentially in times of war, that entering the military will result in an early death. After all, part of the military’s job is picking fights with people who have guns. But there is nothing like a war to remind potential recruits, and their parents, of the risks inherent in joining our fighting forces.
High school students, a recruiter’s bread and butter, although still inexperienced at the type of weighty decision that joining the military is, are not stupid. They hear words like quagmire and asymmetrical warfare, and they know exactly what those terms mean. They hear about faulty intelligence, deception, poor planning, and all the other milestones of duplicity established by our government, which many are recognizing as the unmistakable smell of bullshit, and they want no part of it.
In addition, many parents don’t want their kids to join the military, then possibly go off to fight in Iraq, or anywhere else in the world, and they are exerting massive pressure on their children not to join.
Parents want their kids to go to college, prepare for a career, get married, have kids, live the good life — all the hallmarks of the American dream. Shell shock, missing limbs, and truncated life spans are not something they envision for their kids, and a growing number will be damned if any recruiter is going to sweet talk his way into their good graces and bundle their kid off to a war they normally only experience on the nightly news. No recruiter can compete with the constant drumbeat of a parent who fears for their child’s life.
As a result of American youths doubts about the war, and especially parental influence, the army and the Marines, our two ground fighting forces, are unable to fill recruitment quotas. There are still a lot of Americans willing to join, but not enough. As far as reinstating the draft is concerned, barring a catastrophic need for people in uniform, drafting is politically untenable. At this pace, it won’t be long before our military is no longer able to wage the war in Iraq owing to a lack of replaceable forces on the ground.
Our country has not risen up and shouted, we have not pounded pavement in any greatly sustained, memorable numbers. We haven’t even held our leaders accountable by voting them out of office. Instead our armed forces are slowly being choked to death. In this way the war in Iraq will be brought to its conclusion, prematurely or not.
There is something unsettling about this turn of events, however. The military’s recruiting woes feel much more like the result of selfishness or over-protectiveness than it does a genuine distaste for the war in Iraq. A rising majority of the American people feel the war is not worth fighting. As a direct correlation, military-aged Americans, and many Americans with military-aged children, are no longer considering military enlistment as very prudent. But are they making any sort of determination or effort where the personal stakes are not nearly as high? It doesn’t appear so.
Some Americans feel it their duty to fight for their country, and still others feel it their duty to deny their country that service during an unjust war. Perhaps there are a few too many people who shrink from the war in Iraq only because of the risk. There is great patriotism in bringing attention to a nation’s folly, and working actively to correct it, but the singular mentality that seems to be driving the military’s recruitment struggles primarily serves the small, immediate circle of friends and family in which most Americans live their lives, while not accounting for the larger tragedy that is a nation at war.