Published on Monday, November 9, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
It is possible that the creation of an all-professional American army was the most dangerous decision ever taken by Congress. The nation now confronts a political crisis in which the issue has become an undeclared contest between Pentagon power and that of a newly elected president.
Barack Obama has yet to declare his decision on the war in
The officer he named to command the war in
President Obama almost certainly will do as the the general requests, or something very close to it. He can read the wartime politics in this situation.
The Vietnam war was opposed by the public by the 1970s, when according to the Pentagon Papers, the government itself knew that victory was unlikely. Today the public doubts victory in the war in
It is argued that there was only a collapse of civilian support for the war, caused by the liberal press, producing popular disaffection both at home and inside the conscript army, with a breakdown of military discipline, "fraggings" (murders) of aggressive combat leaders, and demoralization in the ranks. This is the version most military officers believe today.
It is an American version of the "stab in the back" myth believed in German military and right-wing political circles after the first world war.
Today the revised interpretation of the Vietnam war, claiming that it actually was a lost victory, has become an important issue because most Pentagon leaders are committed to the "Long War" against "Muslim terrorism." An Obama administration order to withdraw from Afghanistan, Iraq (or Pakistan) would be attacked by many in Congress and the media, and by implicitly insubordinate elements in the military community, as "surrender" by an Obama government lacking patriotism and unfit to govern.
Conservative politicians are convinced that any policy not set on total victory for the US in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan - and in coming months, perhaps in Somalia, Yemen, or possibly in Palestine, or sub-Saharan Africa, (or even in an Iran determined to pursue its nuclear ambitions) - would mean American humiliation and defeat.
After Vietnam, Congress ended conscription (which in that war had become heavily corrupt: the poor and working classes were drafted, while many of the privileged had influential families and found complacent doctors or college deans willing to hand over unjustified draft exemptions to those - like the future Vice President Richard Cheney - who had "other priorities" than patriotism and national service.
Congress created a new all-volunteer army. The sociology of the new army was very different from the old citizens' army. The new one was also composed of people who wanted to be soldiers, or wanted the college education that an enlistment could earn you, or often were high-school graduates who didn't have much in the way of other career choices, but since 9/11, and the Iraq invasion, the new army has increasingly relied on immigrants or other young foreigners who can earn permanent US residence by way of a US Army enlistment. The
Its professional character is fundamentally different from the old army. In the old army, career
Thus the US army from the start of the Second World War to the end of Vietnam was effectively a democratic army, with civilian conscripts, and the majority of its non-commissioned and commissioned officers peacetime civilians, with solid commitments to civilian society, often with families at home - doing their temporary (or "for the war's duration") patriotic duty.
Professional armies have often been considered a threat to their own societies. It was one of
The new army also has political ambitions. It now dominates US foreign relations with a thousand bases worldwide and regional commanders like imperial proconsuls. Both General McChrystal and his superior, General David H Petraeus, have been mentioned as future presidential candidates. The last general who became American president was Dwight Eisenhower. He is the one who warned Americans against "the military-industrial complex".
© 2009 Tribune Media Services International
William Pfaff is the author of eight books on American foreign policy, international relations, and contemporary history, including books on utopian thought, romanticism and violence, nationalism, and the impact of the West on the non-Western world. His newspaper column, featured in The International Herald Tribune for more than a quarter-century, and his globally syndicated articles, have given him the widest international influence of any American commentator.
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs