American schizophrenia is reaching heights only recently reserved for COVID. Last weekend, Palestinian protestors mobbed Washington DC, trying to hurdle the White House fence, spraying red paint on its gates and defacing statues in nearby Lafayette Square. The equally shocking images of scrawled swastikas and Raghida Talib televised in mid-snarl provided convincing proof for finishing Trump’s border wall while making citizenship rights conditional on good behavior.
Expect some contrasts between those repulsive follies and next weekend’s commemorations of Veterans Day. Even so, Veterans Day may eventually end up like Columbus Day as a declining fall observance since only half of one percent of Americans now serve in uniform while the all-volunteer force faces chronically declining enlistments. Other than murmuring the obligatory “Thank you for your service,” to an isolated, aging veteran population, what exactly do the rest of you even have in common with us?
The short answer is not much, but there are three short lessons characterizing the American way of war. The first was learned in basic training and still resonates fifty years later: Mutual dependence on your buddy because your lives as well as the mission still depend on it. My BCT experience was much more Forrest Gump than Full Metal Jacket, but our drill sergeants had already survived two or three Vietnam combat tours so their pointed lessons commanded respect. One of the first was that Army Green transcended all other racial, ethnic, cultural, educational and behavioral considerations. “And that goes twice for you nuts from California!” my DI roared as he took charge of our platoon. His succinct lesson introduced us to an Army that would become increasingly diverse: professional volunteers (not draftees) who were often Black, Hispanic, female and, later, even gay.
For most of my military career, however, the Army was not “woke” nor even an institution that worried much about political correctness. The reason: We were effectively “scared straight” in 1973, after coming perilously close to World War III. The Yom Kippur War (between Israel and a powerful coalition of Arab armies) eventually spilled over into a superpower confrontation that neither side wanted. In its aftermath, the US belatedly recognized that, during our lengthy sojourn in Vietnam, Soviet modernization had stolen a march on the West. Not only had we stripped our armies in Europe to re-supply Israel but we also faced the dilemma of technology innovation to cope with a dramatically more lethal battlefield. We studied Soviet equipment and tactics while rigorously analyzing how the Israelis had found new ways “to fight out-numbered and win.” We also recalled Sun Tsu’s ancient wisdom to “Know your enemy…” in order to defeat Saddam’s Soviet-style armies twice, the first time in just over 100 hours.
Now such fundamentals as the brotherhood of arms and knowing one’s adversaries are not typically taught in the nation’s professional schools where the other 99% of the population receives their career training. This rigid class separation leads to the third American characteristic of war, namely that politicians of either party seldom learn the lessons that truly matter. George W. Bush ignored several centuries of civil-military theory by committing our professional military to the long-term War on Terror while the country was sent back to its colleges and shopping malls. “Hey, your kid goes to Kandahar while mine majors in antisemitism studies at Harvard. So what?” Eventually, this manpower stalemate produced the presidencies of Barack Obama, who went from Middle Eastern apology tours to the debacles of Benghazi, Stuxnet, ISIS-as-Junior-Varsity-opponent and, eventually, to Iran’s resurgence as America’s Enemy Number One in the Middle East. The real price of ignorance in matters of war and peace: the combined presidencies of Barack Obama and Joseph Biden as well as the natural elevation of toadies from three administrations to positions of honor, influence and replication.
Consequently, I approach this Veterans Day 2023 with misgivings, and pervasive questions rather than a deep-seated confidence that America’s core institutions will handily see us through. That persistent well-being vanished over the last month as those pro-Holocaust, pro-barbarism demonstrations besieged our colleges with hardly a word of denunciation from the vaunted Ivy League.
In the words of Walter Russell Mead, possibly our most eminent historian, “This is the bleeding edge of something much more widespread that has the potential to touch the lives of every American.” https://www.thefp.com/p/are-
And what exceptionally bad timing for our military to become an endangered species!
A Vietnam-era draftee, Colonel (Ret.) Ken Allard is a former West Point professor, Dean of the National War College and on-air military analyst with NBC News.