This will be quick, as I get to go do some archival research this afternoon for the first time in way too long (yay!!!). Last week we happened to turn on the Newshour-formerly-known-as-McNeil-Lehrer just in time for the final minutes of the broadcast. As has been the show's standard practice since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, Margaret Warner introduced several moments of silence as the photos of deceased service members -- way too many of them -- were broadcast. It was, as always, a chilling tribute to the ongoing casualties that are a result of these conflicts. As of this morning's newspaper, the Associated Press count is 4,462 service members killed in Iraq and 1,512 in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, when was the last time we heard much in the media about this ongoing carnage? (Which I acknowledge is multiplied many times over among Iraqis and Afghans.) Americans disagree regarding the propriety, the morality and the conduct of these wars. Above all, however, we seem to be becoming numb to the war's continuing effects.
Why is this the case? Historically speaking, this marks the first occasion upon which we have fought a wide-ranging conflict with an entirely volunteer military.
There were always "problems" with the draft insofar as there were generally ways around service, from college enrollment during the Vietnam era to paying for replacements to serve in the Civil War. I would not go so far as to say we need a draft. There have been advantages to having a fully professional military. Longevity of service and the ability to train skilled practitioners using highly technical modern equipment are just two of these attributes.
However: when we remove any risk of intensely personal connection to the military from a segment of the population, we create a stratification that makes it all too easy to set aside the traumatic effects of war. If there is no chance I will be personally affected, will I care as deeply? While I would hope the answer would be yes, the mounting evidence seems to suggest otherwise.
How do we counteract this tendency? I do not have an easy answer, but I feel it is a question we should be devoting more time to as a nation. Four decades after the creation of an all-volunteer military, we have some serious issues to resolve. Recognition of one of the roots of these issues is an important step.