The habits one learns in tough economic times can last for a lifetime. Those of us who grew up with family members who lived through the Great Depression know to clean up our plates—starvation still feels to them like more of a threat than obesity. As people struggle today to make ends meet, they’re forming habits that, in turn, will come to be deeply entrenched. And it seems like one of them, especially for the most vulnerable, is going to war.
I’ve written already about how the recession has been dangerously good for the arms business. In Religion Dispatches today, veteran activist and minister Peter Laarman points out how good it has also been for military recruitment:
Earlier this month the Pentagon crowed that it had just completed its best recruiting year in three and a half decades. The announcement made no secret of the fact that a devastatingly bad job market is just terrific news for military recruiters waving hefty signing bonuses. The question of conscience: How do we feel about taking advantage of the economic vulnerability of the majority of American youth in order to make them still more vulnerable: i.e., vulnerable to suicide bombers, IEDs, mortar rounds, and even “friendly fire”?
And, of course, those less vulnerable to the collapse can go on with their lives unperturbed.
Today, obviously, our privileged young people do not have to worry about a military draft: there is absolutely no chance that they will be compelled to serve. But what is far worse than Vietnam-era draft evasion by the young and well-connected is the complete insulation from the consequences of bad policy enjoyed by today’s jeunesse doree. Not only do they not have to go to the burning deserts of Iraq or to the chilly forbidding heights of Afghanistan: they don’t even have to know anything about the lives of those who are going. The idea that they might experience any Fallows-like guilt or have any second thoughts about their degree of insulation is simply not an issue today.
There appears to be no coincidence that, just as General McChrystal calls for a massive additional deployment, the ranks are swelling. Would his dangerous proposal be even thinkable a few years ago, when people still had better opportunities available to them than soldiering?
When we go to war, when we elect to send more troops, questions need to be raised about what injustices permit us to do so. No other country, after all, seems to have the luxury to send tens of thousands of soldiers to a country on the other side of the world to fight a war with no firmly-stated goal and very little hope of success. But when there’s such an incredible disparity between rich and poor as in the United States, it’s not so much skin off the backs of the powerful.
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