War during Peace: The Paradox of VN and WWIV
Back in the summer of 1971, the military services were tasked by President Nixon to design a modern all-volunteer force capable of making military service attractive to the point that conscription (AKA the Draft) would no longer be needed.
Briefly, yours truly worked in the Pentagon office that wrote the doctrine for the Modern Volunteer Army (MVA). Among other concerns, we wondered if the end of the Draft would lead to fewer Congresspersons with military experience. After all, Congress decides the size of the military and how well or poorly it is equipped.
That concern was well founded. The Draft ended in January, 1973. At that time, 390 Members of the 93d Congress (1973-75) had military service. Today, only 131 members of Congress have served in uniform. That’s a decline of 66.4 percent.
On the upside, today’s all-volunteer force attracts some of the nation’s finest young men and women who are serving admirably under some incredibly difficult conditions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and other overseas locations. As ever, military families endure the pain of separation and, sometimes, the loss of loved ones.
Yet these men and women and their families serve their nation with pride and dedication. With only 1.4 million Americans on active duty plus their 1.9 million dependents, our armed forces and their dependents represent only 1.1 percent of a total U.S. population of 300 million. How long can only 3.3 million Americans hold up against a potential enemy of 1.28 billion, an enemy with the ability to use unconventional warfare to strike us anywhere, at any time?
Other than wincing when television shows the terrible results of a roadside bomb or the beheading of hostages, most Americans go about their day-to-day lives not inconvenienced by what some historians are calling: World War IV.
Is it possible for this nation to wage, successfully, a “war during peace?” Vietnam was a war during peace – a war that cost the lives of 58,000 young Americans. The Vietnam War should have been won handily; however, it was terribly mismanaged by President Johnson and by his Secretary of defense, Robert S. McNamara. The Vietnam War lasted ten years and was, ultimately, lost on Capitol Hill. As we Vietnam veterans often say, “We took every hill but one.”
Now, we are under attack by an enemy like no other before. In comparison to the Islamic-fascist suicide bombers and their willingness to slaughter innocent bystanders, Nazism, Japanese Imperialism and Communism seem relatively benign. Moreover, the territorial aims of Hitler, Stalin and Mao were limited to what they saw as their spheres of influence – limited to their “heartlands,” if you will. Not so the Islamic-fascists whose announced goal is the total submission of Western Europe to Islam and the economic destruction of the United States.
While the images of violence in Iraq and Afghanistan dominate the news, the underlying efforts of the Islamic fascists are more subtle. Like the frog immersed in tepid water at first, the radical, Islamic-fascists intend to turn up the heat slowly over the long haul until we and the rest of the Judeo-Christian world find ourselves cooked. In their writings, audio- and video-tape pronouncements, both Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have made their war aims and their tactics abundantly clear.
In the end, we will not be able to plead a Pearl Harbor surprise. Or say: “Gee whiz, no body told us what they intended to do to us.”
So, can the 1.1 percent who comprise our military establishment find the support needed from the 98.9 percent (who will never serve in uniform) to sustain them in a “war during peace” that may last until the middle of the 21st Century?
Or, will partisan politics, at the expense of national unity, pull the rug out from under the brave young men and women we send in harm’s way? With over 75 percent of the members of Congress having zero military experience, the question is very much in doubt
Syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, William Hamilton, is a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and a former research fellow at the U.S. Military History Institute of the U.S. Army War College. He served, briefly, in the Office of the Special Assistant for the Modern Volunteer Army. Writing as William Penn, he, and his wife, are the co-authors of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – two thrillers about terrorism directed against the United States.
©2007. William Hamilton.