Have we asked too much of our military?

Have we asked too much of our military?

Veteran’s Day is an appropriate time to explore this question. The essence of this article appeared in this column May 5, 2010.

When I came home from military service in 1956, someone asked “How long did it take you to become adjusted to civilian life?” My response was “about 20 minutes,” but that was not true. The military has a way of capturing the mindset of its people.

After two years in the infantry, I could envision a plan of attack or defense for any piece of terrain before me. When I entered a building or saw a bridge, I would unconsciously take note of that crucial point where explosives could be placed to bring the structure down. In the classroom, I had to hold my tongue to avoid saying “At ease, please.” All of this and I never heard a shot in anger.

Contrast this with what our young people have faced in the past decade after multiple tours in the heat of the Middle East being shot at, dodging IEDs and avoiding suicide bombers. These young people and their families are the ones who have made the sacrifices in these wars. For most of us, the war rarely entered our mind. The war was hardly mentioned during the presidential campaigns. Could this be an unintended consequence of an all volunteer military?

According to an article appearing in Time magazine in July, on average, one soldier commits suicide every day, over twice the rate for the comparable age group of civilians. More military personnel have died by suicide than in combat since the war in Afghanistan heated up. While military veterans account for only 10 percent of all adults, they account for 20 percent of all suicides. In years past, soldiers were less likely than civilians to take their own lives.

The Veterans’ Administration reports that nearly 10,000 new cases of post traumatic stress disorder are diagnosed every quarter among veterans returning from the Middle East. Thousands of veterans struggle with nervous disorders, anger, stress and trust issues. The cost of these wars will far exceed the outlay for the munitions expended.
The Second Iraq War was the first time in our nation’s history when we entered a conflict with no pretense of paying for it. Most observers agree that neither party would have voted to launch the offensive if a tax increase to support the war had been part of the bargain. Instead, our representatives voted to go to war on borrowed money with our grandchildren to pick up the tab. In fact, during the midst of the conflict we borrowed more money to give virtually every family in America a cash rebate and then a tax cut.

In World War II, the nation endured hardships, bought war bonds and paid taxes to support the war effort. With no sacrifices by the masses, there is less incentive to end a conflict. Does anyone think for a minute that we would still be involved in this war if the American people had had to “suck it up” for the past decade, a period when we should have been reducing spending.

As we finally wind down our military involvement in the Middle East, let’s think long and hard before we become entangled in another winless war that drains our resources, impoverishes generations to come and maims our young people.

Roy Shaver writes a weekly column for the Daily News.