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September 10, 2023

Because they recall a time of great national unity, Monday’s commemorations of the 911 attacks may seem remote even for Americans who vividly recall those horrific tableaus. The 20-somethings now assuming adult responsibilities were first insulated from those grim realities by youth, then further sequestered by an educational establishment that considers American militarism, materialism and white privilege the only true evils worth opposing.

As a retired Army officer with a highly improbable second career as an on-air military analyst with NBC News, I was directly involved in the immediate reporting and aftermath of 911. After I rushed headlong into our northwest Washington studios, bureau chief Tim Russert briefly sat me down to stress repeatedly that our reporting needed to be limited to hard facts, however grim they might be. “Colonel, most of our audience has never seen a war, much less one hitting their own neighborhoods. So let’s try to help them get through this.”

That was good advice but, in the days and weeks that followed, my most serious error came when I relied on my own experience instead of reporting Tim Russert’s cold, hard facts. Quickly glossing over the last half-century, I confidently assured the national audience that attacking our homeland and producing over three thousand deaths would surely result in our first formal declaration of war since Pearl Harbor. It didn’t happen of course, a point on which the extensive memoirs of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice conclusively agree.

In fact, the most remarkable thing about such a fundamental point of national strategy was that the high-level councils of Bush ’43 never seem to have considered how they might mobilize the American people for what quickly became the War on Terror. Instead, ordinary citizens were asked to pray for peace while being dispatched to the shopping malls, favored vacation hideaways, university paper mills and, most tellingly, the airports (where newly-recruited TSA agents harassed ever-growing lines of long-suffering passengers.)

But rather than sending our precious offspring into combat, the wars of 911 would be fought principally by Other People’s Kids, i.e., the volunteer Army and the Reserves. Sadly, the tyranny of the numbers often meant deploying our grunts to those hellholes on multiple combat tours. Perhaps overcome by his own eloquence while promising retaliation at Ground Zero, the younger President Bush seemed to ignore one of the principal lessons of Vietnam and most strategy primers: that you don’t send in the troops before the Nation is firmly committed to war. But two of his principal advisors, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, had helped to create the all-volunteer force back during the Ford administration. Surely our superbly trained and equipped professional military could now meet the challenges of 911? Even if those wars endured for over 20 years while the children of the elites stayed home?

However, it wasn’t supposed to be that way. I witnessed that now forgotten bit of history while working directly for the Army senior leadership as the Berlin Wall fell and we trussed up the resulting “peace dividend” like a Thanksgiving turkey. We had won the Cold War with a standing Army of just over 780,000 active-duty soldiers; it would now be reduced to under 500,000 while the Reserves stood by as a cadre force and hedge against future wars. But since history had stopped, only peace was expected. Pointedly ignored was an ancient Roman axiom, “Si vis pacem, para Bellum,” (“If you would have peace, then prepare for war.”)

What no one noticed back then was that the legislation which in 1972 created the All-Volunteer Force was effectively coupled in 1973 with the momentous change in national policy that became infamous as Roe versus Wade. In just over 12 months: military service had been downgraded from the long-standing obligation of citizenship to just another career choice. Similarly, the Holocaust of the Unborn guaranteed that our future manpower requirements would inevitably be dwarfed and overrun by our most likely adversaries.

No wonder that our all-volunteer force has fallen on hard times, due to the scarcity of qualified volunteers capable of meeting recruiting standards already in permanent and precipitous decline. Today, fewer than half of one percent of Americans ever deign to wear their country’s uniform and who can blame them? We have effectively created a sealed and segregated military establishment that marches to the dubious rhythms of political correctness and the uncertain trumpets that systematically trash our most sacred values.

Colonel (Ret.) Ken Allard is a former West Point professor, Dean of the National War College and NBC News on-air military analyst.


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