The History and Future of America's Armed Forces.
Featuring Speaker, David Kennedy.
Not Your Grandfather's Army
THE ASPEN INSTITUTE
ASPEN IDEAS FESTIVAL 2012
IT'S NOT YOUR GRANDFATHER'S ARMY:
THE HISTORY AND FUTURE OF AMERICA'S ARMED FORCES
Hotel Jerome Ballroom,
330 E Main Street,
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
LIST OF PARTICIPANTS
Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History Emeritus
Co-Director of the Bill Lane Center for the
American West at Stanford University
Author of Freedom From Fear: The American People in
Depression and War, 1929-1945
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P R O C E E D I N G S
MR. KENNEDY: My own interest in this topic dates largely to a quite unexpected reaction I got to an opinion piece I wrote in The New York Times in 2005 when I tried to make some points about the characteristics of today's armed forces and the implications of those characteristics for civil military relations in particular.
Maybe I should not have been surprised at the reaction because here is the first sentence of the piece that appeared in The Times. "The United States now has a mercenary army." Now, that was good journalism to have a provocative lead, but it wasn't the most nuanced scholarship and it was pretty impolitic of me, I think, to lead with my chin like that.
Of course, I blame The Times for not giving me more space to say something of a more nuanced sort and my editor for not allowing me to say what I really meant to say was that we now have an Army whose character tempts civil society and our political leadership to treat it as if it were a mercenary force. That's a more textured version of the point I was trying to make.
In any case, given the backlash, and that is the right word for it, I think, that I experienced as a result of that piece, you can imagine how gratified I was on Sunday this week to hear none other than Admiral Mullen use the word "mercenary" as a possible descriptor of today's armed forces, the very force over which he so recently presided.
So I thought it might be appropriate this morning to begin with a -- this little excerpt from an address that Admiral Mullen made at West Point just little over a year ago at the commencement there May of 2011, which sort of sets the tone for what I want to try to discuss this morning. He said, "There isn't a town or city I visit where people do not convey to me their great pride in what we do. Even those who do not support the war, support the troops.
"But I fear they do not know us. I fear they do not comprehend the full weight of the burden we carry or the price we pay when we return from battle. This is important because a people uninformed about what they are asking the military to endure is a people inevitably unable to fully grasp the scope of the responsibilities our Constitution levies upon them.
"Were we more representative of the population, were more American families touched by military service, perhaps the more advantageous familiarity would ensue. But we are a small force, rightly voluntary, and less than 1 percent of the population scattered about the country due to base closing and frequent and lengthy deployments. We are also," Admiral Mullen concluded, "fairly insular, speaking our own language of sorts and living within our own unique culture."
Well, those few sentences I think speak volumes about a set of issues that concern today's military. I'm especially struck by the note at the end there, that when Admiral Mullen said we speak our own language, that came home to me a few years back when I was an observer of what is today Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State, was then Fort Lewis, and I was being -- I was an observer for a week at an exercise called Warrior Forge where the Army ROTC brings 6,500 some cadets there for a 5-week training course, officer candidates.
And I was being taken around by some junior officers and I couldn't help but notice all the acronyms that they used. It was absolutely Greek to me what they were saying and I -- at some point I commented. I said, boy, you guys certainly have a lot of acronyms. And one of these people said to me, yeah, you're right, sir, we have a lot of TLAs, which I learned stood for three-letter acronym.
MR. KENNEDY: So they had an acronym for the acronyms, just one example among many of what Mullen was referring to. But more seriously, during that week at Fort Lewis, I heard senior officers ask me or ask rhetorically several times over, over the course of this week, a version of the following question. "How can it be," they said, "that the Army is at war but the nation is not?" How can it be that the Army is at war and the nation is not? This is somewhat of an unprecedented situation for us I think in our history and it's worth dwelling on and that's what I want to do this morning.
My engagement with this topic went on -- I edited a volume of Daedalus, which is the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, that came out last September called the Modern American Military. It's a collection of essays by 15 contributors. We're transitioning that to a book, which will come out from Oxford Press approximately a year from now. And we're trying to examine all kinds of aspects of what makes today's military different from our inherited notions of what the American armed forces look like.
So let me just begin with a few characteristics that begin to suggest why this is not your grandfather's or even your father's Army. First of all, it's quite small. Relative to the size of the population, it's -- less than one-half of 1 percent of the Americans serve in the military today. In World War II, about 12 percent of the population served in the military.
And though this is a point that is certainly debatable, today's military is also, relatively speaking, quite inexpensive. The Defense Department budget is about 5 percent of GDP. At the height of the Cold War, it was 8 to 10 percent GDP. In World War II, it was 40 percent of GDP. And it's also, of course, by definition an all-volunteer force and just for that reason, it is unrepresentative of the population as a whole.
For example, African-Americans constitute about 12 percent of the 18- to 44-year-old segment of the labor force and they are about 19 percent of the military. So African-Americans are significantly over represented in the military relative to their incidents in the general population. Hispanics are about 17 percent of the 18- to 44-year-old cohort in labor force, but only about 12 percent of the military. So Hispanics are rather markedly under-represented in the military.
Women are 51 percent of the 18- to 44-year-old age cohort in the labor force, but 14 percent of the military. Now, these -- the numbers I've just given you actually are with respect to the uniform ranks of the military and they probably distort the overall picture to a significant degree that's hard to quantify because roughly half of the U.S. personnel serving in the Afghan and Iraq theatres in the last several years have not been uniformed military, but contractors. In fact, there have been several long periods, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, when there were more contractors on the ground than there were uniformed military personnel.
Another index of the peculiarities of today's force, in 2012, it came to light last fall when the Pew Research Center published the rather impressive set of data about the characteristics of people who had served or were serving in the post-9/11 era. And here's just a little bit of data from that survey, which again makes the point that we're looking at an armed force that is different from what we have known historically, even what we've known in recent history.
They made a distinction between people who served pre and post-9/11 and here's some of the things they came up with. Pre-9/11, 25 percent of veterans reported that they had some degree of difficulty readjusting to civilian life. For those who have served after 9/11, that percentage was 44 percent, almost double. For pre-9/11 service people, again self-reported, 16 percent said they had experienced some version of post traumatic stress disorder. In the post-9/11 cohort, it was 37 percent.
And another interesting statistic that the Pew people dredged up is that in the enlisted ranks of the United States Army, 36 percent of enlistees were registered Republicans whereas only 23 percent of the people in civil society, the population at large, are registered Republicans, and in the officer corps, again benchmarked against this 23 percent Republican figure in civil society, 60 percent of the officer corps identify as Republicans.
So these are just some markers in a quick tour of the horizon about these kinds of things. It's to give you some flavor about how different today's force is. So I want to dwell on three topics in particular with respect to this force and the implications of the kind of force we have, that being small, relatively inexpensive, volunteer, and I should add to that technologically highly sophisticated.
The first and most important of the three topics I want to discuss is the implications for political accountability when it comes to the decision to use the force. And then time permitting, I want to say some things about the factors or considerations of social equity and social comity. And to paraphrase First Corinthians, these three abide, accountability, equity and comity, but for me at least the greatest of these topics is accountability.
So how did we get into this situation? What -- how -- what are the factors of history that generated or deposited us in this particular place? I guess the central question here is what is the relationship of military service to citizenship and the relationship of the armed forces to citizenship.
Now, our forbearers had a ready answer to that question. From the time of the ancient Greeks right down to through American Revolutionary War and well into the 20th century, right down to the end of the 20th century virtually, the obligation to bear arms and the privileges of citizenship were intimately linked. In republics from Aristotle's Athens to Machiavelli's Florence and Thomas Jefferson's Virginia, to be a full citizen was to stand ready to shoulder arms. Indeed in the ancient republics, the obligation was not merely to shoulder arms but to provide one's own arms when summoned to the battle field.
And indeed it's among the reasons why historically the problem of citizenship for women, the issue of citizenship for women, were so problematic because they were thought not to be able to bear arms and thus not qualified for full 100 percent citizenship. And it was our founder's respect for the political consequences of that link between service and citizenship that made them so weary of standing armies and so committed to militias.
African-Americans understood that relationship between service and citizenship in the Civil War. When they demanded combat roles, 180,000 emancipated and free blacks served in the Union forces precisely to strengthen their claims to full citizenship rights when the war was over. And again, in World War I and World War II, African-American leaders demanded and World War I got them, World War II didn't get them very much, combat roles again as a way to strengthen their claims to full citizenship rights.
So for more than two millenniums the tradition of the citizen-soldiers has served several quite important purposes. It has strengthened civic engagement with the martial enterprise, is to find the very meaning of citizenship and its underwritten political accountability when it comes time to take to the battle field. Now, today, that tradition has been seriously compromised. No American is now obligated to military service. Very few will ever actually serve and even fewer will taste a battle directly and fewer still of those who do serve will have ever sat in the classrooms of the universities like the one that I teach in at Stanford.
So a little more extended comparison with another generation's experience might illuminate this matter just a little more deeply. In World War II, as I said a moment ago, this country took 16 million men and several thousand women into service, about 12 percent of the population. And what's more? World War II mobilized the economic and social, and you might even say, psychological resources of the society down to the last factory in railcar and victory garden and classroom. We rightly think of World War II as a total war. It compelled by its very nature the participation of all citizens and exacted the last full measure of devotion from 405,399 of them and it required an enormous commitment of the society's resources to prosecute the war and secure the ultimate victory.
Today's military in contrast, the numbers is just approximately 1.5 million people in active service in a country whose population has more than doubled since the end of World War II. So proportionate to population, today's active duty military force is about 4 percent of the size of the force that won World War II and a little less than 0.5 percent of the population as a whole.
And what's more? In this behemoth $14 trillion economy that we now have, or at least we had it yesterday -- I haven't looked this morning to see if they changed in a daily basis -- but the total Pentagon budget of some $700 billion represents about 5 percent of GDP. Again, that's approximately half the rate at the height of the Cold War and far less than the 40 percent of the GDP that it took to win World War II.
And yet at the same time, and here's again one of the peculiar characteristics of today's military measured against historical experience, just relatively small and relatively inexpensive force is at the very same time the most potent military establishment that the world has ever seen. So I say relatively inexperienced -- or inexpensive advisedly because the absolute numbers tell a different story. U.S. defense expenditure is, even at 5 percent of GDP, $700 billion, are equal or possibly even a bit greater than the sum of all other nation's military expenditures all over the world today.
So the American military in short today is at one and the same time exceptionally lean in terms of its claims on the society's resources and extraordinarily lethal in terms of its capacity to inflict damage on others. So it displays what I sometimes call a compound asymmetry. It's far larger and more destructive, potentially destructive than any other military force in the world, and perhaps paradoxically -- thank you very much for that, Bill -- it's far smaller with respect to the American population and economy than at any time since the onset of World War II and technology, as I said just a moment ago, goes a long way to explaining how this came to be.
Now, the implications of this kind of compound asymmetry I think are quite unsettling. In a nutshell it means that history's most powerful military force can now be send into battle in the name of a society that doesn't have to break a sweat to do so. The United States can wage war today while putting at risk very few of its sons and daughters and only those who go willingly into harms way. And unlike virtually all previous societies in history, the United States today can inflict prodigiously destructive on others, potentially while not appreciably disrupting its own civilian economy.
So we have in short evolved in unprecedented and uniquely method of warfare that does not require -- or does not ask precisely because it does not require any sacrifice in any material way or human way in the part of the larger civil society on whose -- in whose behalf the force is deployed.
So how did this come about? Well, the ultimate origins of this story probably go back to the ancient quest by all societies to find ways to wage war against their adversary as officially and as inexpensively as possible. But in our particular case, the more proximate origins of the story go back to the Vietnam era. In 1968, presidential candidate Richard Nixon was looking for a way to dampen the rising tide of antiwar protest, especially located on college campuses, of course. So he made a promise to end the draft. And coming into office in 1969, he appointed -- he tasked his defense secretary Melvin Laird to make that a reality, and in 1973, the Selective Service System stopped drafting young men and the United States transitioned to the all-volunteer force that we have today.
Now, the Vietnam era-influence on the nature of the force we have had does not stop there. The last army chief of staff to serve under President Nixon, Creighton Abrams, a veteran of both World War II and the Vietnam War, was among the prominent members of the officer corps of the early '70s who were deeply disillusioned with the way the military have been used or in their view misused in the Vietnam episode.
So to prevent what he regarded as a repeat of that mistake of misusing the military in Vietnam, Abrams and others, but it's usually associated with Abrams, created something called the Total Force Doctrine, capital T, capital F, capital D. And he had a budgetary logic, but it also had a deeper political logic. The objective was to configure the force in such a way that would be difficult for the political leadership to commit it to action on any large scale and for a long-term time without deep and durable public and congressional assent to what was being done, something that Abrams and others felt had gone fatally missing in Vietnam.
So the idea was to redefine the nature of the reserves, to redefine the reserves from a strategic reserve to an operational reserve, to make it necessary for any large scale and long term deployment to deeply mobilize the reserves right alongside the active forces and bring them into the battlefield when the active force was deployed, not holding them in reserve until some future date.
Now, this has a complicated or subtle, I should say, demographic kind of a logic to it. The idea was that the reserves are, and were then, traditionally composed of somewhat older citizens with deeper roots and responsibilities in civil society than the typical 18-year-old draftee of the World War II or Vietnam eras. So Abrams hoped that with this Total Force Doctrine in place, political leaders would hesitate to undertake a major deployment that would necessarily be deeply disruptive of many, many, many civilian communities unless they were sure of solid endurable public support.
So in effect, Abrams' doctrine, the so-called Abrams' doctrine, or Total Force Doctrine, was aimed at raising the threshold for presidential demonstration of a genuine threat to national security and to requiring political cultivation of a broad consensus about a major deployment if that's what was envisioned. Some have said that this, the Abram's doctrine, the Total Force Doctrine, constituted a kind of extra-constitutional constraint on the president's freedom of action as commander-in-chief. It's -- it had a legislative counterpart actually at almost the exact same time, in 1973, which is the War Powers Act, which was also aimed on the part of the Congress at restricting the president's ability to commit troops long term and large scale without explicit congressional approval.
And underlying the War Powers Act in turn, on strictly Constitutional grounds, of course, is the -- is Article I Section 8 paragraph 11, which gives Congress the power to declare war. And here I might just note parenthetically, there's a little power game you can play if you like when you go home, how many times has the Congress of the United States exercised its constitutional prerogative of declaring war. The answer is five; the War of 1812, the Mexican War, Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II.
A congressional research service study commissioned by the Navy Department in the 1990s, so that is already a little bit out of date, they were asked how many times has the United States committed significant numbers of troops, don't ask me the definition of "significant" because I can't recall, but how many times has the United States made major deployments of troops overseas, and the answer was 234.
That's, of course, before the Afghan and Iraq wars and other deployment since the '90s. So the number will be slightly higher. But on the face of -- today, but on the face of it, the disparity between five formal declarations of war and 234 sizable deployments since the founding of the republic suggest that we have a kind of chronically deficient constitutional mechanism for ensuring due deliberation and democratic process when it comes to the decision to shoulder arms.
Now, the Abrams' doctrine, the so-called Total Force Doctrine, stayed in place until the end of the 20th century and even into the first years of our own century, the 21st. It was reaffirmed or restated, I supposed, if one might say, about a decade later, in the early '80s, by the then defense secretary Caspar Weinberger in a document that became known as the Weinberger Doctrine. It was articulated in the wake of the attack on the Marine base in Beirut in 1983 and Weinberger tried to lay down some very basic principles that should govern any decision to put troops in the field.
There were six of them in particular, and this document is almost Doric in its simplicity. And here are the six principles, said Weinberger, that must govern any decision to go to war. He said, first, the United States should not commit forces to combat unless the vital national interest of the United States or its allies are involved. This is not rocket science. These are very simple commonsensical but very important propositions.
Two, U.S. troops should only be committed wholeheartedly and with a clear intention of winning. Three, U.S. combat troops should be committed only with clearly defined political and military objectives. Four, the relationship between the objectives and the size and composition of the forces committed should be continually reassessed and adjusted if necessary.
Five, the one that most interest me here, U.S. troops should not be committed to battle without a reasonable assurance of the support of U.S. public opinion and Congress. And six, the commitment of U.S. troops should be considered only as a last resort.
Now, few years later in the run up to the first Gulf War, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Collin Powell, lost again the Weinberger doctrine. So probably today more people have heard of the Powell doctrine than the Weinberger doctrine, but they are more or less continuous in the same genealogy. Powell added a couple of additional conditions for what should govern the decision to deploy. One was having overwhelming force in place before the action began so the victory would be guaranteed and the second was to have a defined exit strategy in place before the engagement began so that the end would be definable.
Now, contrary to a lot of stereotypes that circulate at least on campuses like mine about the bloodthirstiness of the warrior class, these various doctrines, the Abrams doctrine, Weinberger doctrine, Powell doctrine are all written by either senior military officers or the senior civilian overseers of the military enterprise and they do not seek primarily to provide rationales for doing battle. Instead they are principally intended as formulas for avoiding war if at all possible or only seeking the martial solution in the most extreme and desperate and unambiguous cases.
So these -- and all of these doctrines that I've just been rehearsing for you grow out of a chronic anxiety on the part of senior military leaders in particular that they have lived in a world where it's been too easy for their political masters to behave irresponsibly or even recklessly by committing the armed forces to action in the absence of clearly compelling reasons, a well-defined mission and a reliable and properly informed consent of the citizenry.
So these are counsels of caution and prudence and deliberation. And indeed they are intended to be in some ways substitutes for the kind of structural caution and prudence built into the notion of a citizen army, the kind of army we haven't had since the Vietnam era.
Okay. Now, there's one other chapter in the story that I wanted to stick with for a few minutes, about the ways in which technology has enhanced and threatens even further to enhance some of these problematic aspects of the all-volunteer force and its differences, especially on grounds of political accountability from the restraints build into the notion of a citizen army that we historically have had.
And here I want to talk just a little bit about something called the RMA or Revolution in Military Affairs that has taken root in our defense establishment over the last 30 years or so. Now, there have been all kinds of revolutions in military affairs in history, some of the most conspicuous ones are the invention of the stirrup in the middle ages.
And here I'm going to take the opportunity to declare one of my B's without the otherwise wonderful film Gladiator with Russell Crowe where at one point the Russell Crowe character is woolgathering about the things he wants to pass on to his son and among them he says I'm going to teach him to keep his heels down in the stirrups. There weren't any stirrups in Roman times.
MR. KENNEDY: And so it's a big historical gap in the movie. But the invention of the stirrup allowed a heavily armed and armed combatant to fight from horseback, not merely to arrive at the battlefield on horseback. The invention of gun powder is another obvious revolution in the military, the nuclear arms is another one, strategic bombing, blitzkrieg, these are all revolutions. But the one I'm talking about has to do with the revolution that has grown out of the computed information revolutions of our own time.
This particular revolution of the military affairs, RMA, was foreshadowed in the writings of a famous theorist of warfare and especially nuclear warfare by name of Albert Wohlstetter, a long-time scholar at the RAND Corporation and at the University of Chicago. In a series of articles published in the 1980s, he began to dwell on the factor of accuracy in determining the nature of weapon systems, force composition and war fighting doctrine.
In a similar article in 1983, he speculated that a 10-fold improvement in accuracy was roughly equivalent to a 1,000-fold increase of sheer explosive power. And there's an office in the Pentagon called the Office of Net Assessment headed by a man named Andrew Marshall, which vigorously pursue the logic of that kind of thinking and try to search for ways to translate the revolutions in computational powered information technologies that were sweeping over civil society, how to take military advantage of those.
Probably most of us saw the first fruits of that kind -- of this particular RMA in those early CNN broadcast of the First Gulf War in 1991, when you may remember those kind of pea green videos of smart weapons so-called hitting buildings in Baghdad and everybody, all the news casts were preoccupied with the whizbangery of these new smart weapons.
The fact is in that First Gulf War in the early '90s, smart weapons accounted for only about 8 percent of the ordinance that was used. But just a decade later, but the time of the reprisals of the Afghanistan for the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq War, so-called smart munitions make up -- have made up more than 90 percent of the American arsenal.
Now, the implications of this technological revolution very swiftly became embedded in American military doctrine and capacities over the decade, essentially of the '90s, going from 8 percent of ordinance to over 90 percent of ordinance used in the space of simply a decade. The implications of this are really quite profound and enormous.
And again a comparison with World War II I think can help make the point. Some of you may have heard of the United States strategic bombing survey, scientific effort at the conclusion of World War II, to determine just what effect strategic bombing, long-range deep bombing of the enemy civilian heart land in both Germany and Japan, just how effective that have been as a factor in the winning of the war. Different answers with respect to Germany and Japan as you might think, but in any case, the strategic bombing survey generated all kinds of data about the nature of aerial warfare in World War II.
So by one of its calculations, the strategic bombing survey in the 1940s, to be assured of the destruction of a single target, on average, it took 108 sorties, 108 aircrafts, dropping 648 bombs on average to assure the destruction of a single target. In the 2001 aerial campaign against Afghanistan, the reprisal for the 9/11 attacks, on the first night of that engagement, 38 aircraft destroyed 159 targets in one night, a dramatic demonstration of how these -- the revolution in military affairs that I'm talking about have amplified the destructive capacity of a single airman or sailor or even infantry men.
By these standards that obtained in World War II, we had the same technology in Afghanistan in 2001 as we had in Germany and Japan in the early 1940s, it would've required 17,000 aircraft dropping 104,000 gravity bombs to knockout those 159 targets. So that means the numbers tell us a very dramatic story about how this revolution has, as I say, amplified the capacity, the battle, the fighting capacity of individual troops. And that is in the sense at the core of what has made the all-volunteer force we have able to be so lethal with such relatively minimal means, a relatively small force, relatively inexpensive force. Technology has been what has made up the difference.
Now, many observers routinely applaud these developments, especially the all-volunteer force and the application to military affairs of the so-called RMA as triumphs of American values and ingenuity, and no doubt they are. But I think they -- these very developments have also incubated a grave threat to the no less important American value of political accountability, especially with respect to this most important of all matters of statecraft, the waging of war.
The kind of responsible political decision making about warfare that Creighton Abrams and Caspar Weinberger and Collin Powell were trying to bolster I think has been put at risk and in jeopardy by these developments. The RMA that I've just described has facilitated the deep undermining of the logic of the Total Force Doctrine that Abrams, Creighton Abrams, put in place by underwriting further the downsizing of the Armed Forces to such a degree that only the willing or possibly the desperate need to serve and even the call up of the reserves does not sufficiently perturb the workings of civil society to make much of a political difference.
And I might add here that when Donald Rumsfeld became secretary of defense a decade or more ago, he began a process that was called rebalancing of further decoupling of reserves from the active duty forces and this was -- the public knew this as the effort to make the military leaner and lighter and faster, more nimble and so on. But what that really meant was a program to make it possible to deploy the active duty forces without having to call at the reserves in any quantity at all, thus destroying the logic of the Total Force Doctrine, which was meant as a bridge between the military and civil society.
Now, my own view is that it's simply not healthy for a democracy to let something as important as war making grow so far removed from popular participation, popular attention and strict accountability. That's why the war making power was constitutionally located in the legislative branch in the first place, the most representative branch, the branch of government most regularly and deeply in touch with civil society.
Our current situation I think makes supremely important things too easy, like the violent coercion of other societies when perhaps alternative methods of diplomacy or nonviolent coercion would be more vexatious and time consuming and messy, but might be at the end of the day the preferred alternatives.
And I'll share a story with you. It's a little bit out of school. But I once had a conversation with a group of historians with President George W. Bush in the White House in the spring of 2006. The ostensible topic for the occasion was how would history judge him and our time and so on and so forth. And in the course of that conversation President Bush said, you know, this is spring of 2006 -- now at the Iraq war things were going pretty badly. And he said, you know, if I'd had to go into Iraq with a draft army, I would've been impeached by now.
So I wanted to get up off the couch and say QED, that's exactly the point I've been trying to make in various forums. The president of the United States understood that this configuration of military force that he had at his disposal gave him a political license to operate in a way that he would have less license if he'd had to be more accountable to the public with what he called a draft army, what I'm calling a citizen army.
All right, a final word or two about the last, the other parts of the subject that I mentioned earlier on about social -- since you were good enough to bring me this, maybe I should actually drink it -- about these considerations of social equity of fairness and comity or just the texture of our civil relations.
In 2007, the last year for which I've been able to get data that looked respectable, minorities, ethnic and racial minorities composed 42 percent of the U.S. army's enlistments. And along side those number is the fact that in the civil population in the college age cohort, 18 to 24 years of age, 32 percent of Americans in the 18- to 24-year-old age cohort in civil society have had at least some college education. In the United States Army that comparable figure for that same cohort, 18 to 24, is 2.6 percent.
Now, it could be argued and congenitally enough that if we extended the timeframe a bit and said, well, what if we considered 18 to 34 instead of 24, veterans, returnees of the armed forces, with them being included, and the percentage of people who had been in the military and been in college would be bigger than 2.6 percent. But at the point of entry when people enter the armed forces, only 2.6 percent have been to college.
So not only is today's military relatively and remarkably small in relation to the overall civil society, so it's like you might say it's a kind of minority institution, it is also disproportionately composed of racial and ethnic and socio-economic minorities. And whoever they are and for whatever reasons they enlist, and I'm not -- I don't want to be understood as impugning their motives for service at all, the numbers pretty strongly and robustly suggest to us that they are not the kind of citizen army that we feel that two generations ago in World War II whose members were drawn from all ranks of society without regard to background or privilege or education. We have a very different situation today.
And I'll give you an anecdotal intercept on the same point. At that event in Fort Lewis, Washington, where I was a few years ago, I learned that the general officers of the United States Army, officers the rank of Brigadier and above, had just recently surveyed themselves as apparently they do periodically, just about their situation, their attitudes, their expectations, prospects, whatever, and among the things they discovered was that there were then 307 general officers in the United States Army, and among them they had 180 of their children in service.
And they spoke of this to me with a mixture of what I took to be both pride and anxiety. They somewhat darkly joked about this as the family business, the intergenerational pattern of children -- parents of -- military parents spawning military children, one way to put it. And obviously they are proud of this and rightly so. That's easily understandable, but they were also somewhat anxious about it because it at least suggested that the military is becoming an inter-generationally coherent separate caste further underlining its distance from and disengagement from and unfamiliarity with the broader civil society.
I thought that was such an interesting number; 307 general officer with a 180 children in service. And I went back to campus and put my research assistant on the job of figuring out how many children of the 535 elective members of the United States Congress were in service and the answer was 10. So 535 elected federal officials have 10 children in service and 307 general officers have 180 children in service, again, I think on the numbers we're in the presence of a pretty discomforting scenario.
So here's another compound asymmetry, it seems to me, of worrisome proportions because a hugely preponderant majority of Americans with no risk whatsoever of exposure to military service on their part or part of their children have in effect hired some of the least advantaged of our fellow countrymen to do some of our most dangerous business while the majority goes on with its own affairs unbloodied and largely undistracted.
So to repeat where I began, when I published a version of these remarks in The New York Times some years ago, I heard from a lot of those countrymen of ours in no uncertain terms about what a scoundrel I was to even raise these kinds of questions. And to repeat in retrospect I wish I hadn't used the word "mercenary" or that my editor give me more room to explain exactly what I meant.
But the thing that I -- it struck me. I've written a lot of opinion pieces of one kind or another in many different formats for over many, many years and you usually get a certain amount of response, and some of it is quite off the wall, to put it mildly, but nothing I've ever written in any place provoked as much, as big a volume of reaction as this piece and as much really nasty a reaction as this did.
What struck me as I read, and I did read many, not all, of the letters and e-mails and phone messages and so on that I got, was that how many of them, much of this, the volume of this correspondence was marinated in a vernacular of bitter venomous cultural resentment. They weren't angry just at me for what I had said.
It became clear that this was an occasion, my correspondence as it were, to vent a lot of feelings often embroidered with, what can I say politely here in this room, a vivid anatomical and scatological detail, that they had it in not only for me on this occasion on this topic, but for the educated classes, the securely employed, the presumptively (inaudible) professoriate as well as an array of supposedly clueless institutions like The New York Times itself and the major universities, especially ones like my own, Stanford, that time did not have academically accredited ROTC programs and do not allow military recruiters on campus.
Those policies incidentally, just to come back to where I live, in higher education, go a long way toward ensuring that universities like my own, which pride themselves on training the next generations as leaders, will have and have had for the last generation or so, minimal influence on affecting the leadership of a hugely important American institution, which is the United States Armed Forces, and why is that a good idea.
Now, I think it would be a mistake to dismiss the kind of comments as emanations from somewhere down the evolutionary chain. These are our fellow citizens. Many of them are people who are actually serving and in fact in harms way. And if we really want to take seriously the notion that we are cohesive body politic, I think we need to attend to those voices.
Now, it would be a gross exaggeration to suggest that the cultural divide that was registered in those reactions that I got is some kind of imminent precursor to the emergence of an American Freikorps or Fasci di Combattimento, the veteran's organizations that brought Hitler and Mussolini respectively to power in the last century. But the cultural distance that increasingly and apparently rancorously separates those who serve from those who do not and at the same time insulates some of our greatest universities from training the officer corps, those factors I think undoubtedly exacerbates the cultural tensions that already threaten our social comity and it is one more reason to worry about the implications of the kind of force that we have, not to mention or worry about the ban on many campuses of ROTC.
So I'll just end with a -- by citing the kind of person whose credentials I think are impeccable in this sort of a discussion, George Washington, who said in 1783 the following, "It may be laid down as a primary position, and the basis of our system, that every Citizen who enjoys the protection of a free Government, owes not only a proportion of his property, but even of his personal services to the defense of it." And that is not the situation we have today. Thanks.
MR. KENNEDY: Yeah, you have to wait for the mic.
SPEAKER: Thank you very much. It was very interesting. Two question; one, are you --
MR. KENNEDY: I'm sorry, I didn't see you. You would be next.
SPEAKER: Okay. Are you proposing or do you suggest that you think we should cut the draft again? And two, I'm sorry, I didn't understand what the nature of the letters to the Times were, what people -- what their biggest beef was with your article.
MR. KENNEDY: Well, let me hit the last one, the second one first, they were mostly upset by that first sentence when I said we now have a mercenary army. They latched on the word mercenary and were just offended that I would suggest that the armed forces have any characteristics of a mercenary army. And again, in retrospect, I wish I had been a little more tempered and hadn't quite, as I said earlier, lead with my chin that way.
But beyond that, if -- the few dozens of these that I took the trouble of reading further, as I said just a moment ago, what I struck me was that they were upset not only about what I had to say about the armed forces, but they used the occasion to say a lot of things about their resentments about what you might broadly and loosely call class divisions in our society as a whole. So it was just an occasion when it came home to me how many of our fellow citizens don't consider themselves full fledged members of the same body politic the rest of us do.
SPEAKER: But most of the letters (off mic).
MR. KENNEDY: It was hard to tell. A lot of them apparently emanated from a military related website that had activated a lot of people. But I didn't study that carefully to know, but clearly a lot of them were. They had identified themselves in the military and others said I had family members in the military. Now, what was your first question?
SPEAKER: Do you think we should have a draft.
MR. KENNEDY: Do I think we should have a draft? The short answer is no. I think it's politically a nonstarter. That's the sufficient reason to stop thinking about it because it's just that Congress is never going to legislate it. But also what would we do with a draft on the scale of Vietnam or World War II? Again, if we had a draft in the scale of World War II, we'd have 37 million people in arms, under arms, and we wouldn't know what to do with such a force and it would also extract all kinds of labor power from the civilian economy. We'd be nuts, and we just don't need it.
I'm enough of a libertarian that I think that the state does not have the right to obligate citizens to service in the absence of an existential threat that's been clearly demonstrated. So I don't think as a routine matter we should have a military draft. So the closest I can get to, it is an obvious kind of a solution and it solves a lot of other or potentially solves a lot of other problems about knitting us together as a people in a common cause and so on.
But I think you have to will not only the ends here, but you have to will the means as well. And I'm not willing to will the means of obligatory service in the absence of imminent and demonstrable existential threat. Closest I can get to that in my own mind is some kind of a lottery system as we had at the tail end of the selective service here in the early '70s where there would be a period of time, let's say 2 years, in every young person's life when they knew they would be -- there was the possibility that their lottery number could come up.
So it's a kind of modified draft in full knowledge that most people would never have to serve, given the size of the force, but at least they would create that exposure to the possibility of service for an extended period of time and would serve the purpose of focusing civil society's attention on the military and the uses to which it is going to be asked to be put. So that's as close as I could get.
There are other -- if the general problem is the relationship between civil society and the military, if that's the problem we're trying to solve, then that's one possible approach. But there are others. These are mutually exclusive. Another would be, in fact, given its due, my own university has moved on this, it is to bring ROTC back to campuses like mine, and that is happening in the modest scale around the country. And frankly, to go back to the Total Force Doctrine, which has some deep implications for engaging the civilian reserves in the military enterprise. So you put all these together, maybe some others that I'm not clever enough to have thought of, and you have a series of things that begin to bridge that gap between civil society and the military.
SPEAKER: Thank you. This has been fascinating and disturbing. I had a question for you about the notion that in 10 years of war, our society is exhausted by -- I ask this in the context of the possibility of a humanitarian intervention, humanitarian based intervention in Syria and a national security intervention in Iran, what you hear all the time is that American people are exhausted after 10 years of war.
What you've described is American people wholly unaffected by war on behalf of 1 percent of people who serve. Our quality of life has not been diminished by these encounters. And so I wanted to ask you for your analysis of this phenomenon and also your opinion of it. And I would just end by -- I was down at Brag, Fort Bragg recently, talking to the Special Forces Command, and many of the officers, including up to the general officer rank, have a certain level of contempt for the idea that the American people are exhausted.
These are people who have been cycling in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan for 10 years, that they are not necessarily advocating for interventions, armed interventions in Syria or Iran, they are just asking, where the hell did the American people get off or their representatives or their media get off talking about how exhausted America is by war when relative to other every other war, we can't really claim to be that exhausted. I just wanted to get your analysis on that.
MR. KENNEDY: Well, that's consistent. Your last observation is consistent with my own as these are impressions, but they do make impression on us, that there is this increasingly large distance between the orientation of the world of senior military officers and the public at large. And the word "contempt" I think in my experience is not too strong. And you encounter that with some frequency.
So, yeah, it's a paradox I suppose that to say on the one hand the public has been disengaged from these efforts for 10 years, hasn't felt the burden either financially or personally of service and waging war and yet at the same is exhausted, but I think it's possible all those two ideas are in our heads at the same time, that in so far as we have been engaged as a civil society, we're tired of it.
We have not been as deeply engaged as we were in other conflicts, but we haven't been completely unengaged. But I think it's even more just positive to say not so much the civil society is exhausted but the military itself is exhausted, that the force has been depleted both in terms of equipment and personnel and moral and that the force needs time to heal and rebuild, rebuild its inventory of the weapon system, rebuild its training the cadre and so on and so forth. So it's not much civil society exclusively, but the armed forces themselves that are depleted.
Yes, sir. Oh, I'm sorry, I keep missing the microphone, yes.
MR. SABIN: Hi, Ellen Sabin (phonetic). Has there been any thought, your statistics or assumption, of the number of children of service members who become then service members themselves, the statistics about that? Given the rates of PTSD, given that these kids are growing up really having huge effects in their lives by their wounded family members, has there been any fear on the part of the military leaders that these kids are going to have had enough and will not go into the service and therefore that 1 percent that we kind of count on to come from the military families essentially won't because they have lived with it, they haven't seen their dad or mom for 7 years of their lives, they've dealt with PTSD and they won't serve. Has the military in any way, you know, been scared that that might mean the next generation there would be a military?
MR. KENNEDY: Frankly, I haven't heard or seen any evidence to that effect. It's a quite plausible question. And if I heard Admiral Mullen correctly day before yesterday, he tossed off without dwelling on the number of suicides among veterans. If I heard it correctly, I think he said there were 18 a day -- could that have been the number -- which is really extraordinary. And to the extent that's the reality, well, you might ask the question, doesn't the evidence from in and among veterans about what this has done to them, doesn't seep out in the larger society and have a demoralizing effect? Perfectly plausible. I don't know the answer to that.
But let me just add one note to it. Among the pieces of the essays in this volume I edited is a piece on military medicine and a lot of it is about PTSD as a matter of fact. But it also makes another point, that there have been dramatic improvements in battlefield medicine since the Vietnam era. And by one calculation if we'd had in place in Iraq the same exact medical technologies and capacities and so on of battle space medicine as we had in Vietnam, the death toll would've been more than 25,000. In fact, it's fewer than 5,000.
So there's 20,000 people who would've been killed in a different scenario who are today alive, but they are going to have to live the rest of their lives, many of them, with very severe traumatic injuries, many of them brain injuries, thanks to IEDs. So we've -- this is another riff on the same general theme. We've substituted life long suffering and trauma for mortality to a very significant degree and if translated that fact into the political arena, you might say mortality is politically loud, the public reacts to big death tolls, you hear that, but wounded warriors coming back and making their way in civil society, we see some evidence of it, but it's just not as dramatic, it isn't as high profile a matter as death itself. So it has a more muted political effect. So it's -- again another, one more among the many ways in which civil society doesn't really get in a dramatic way and a politically actionable way what's going on out there.
And where is the -- okay.
SPEAKER: There is an organization called the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference which it's been said was set up by Roosevelt, which I remember, which is intended to help to bridge that gap between public sector and the armed services and they travel, many times travel around the world, different bases with the idea of having people, civilians, come back and communicated to their brethren, friends what the military is capable of doing. And I think they are very effective for anybody --
MR. KENNEDY: Say again the name of the organization?
SPEAKER: JCOC, Joint Civilians Orientation Conference.
MR. KENNEDY: Well, I had not known about the existence of this and all I can say is hats off to you and I think you ought to go ask for more funding and expand your operation because --
SPEAKER: But funding is a big problem.
MR. KENNEDY: Yeah, I can imagine. Yes, sir.
SPEAKER: With this increased efficiency, where are we going with our ability to protect our population and if you buy this concept act as a radar of the world as we have for the last 50 years. We have Rumsfeld predicting they spend 80 billion for the Iraq war and now we're up to a cost of what, 2 or 3 trillion? I'm not sure. But where does that leave us in terms of our ability to actually protect our population and influence events in the world?
MR. KENNEDY: Well, again, I don't know the definitive answer to that. I'd put your point in a slightly different way if I were making it myself. And that is to recognize that the United States has provided a lot of public goods to the international system over the last couple of generations. To take a very accessible concrete example, protecting sea lanes, which underwrites the global commercial system, we've borne a disproportionate part of that burden for a number of decades. We're not the only beneficiary of that system. There are plenty of beneficiaries, but we pay most of the bill. And how much longer is our country going to be? To the extent that these facts are appreciated, how much are our taxpayers going to be willing to do that. I don't know the answer to that.
Maybe one more if we -- if you already distributed the mic. Yeah, okay.
SPEAKER: Could you comment on the use of contractors in all this?
MR. KENNEDY: Contractors, there are -- again, if you want to read the book when it comes out or read the Daedalus article, there's a whole chapter on that in there. The -- it came as a surprise to me frankly to learn the volume of contractors and how their numbers actually in some cases exceeded the number of uniformed troops on the ground. There are all kinds of issues associated with this.
Some allege that the use of contractors was deliberate on the part of the government in order to mask the total size of the American resource commitment. It's pretty hard to find any smoking gun evidence of that particular assertion, but there's a more stubborn and more easily comprehensible fact that contractors sit uneasily inside the typical command and control system and it's easier for them to get out of control and do things that we would find, we do find, quite reprehensible.
So it's a peculiar version of a matter that we've seen throughout our society in many ways called outsourcing. We're outsourcing one of the most historically treasured functions of a government. It is to command its own military enterprise and make it serve the national purpose in very tightly controlled ways. So I think it's quite disturbing.
Now, let's make a distinction. There's a lot of contracting that has nothing to do with direct combat, providing food service or sanitary clean up or whatever it might be. It's pretty hard to object to that. That seems reasonable. There are budgetary implications of this because it takes the compensation for these people off the direct Defense Department budget.
And there's some wrinkles to this that are kind of technical but interesting. The military benefits and pension system is not done on an accrual basis. It's all bottom line and every year it's in the budget. So to deal with contractors is to exempt ourselves from the obligation to pay retirement benefits and health care for these people once they have done their contract, which is not true of uniform personnel.
So there are cost savings in this; we can argue about whether the cost savings are fairly executed, but there they are. But some contracting services, it seems reasonable to say, are perfectly unobjectionable. But when people are bearing arms and they have a license to kill, I think we need to think awfully hard about whether this is the right way to do business.
I know many of you have to get on to other events as do I. So we're at our adjournment time. So --
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