Fewer and fewer of the civilian decision makers who now send troops into battle know what war is like. Apart from the moral queasiness this ought to induce, there is a tangible consequence. Feaver and Gelpi show statistically in Choosing Your Battles that throughout American history, the government's likelihood of initiating the use of force has consistently gone up whenever the percentage of veterans in Congress and the cabinet has gone down.This is hogwash. The statistical effect identified by Feaver and Gelpi is explainable by the rhythm of political history: after a big war, successful officers run for Congress and win, and after a big war we usually have a few years of peace. I am willing to bet that when the question of war or peace actually comes before Congress, veterans are just as willing to vote for war as non-veterans; certainly this was the case in 1965, 1991 and 2003. The experience of war turns some men into pacifists but others into hawks. The most bellicose member of the US Senate at present is the one who has suffered the most from war, John McCain, and he is not unusual. From Sargon of Akkad to Hitler, history's biggest warmongers have mostly been men with much experience of battle. The awful of truth is that some men who have been to war find that they like it, and many others end up feeling that it is not so bad.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Soldiers Are Not Reluctant to Fight
There is a persistent myth in America that only people who have not fought in wars want more of them, because veterans understand "what war is like." Here is a new expression of this idea from Michael Nelson, trying to explain why our nation accepts the unending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: