America's upper classes have gone AWOL

Peter A. Gudmundsson makes much the same argument I've been making in my presentations and papers on the expanding use of private military companies in the conduct of U.S. national security policy, Gudmundsson smartly puts the problem of disassociation of war from the upper class as a factor in presidential campaign discourse.

During this presidential campaign, voters will hear much about the divergent economic realities between "the rich" and "the middle class." Yet there is another partition in America that is less visible, but no less troubling. The great divide between the civilian and military communities leaves the nation and its electorate ill-equipped to make informed judgments about military and international affairs.

I recently returned from a trip to San Diego, during which I toured the Marine Corps Recruit Depot and spent two days at sea with the officers and crew of the USS Nimitz. To say the least, it renewed my respect for the professionalism, competence, dedication, and sacrifice of America's men and women in uniform. I was deeply impressed by the vigor and apparent confidence with which they attend to their duties.

A quick glance at the troops I met immediately revealed a broad representation of America's ethnic groups – a diversity that's typical throughout America's armed forces. Statistics reveal high standards of educational attainment and the near nonexistence of illegal drug use or criminal backgrounds. Many come from families in which military service is a common experience. Yet I can't help concluding that the upper and upper-middle or "elite" social classes seem to be conspicuously absent.

A Navy admiral told me, "America is not at war. Its military is." He was acutely aware that a prominent segment of society had little but tax money invested in the outcome.

When I was at the U.S. Naval Academy a couple of years ago for a conference, I found Forestall Lecture speaker Admiral Timothy J. Keating's observation on how the parking has changed since he was a midshipman. He said that back when he was a middie, the parking lot was full of Corvettes and Porsches. In 2005, he noted the lot was full of pickup trucks.  

The comment by the admiral in Gudmundsson is not unique. See this photo of a white board in this previous post.

So what to make of it? Here's what Gudmundsson says:

No electorate can make informed decisions about the exercise of military power in a far-off theater if it lacks a reasonable measure of collective experience with military matters. And any society that restricts its information and analysis to the sound bites of "embedded" journalists and political pundits will find itself highly susceptible to the manipulations of partisan politicians and interest groups at either extreme of any debate. It is simply too difficult to separate hope from fear and fiction from fact....

It is only with an experienced and knowledgeable citizenry that we as a nation can prosecute sound strategy to achieve US policy goals while avoiding the pitfalls of failure and their attendant human, financial, and diplomatic costs.

I agree.

(H/T John Brown)