Over dinner recently my daughter said, “It’s time to move on from World War II.” It was a surprising thought, but I think she’s right.
We’ve been at war almost continuously since 1917. Millions have died and are dying now. Horrible atrocities happened and are still happening.
Entire groups of people were assaulted and killed to eradicate them from the Earth, and they still are.
It’s OK to look in the rearview mirror, but it’s not good to stare. As a nation, we tend to stare back to those days when — in four short years — the Allies banded together and smashed the Axis. World War II was short. The end was decisive. Every family was affected in some way. We won. The troops came home. Everybody went back to whatever, and life moved on.
Almost without exception, my senior leadership when I first started working were veterans of World War II and Korea. Veterans were common, and service was expected — including the hated draft.
With a few exceptions, it’s never been like that again. We’re still at war. People in Myanmar are being attacked and driven from their homes or killed because of their religion. The Taliban are just waiting for us to get tired and go home so they can pick up where they left off.
We now have an all-volunteer military. Officers prefer volunteers, but volunteers are not necessarily the best idea for our democracy or our country. We have become removed from our military. We certainly don’t join the ranks in huge numbers. Less than 1 percent of us serve now, a far different reality from 1953.
The all-volunteer military in Zimbabwe got tired of the corruption and shenanigans of Robert Mugabe, his wife, and cronies and put them under house arrest. The soldiers have decided they know what’s best. It was a good call, but not one we’d like to see here.
And, yet, every day that passes with a now-closed club of increasingly powerful volunteers reinforces the separation between us and our military. Is it far-fetched to imagine our senior officers might decide our political situation is out of control and decide to take power until responsible adults can be found to put things right? It happened in Greece. It happened in Rome. It happens around the world somewhere just about every year.
I don’t lay awake and worry about it, but I do wonder how will we connect our people to our foreign policy if we personally have no skin in the game? With so many of us serving in past wars, every family had a personal interest in international affairs.
Now, we’re surprised when four soldiers are killed in a gunfight in Africa — in a place we had no idea any of our soldiers were. I’m not criticizing the military for being there. Probably had good reasons.
The most effective way to congeal as a nation, to discover and overcome prejudices and regional and other differences is to serve together. We find strength from each other, and we don’t keep sending the same soldiers back to the same theaters of war year after year until they’re all used up. We just don’t care as much as we did in World War II and Korea. We need to care. The world is getting more complicated, not less.
We’re friendly with the Chinese now. We’re suspicious of the Russians, as usual. We’re entangled in the worst possible scenarios in the Middle East (fighting dirt farmers in their own countries for reasons that are not clear).
So, maybe it’s time to put World War II away and engage with the present.