Problems with an All-Volunteer Force
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
The dangers that military men and women face on the battlefield and in the job market are familiar to commentator Ed Palm. He spent 20 years in the Marine Corps before he retired in 1993. And then he built a civilian career in academe. In the 12-plus years that he's been out of the military, he says that he has seen a big change in the attitude of men and women in uniform.
President Bush's approval rating may be extremely low at the moment but he can claim at least one consolation. The military still likes him. As a former enlisted Marine and a retired Marine officer, I can tell. The photo ops and speeches he stages in front of military audiences are obviously calculated to be pep rallies in support of the war. But the troops really don't seem to mind. The president can count on military audiences to cheer and clap and smile on all such occasions.
Today's all-volunteer force seems much more attuned to the Bush administration's neo-conservative agenda than the military of my day would have been. There is the obvious appeal. The military's never been a polite debating society. Bush's stubborn refusal to back down evokes a popular stereotype of the tough and taciturn military commander whose motto is `lead, follow or get out of the way.'
When I enlisted back in 1965 at the height of the Cold War draft, things were a lot different. Back in the old Corps, as we used to call it, I never would have expected to find officers and career non-commissioned officers so open about their fundamentalist religious convictions. Nor could I have envisioned a time when it would be necessary to crack down on proselytizing at the Air Force Academy. And I certainly could not have imagined hearing more than one officer, even in private, express admiration for the way the Chinese dealt with their protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Much has been made of the way in which the post-Vietnam military has remade itself and improved its capabilities, and indeed it has. But not all the changes have been for the better. The all-volunteer force is hardened along professional lines and it's much more insular in its attitudes and values than the Cold War citizen soldiery we used to rely on. And it's become much more politically partisan than the military I once knew. As this war grinds on, only time will tell if the inclusion of so many Guard and Reserve units will have the same leavening effect that the draft once had. But meanwhile, we should consider this. The military in America is supposed to be apolitical. Its role is to fight wars, but not to support and defend anyone's political agenda.
SIEGEL: Commentator Ed Palm is a retired US Marine major and the dean of social sciences and humanities at Olympic College in Bremerton, Washington.
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