Is It Time to Bring our Legions Home?

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BEAUFORT, SC - MAY 27: American flags fly in f...

This Memorial Day comes during a time of increasing unease and civic anxiety. Two protracted wars are still being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan, at a cost of more than a trillion dollars from our treasury and thousands of our service men and women have been maimed or slaughtered, while many of those returning home will always suffer from the silent, unspoken scars inflicted by their service.

How can we honor these brave men and women, as well as the millions of soldiers, sailors, marines and coast guardsmen and aviators who answered the call to service during the past two and half centuries since this country's founding?   

As of today, there are approximately 1.5 million active duty personnel in the Armed Forces of the United States. There are an additional 1.5 million members of the Army Reserve and the National Guard, hundreds of thousands of whom have been regularly deployed overseas since 9/11.  As of 2009, the budget of the United States spent $965 billion dollars on military and military-related expenses. Further, the most recent "Base Structure Report" of the Department of Defense states that the Department's physical assets consist of "more than 600,000 individual buildings and structures, at more than 6,000 locations, on more than 30 million acres." Most of these locations listed are within the continental United States, but 96 of them are situated in U.S. territories around the globe, and 702 of them are in foreign countries.

            Today, the United States deploys active duty personnel in more than 150 countries. While many of these deployments involve assignments to American embassies and special training  projects overseas, the presence of U.S. active duty military personnel in Europe, Japan and Korea remains significant, sixty-five years after the end of World War II and fifty-six years after an armistice was declared in Korea. More than 100,000 active-duty American military are currently assigned to these three countries, the cost of which is still largely borne by U.S. taxpayers. These three countries have been able, as a result of American military shield, to invest in the modernization of their manufacturing sectors and to increase the number of their exports to the United States at a time when American manufacturing has been increasingly our-sourced to third world countries. Japan and Korea, in particular, have adopted onerous, restrictive trade policies that make it almost impossible for American automobile companies and heavy equipment manufacturers to compete successfully in those countries.

In response to protests engendered by the Vietnam War, the United States Congress abolished military conscription. With advent of an "all-volunteer" military, this country's wars and foreign adventures have become, for most Americans, video diversions far removed from the daily experiences. The enlisted personnel for these wars have been largely drawn from the ranks of poor whites, blacks and Latinos who have been given few other opportunities in the current American economy; many of the officer corps are increasingly drawn from the families of professional soldiers and military academy graduates who are, by temperament and acculturation, right-wing, pro-defense Christians who strongly support the continued projection of American power abroad.

            After the children of the affluent were sheltered from the shared sacrifice of conscription, the Pentagon and the defense contractors that depend upon government subsidies for their existence have vastly increased their share of the US. Budget. "Out-of sight, out-of- mind" has meant that the military-industrial complex about which Dwight Eisenhower warned, and worst fears of the Founding Fathers about entangling alliances and the dangers caused by a standing army, have become the American reality. Anyone who doubts the stranglehold that the military-industrial complex now exerts needs only to be reminded of the F-35 airplane that, notwithstanding even the Defense Department's efforts to eliminate the project as unneeded and duplicative, continues to be funded by tax-payers because a craven Congress is unable to resist  the lobbying power of defense contractors. Many of these same Congressional supporters decried the Obama administration's bail-out of the American automobile industry as a waste of money or have refused to extend unemployment benefits to those who have been unemployed more than ninety-nine weeks.

The welfare-through-warfare mentality that dominates Washington groupthink today threatens, if not challenged, to metastasize our republic into a garrison state perpetually at war, as Andrew Bacevich in his recent book, Washington Rules, has warned. While defense contractors will benefit from this arrangement, the United States will increasingly impoverish itself as our pandering political and economic elite, and their media allies, continue to argue that we no longer have the resources to address pressing domestic problems here at home. And, of course, our cemeteries and veterans' hospitals will continue to fill with the dead and traumatized whom we, by our indifference, allowed to be dispatched into harm's way.

            The Roman Republic, over time, was transformed and subverted by corruption and apathy. Its citizen-soldiers were ultimately out-numbered by legions of mercenaries recruited from abroad to fight its wars and to guard its borders.When the Roman Empire collapsed, it no longer had the resources to bring its legions home; thousands of its soldiers were abandoned throughout the vast reaches of the former empire.

            How should we honor our soldiers this Memorial Day? We need to bring our legions home and work to transform our country and the world through peaceful efforts to address compelling human needs.Those who remain naysayers need to answer only one question: Are they willing to volunteer themselves, or to urge their children or grandchildren to enlist in the military? Their answer to that question is an easy one to guess.    

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