Several weeks ago James Fallows headlined The Atlantic with a piece entitled The Tragedy of the American Military. In the wide-ranging article he touched on how the military has become above reproach, how so few shoulder the burden of service, and how hollow and meaningless the ‘thank you’ gestures are that many show to servicemembers. He goes on to show how the aforementioned has led to an ease at which we send our military off to war with leadership that gives them unwinnable objectives and which is never held accountable for their failings. Along the way he also points out the incredible amounts of money which are spent and how we get so little to show for it. It’s a terrific piece which I could find hardly any fault with.
It’s all old news, though.
Fallows’ greatest contribution is that this is the most publicized single accounting of these issues to date. The aftermath of it has led to three political points I wanted to touch on.
The first is the counterattacks to Fallows’ article. Given that there’s very little to argue about in the piece, the opposition chose to take aim at Fallows himself. He’s a Liberal and does not hide the fact he dodged the draft during the Vietnam War. Neither point is really up for debate. Both are also completely irrelevant to the arguments he makes in the piece. Such counters just reflect what has become one of the biggest problems with politics in this country over the course of my lifetime: so many seem more concerned with being against ‘the other side’ than in solving real problems. Fallows has written a terrific article highlighting serious issues across the military spectrum, toxins that if left unchecked could have disastrous consequences down the road (and you could argue they already have), and yet folks are upset they’re hearing this from a former speechwriter for Carter.
Such reactions came from personal comments and from bloggers with smaller profiles (which allows them to be a bit more honest). For those more in the public sphere they basically agree with everything Fallows says… and do nothing. This leads to the second point: why is it so hard for us to come together on issues we find common ground on? With the publicity of Fallows’ article and the agreement from so many spheres, where’s the bipartisan legislation to tackle some of the issues? We can all agree there are problems that need fixing but then not make the effort. Why?
The answer to that question likely lies in the third issue – money. Fallows points out the incredible amounts of money we spend (an online tax receipt on the White House website for 2013 shows that nearly 25% of your tax dollars go to defense alone) and that so much of that is waste. Military procurement is one issue where there’s universal agreement that our system is broken. Fallows focuses his ire on the much maligned F-35 but there are countless other programs (the frequent uniform changes, Crusader, and USAF’s tanker competition) and acronyms (FCS, LCS, EFV, and AARP… ok that last one is a joke) he could have touched on. What he does is succinctly point out how defense contractors spread out their supply chain across as many Congressional districts as possible to gain support. What he doesn’t touch on is the lobbying side of the equation as well. Both points are part of a rising theme of discontent over the last few years in that politics today is all about money, that so few control so much of it, and said few thus have a disproportionately large influence on what happens.
Fallows did leave me with a bit of hope. A recurring theme, if not his biggest one, is that this is our fault. That also means it is something we can change. My hope springs from the fact that maybe after reading a piece like this many folks who before felt good for clapping at a halftime show honoring our troops or saying “thank you” to a servicemember at the airport will now take a closer look at what the candidates on their ballot have actually done in the way of meaningful good for our military and show their support where it really counts.