By John Irwin
After watching American Sniper over the long weekend, I found myself walking away from the movie theater frustrated.
Not because I didn’t enjoy the film (I did), and not because of any questions about the film’s accuracy or its supposed glorification of the Iraq War (I’ll leave others to discuss that). And not because of the outrageously priced popcorn.
No, I was frustrated because the film served as another stark reminder about how the United States has been in a state of perpetual war since 2001. It’s a perpetual war with seemingly aimless goals that leaves its soldiers and veterans horrendously under-cared for and asks for nothing in return from the public.
The results? A destabilized Middle East. A lack of any clear policy agendas beyond the killing of Osama bin Laden being advanced. Massive debt. Thousands of military and civilian lives lost. Thousands of American soldiers returning home to find few jobs and a broken VA system. And a general public unaware of the true costs of war, tossing out empty platitudes about “supporting the troops” while being asked to sacrifice nothing in exchange for their service on the nation’s behalf.
It wasn’t always this way. As James Fallows notes in his brilliant cover story for The Atlantic examining the state of the modern American military, the U.S. used to demand shared sacrifice out of the entire nation during times of war. Whether through the draft, rationing or higher tax rates, the U.S. demanded everyone have a stake in its high-profile military ventures.
That hasn’t been the case during the War on Terror. There is no draft, and no one is paying higher taxes to pay for the war effort. The general public has been disengaged from our military in almost every way possible.
As a result, political leaders and top-ranking military personnel have been allowed to pursue frequently unwise strategies and policies, and those bra
ve few who have carried out those missions are left with inadequate support from their government, few quality jobs and a well-meaning public that likes to say it cares but does little beyond wearing ribbons and typing hashtags to show it.
It’s a tragic situation that manifests itself locally. Many students at Central Michigan University, once a politically engaged and active campus, seem relatively detached from the realities of our engagements overseas, engagements being fought in large part by young people like them.
It’s not just CMU. Most campuses, and most young people, are politically disengaged, as well. That’s a shame since young activists were largely responsible for turning the tide of public opinion against the Vietnam War and other costly and largely unwise military engagements.
It’s likely not a coincidence that that disengagement has accelerated as calls for public sacrifice have fallen. Perhaps mandating one year of public service after high school, whether through the military or otherwise, would change that. Who knows?
But it’s a conversation that must be had, and as soon as possible, especially now that the War on Terror is ramping down and more soldiers are returning to civilian life. Not fixing this very real and deep-seeded crisis of public disinterest — especially among young people — will lead to more of the same in the future.
This country cannot afford years and years of open-ended war, and veterans deserve substantial support from the government and the public.
But it won’t come unless we start to care.