FDL Book Salon on Andrew Bacevich, Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country

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FDL Book Salon Welcomes Andrew J. Bacevich, Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country
Author: Juan Cole
Sunday, December 22, 2013 12:15 pm Pacific time
Welcome Andrew J. Bacevich (Boston University) (DemocracyNow!) and Host Juan Cole (JuanCole.com / Informed Comment) (Twitter)

Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country

Andrew Bacevich’s “Breach of Trust: How Americans failed their Soldiers and their Country” is a post-mortem on the professional standing army that the US has sent to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bacevich argues that the citizens’ standing army created by the draft in WW II and after had been highly successful militarily in Europe and Korea and had been a profound expression of individual buy-in and shared national sacrifice.

The drafted citizens’ army, however, met its Waterloo in Vietnam. A long war against a determined guerrilla force that became controversial at home and was not obviously connected to defense of the homeland produced profound fissures between the draftees and the officer corps, leading to “fragging” instances in which corporals simply assassinated their commanders. The draftees did not want to be there for the most part, and turned to drugs and other vices to anesthetize themselves. The commanders increasingly simply lied about the real disaster on the ground, both the failures in fighting the Viet Cong and the dysfunctional, divided US military.

Richard M. Nixon’s solution, abolishing the draft and creating a professional army, took domestic political pressure off him and allowed him to stay in Vietnam an extra few years. Initially the officer corps was happy with the idea of a professional army, which was populated on the whole by soldiers who wanted to be in the military. Either they were upwardly mobile minorities or they derived from white families with a history of serving and of respect for service. The short, brutal and victorious first Gulf War seemed to vindicate this approach.

In fact, like hidden cancer, a whole host of potential pathologies lurked in the standing professional army. These became amply clear in the George W. Bush administration when the public lionized military service but treated the average enlisted man like dirt. Americans were actively discouraged from shared sacrifice and told by the president to go shopping and to go on vacation at Disney World.

At the same time, the grunts did the heavy lifting, sentenced to multiple long deployments in a set of guerrilla wars that politicians maintained they won in the face of a gritty litany of disasters that left the countries where they fought long-term basket cases.

The disjuncture between the war of the professional soldiers and the idyls of mall shopping back home forms the backdrop for Bacevich’s searing indictment of the decline of citizenship in an America that seemed increasingly to go to war casually and to do so off stage.
The disjuncture between the war of the professional soldiers and the idyls of mall shopping back home forms the backdrop for Bacevich’s searing indictment of the decline of citizenship in an America that seemed increasingly to go to war casually and to do so off stage. The biggest victims of this pathological system, he argues, are the professional soldiers, who are celebrated in the abstract but screwed over in the reality.

Related video:

Andrew Bacevich discusses his new book at C-Span

9 Responses

  1. Your conclusion is true for enlisted soldiers but it is certianly not true for officers. The military officers of the have been leeches on American society for decades. Life might not be a piece of cake for company grade officers but after that hurdle is overcome the US miltary officer has it made. First all they make very good money to do very low risk jobs that are completely fraudulent in nature. In the best of times they misappropriate huge amounts of natural resources can could be used to help alliviate real problems. In the worst of times they commit mass murder. Then to top it off once they retire they get really good pensions with nice benifits at a young age in which they can and usually do get good jobs with nice pay from the new job. Then when they reach the age that most of us retire they retire often with two good pensions, either from the GSA or from a large defence industry oriented coporation plus other assets that they have accumulated because they had a very good income their entire working life.
    I would be willing to bet that if one compared all of the people who have played football in the NFL and all of the people who retired from the military as a commissioned officer after the age of 42 and compared their net worth those who retired from the NFL the net worth of the officers would be higher.
    When will it stop? These people have been ripping the rest of us off for generations and will continue to rip the rest of off for decades to come unless important changes are made.
    That is what I have been wanting to say now for a while.
    Not that such changes will now ever come about because
    no one has any stomach for change of this sort anymore but theologically speaking every retired officer in the military should be forced to take at least a 2 grade reduction in rank.
    They should be thankful that they even get to keep that much of their pension, before taxes of course.

  2. Enlisted retirees do not have to take a reduction because they were getting screwed the whole time that they were in the military. Well except maybe E8s and E9s but they got screwed enought until they got to that point.

    • It will stop when democratic institutions and mass media are protected from gold; that is, not in our lifetimes, nor in this empire. Even long-range optimism is negated by the failure of democracy to defend against either control by economic power, or technology.

  3. Bacevich, in an earlier book on these same themes, pinpointed Reagan’s 1980 campaign trail soldier-worship as the turning point in our culture – from respecting the soldiers as being our neighbors and relatives, to loving them for doing our dirty work for us, a caste of reverse-untouchables from the boondocks and slums.

    I think while Bacevich, as a paleo-con, is focused on the governmental ills resulting from this deformation of civic duty, there is a greater danger coming from the rest of the right wing. I think that with minorities increasingly abandoning the military due to disillusionment with Bush’s war, the gun nuts have gotten closer to the military and especially Special Forces which were always heavily white and mercenary contractors who are very right-wing, to the point where the military caste is also is a racial and ideological caste. This in turn has given the oligarchy, whose greed has ruined the economies of rural white communities, a henchmen caste who can rule over the privatized America it seeks to create.

    Imagine these guys going from the military to a mercenary company, then coming back to their ruined hometowns as Big Men, property owners and influencers of opinion. These gun nuts serve as reservists, then as cops and prison guards, and at the same time as leading lights in their Christian Right churches. If you’re going to bring back feudalism, you need a large class of warriors to put down rebellions by the poor.

    • If you want to see this feudalist nightmare presented as a current reality, watch “Winter’s Bone”, where a pervasive theme in the background is the Army as the only legal way to a better life in backwoods Missouri, and an imperious Vietnam vet is the godfather of the murderous drug fiefdom.

    • Yeah, they take care of their own. Like Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, erased from Marine Corps history for telling it like it was AND IS. And even Maj. Gen. Paul Van Riper, who got his knuckles rapped for the simulated sinking of an entire carrier battle group in a simulated war, daring to show how bankrupt(ing) and idiotic our vaunted Battlespace actually is. And how about them dudes and their families at Lejeune, dosed in their drinking water with a nice bouillabaisse of carcinogens for 30 years. link to tftptf.com And the power of the myth of Marine Corps Esprit and Superiority is such that the loyalty juices continue to flow strong.

      Thank you for your service! (sucker…) Please don’t bother to thank me for mine.

      • During my tour long ago General Butler was formally lionized in training and that was long after his retirement and writing of that famous essay which I encourage everyone to read because historically it’s the truth. I can’t imagine that he is not still Saint Smedley inside the U.S.M.C. They obviously didn’t give a damn about his post-retirement politics then. Why should they now? It didn’t have anything to do with his leadership in the banana republics and China.

        As to Van Riper’s problem, you can attribute that to the Navy. The Marines are not especially invested in aircraft carrier battle groups.

        And yes, however irrational it may be, the juices continue to flow pretty strong far outside of politics. Accordingly, whatever you think of it, it works.

        But don’t worry, I won’t thank you for anything.

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