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Monday, February 21, 2011

Military and Society

Top Defense Department officials and other leaders began talking quietly last year about a “gap” or “split” between the military and the general population. But in recent weeks, they’ve been expressing those concerns more often and more boldly.

Former House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), who lost his seat in Congress in November, warned early this month that “those who protect us are psychologically divorced from those who are being protected.”

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told House lawmakers on Wednesday that there’s a “growing disconnect between the American people and the military.” The public knows generically that their troops are at war, but “the day to day connections are less than they used to be, the depth and breadth of who we are and what we’re doing, isn’t there.”

It’s not a recruiting problem: All four services continue to hit or exceed their goals each year. It’s a perception problem: The wars, the military and its sacrifices are just not on most Americans’ minds, many top commanders and officials believe.

How could the U.S. military fight for almost a decade and yet drift away from — not closer toward — the public consciousness? And just how divorced from the realities of today’s military is the general public?

A smaller military, one that depends less on junior newcomers than on highly trained, professional volunteers, means fewer Americans have a diminishing number of relatives or friends who serve, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said. And even though, by one measure, American troops have now been fighting in Afghanistan longer than they did in Vietnam, today’s anti-war movement is much smaller and less visible, perhaps in part because young people don’t have to worry about being drafted.
(h/t Russell Page)

Meanwhile, some are not just indifferent but hostile. Annie Karni writes at The New York Post:

Columbia University students heckled a war hero during a town-hall meeting on whether ROTC should be allowed back on campus.

"Racist!" some students yelled at Anthony Maschek, a Columbia freshman and former Army staff sergeant awarded the Purple Heart after being shot 11 times in a firefight in northern Iraq in February 2008. Others hissed and booed the veteran.

Maschek, 28, had bravely stepped up to the mike Tuesday at the meeting to issue an impassioned challenge to fellow students on their perceptions of the military.

"It doesn't matter how you feel about the war. It doesn't matter how you feel about fighting," said Maschek. "There are bad men out there plotting to kill you."

Several students laughed and jeered the Idaho native, a 10th Mountain Division infantryman who spent two years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington recovering from grievous wounds.

Maschek, who is studying economics, miraculously survived the insurgent attack in Kirkuk. In the hail of gunfire, he broke both legs and suffered wounds to his abdomen, arm and chest.

He enrolled last August at the Ivy League school, where an increasingly ugly battle is unfolding over the 42-year military ban there.

More than half of the students who spoke at the meeting -- the second of three hearings on the subject -- expressed opposition to ROTC's return. Many of the 200 students in the audience held anti-military placards with slogans such as, "1 in 3 female soldiers experiences sexual assault in the military."