It is with a startling ease that the military power of the United States is deployed and utilized across the world; the 2011 intervention in Libya occurred two days after passage of UN resolution 1973 with no legislative assent prior to bombs falling. The costs of this in terms of blood and treasure simply within the United States are a matter of public record; the US has spent around $1 trillion in Afghanistan and lost around 2,300 lives for the distinct privilege of watching Raytheon’s stock price move from around $21 in 2000 to its all-time high of $156 in 2020.
The devastation and long-term chaos caused by intervention in the lands invaded are harder to measure but to any reasonable person still painfully apparent decades after the fact. There are many reasons for this but one of the primary reasons is because the political leadership in the United States is largely insulated from all but the most cursory penalties if they push for, to say nothing of succeeding in, using military force. The term “chicken hawk” was coined and aptly applied to many political figures such as John Bolton. No representative spends days sweltering under a desert sun caring for the wounded. No senator has to carry bodies into graves. No president has had to lead an army in the field while overseeing the day to day running of the government, and certainly no “Senior National Security Advisor” has ever gotten cancer while burning their excrement and trash while wearing a suit and tie. While a handful of veterans do hold positions in the legislature (far fewer than in days gone past,) their memories of war are dulled by the humdrum of civil government and the tantalizing “lobbying” of defense industries.
Of course few political figures treat the military with honest respect; the proper term for their current pandering of “supporting the troops,” or “showing respect to our best and bravest” is one of infantilizing ignorance. The military is simply there as a tool to play out domestic politics in a foreign land. As long as the military is given money, parades, and pandering speeches then they will always do what they’re asked of no matter what it may be.
This is a state of affairs which has already shown remarkable strain and worrying signs in our theoretically apolitical armed forces. There is a worrying amount of distrust in the military of political figures and a wide gulf of alienation. The thing is, is that when someone has been pandered to and infantilized one of two things will happen: either they will see through it and simply see anything said to be cynical lies or they will begin to truly believe it, and see themselves as someone special who is actually worthy of unending praise and adoration. Neither of these attitudes is truly healthy and they are mainly born of the fact that the average service member has an almost natural sense of alienation towards anyone who has not served or paid any sort of sacrifice for a war effort.
“Any member of the federal government who votes for, promotes, or otherwise demands the prosecution of any military action needs to spend at least 40 days a year for the rest of their natural lives making reparations for their actions.”
While it might be amusing to send political hacks to serve as litter bearers in a combat zone or make the Senate majority leader a field commander these actions would likely cause more harm than good; the last time the US tried this on a large scale was the Civil War to extremely mixed results.
To resolve this alienation and distrust I propose a simple solution. Any member of the federal government who votes for, promotes, or otherwise demands the prosecution of any military action needs to spend at least 40 days a year for the rest of their natural lives making reparations for their actions. These could be in the form of sweeping the graves of the servicemembers who have died carrying out their orders, visiting and comforting the wounded as they recuperate in hospitals, helping amputees adjust to their prosthetics, bringing food and blankets to the homeless veterans in the streets, or helping to take care of the orphans whose mother or father has killed themselves in the darkness of PTSD. Not donate money, raise funds, or make nice speeches; but to actually, physically, give their time, sweat, and tears to help heal some of the wounds they have caused. MG Smedley Butler, two-time winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, posited another solution which could work as well in his famous book/speech, “War is a Racket:”
The only way to smash this racket is to conscript capital and industry and labor before the nations manhood can be conscripted. One month before the Government can conscript the young men of the nation — it must conscript capital and industry and labor. Let the officers and the directors and the high-powered executives of our armament factories and our munitions makers and our shipbuilders and our airplane builders and the manufacturers of all the other things that provide profit in war time as well as the bankers and the speculators, be conscripted — to get $30 a month, the same wage as the lads in the trenches get.
If the war was just and righteous then these acts are a way of saying thank you to those who have served, “You fought in a just and honorable cause, let us show our gratitude to you.” If the war was unjust and iniquitous then they are a form of public penance, “I sent you to fight in something that you should not have been sent to. Let my actions now, in some way, make up for the pain and suffering that you are in.” The disconnect between consequences and actions when ordering the use of military force has gone on for too long. Our political leadership needs to do more than make hollow speeches to crying widows and a bankrupt nation.
Eric Anton is a husband and father of three, and an Army Veteran. He is a former member of the National Committee of the American Solidarity Party.