By Elaine Magliaro
On Friday, I was talking with a friend when he suggested that I read James Fallows’s article about the American military that was published in The Atlantic magazine. In his article titled The Tragedy of the American Military, Fallows looks at the state of the U.S. military after it has spent well over a decade at war. Fallows wrote about a “chickenhawk nation” that sent troops into combat “without clear strategies, weapons acquisition programs that are expensive and politically connected, and an American public that is largely disconnected from the wars.” He also reported “on the findings of a commission that President Obama requested in 2011 to examine how the Pentagon could best be reformed.”
‘An era of defeat’ for the best soldiers in the world? (PBS NewsHour)
James Fallows speaks with chief foreign correspondent Margaret Warner about his article that was published in The Atlantic magazine.
Fallows talked about Americans’ “reverent but disengaged attitude toward the military…” He said that “we love the troops, but we’d rather not think about them.” He added that that attitude had “become so familiar that we assume it is the American norm.” Fallows continued by saying that it hasn’t always been that way.
When Dwight D. Eisenhower, as a five-star general and the supreme commander, led what may have in fact been the finest fighting force in the history of the world, he did not describe it in that puffed-up way. On the eve of the D-Day invasion, he warned his troops, “Your task will not be an easy one,” because “your enemy is well-trained, well-equipped, and battle-hardened.” As president, Eisenhower’s most famous statement about the military was his warning in his farewell address of what could happen if its political influence grew unchecked.
At the end of World War II, nearly 10 percent of the entire U.S. population was on active military duty—which meant most able-bodied men of a certain age (plus the small number of women allowed to serve). Through the decade after World War II, when so many American families had at least one member in uniform, political and journalistic references were admiring but not awestruck. Most Americans were familiar enough with the military to respect it while being sharply aware of its shortcomings, as they were with the school system, their religion, and other important and fallible institutions.
Now the American military is exotic territory to most of the American public. As a comparison: A handful of Americans live on farms, but there are many more of them than serve in all branches of the military. (Well over 4 million people live on the country’s 2.1 million farms. The U.S. military has about 1.4 million people on active duty and another 850,000 in the reserves.) The other 310 million–plus Americans “honor” their stalwart farmers, but generally don’t know them. So too with the military. Many more young Americans will study abroad this year than will enlist in the military—nearly 300,000 students overseas, versus well under 200,000 new recruits. As a country, America has been at war nonstop for the past 13 years. As a public, it has not. A total of about 2.5 million Americans, roughly three-quarters of 1 percent, served in Iraq or Afghanistan at any point in the post-9/11 years, many of them more than once.
Is the U.S. military faced with impossible missions? (PBS NewsHour)
Judy Woodruff gets reaction to James Fallows’s article from former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey and John Ullyot, a former U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer:
Click here to read the full text of The Tragedy of the American Military by James Fallows.
The Tragedy of the American Military: The American public and its political leadership will do anything for the military except take it seriously. The result is a chickenhawk nation in which careless spending and strategic folly combine to lure America into endless wars it can’t win. (The Atlantic)
Readers on the ‘Tragedy of the American Military,’ No. 1 (The Atlantic)