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Not your daddy’s military | David Kennedy | TEDxStanford


Translator: lisa thompson
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Well, good afternoon. A few summers ago, I had the privilege of being invited
as an observer at Fort Lewis, Washington, during the annual Army ROTC
encampment called Warrior Forge, and I was there for a week, watching some 6,000-plus Army ROTC cadets between their junior
and senior year in college, there for this 5-week encampment. The visit made a deep impression on me, first of all, because of
the caliber of young persons that I saw going through
their daily exercises, the creativity, dedication,
commitment they brought to their tasks, and also, frankly, because they spoke
a language about courage and honor and duty and service and love of country, without apology
and with great authenticity in a way that, frankly,
you simply don’t hear on this and many other
college campuses that I visit. But the other reason,
probably more lasting reason, the visit made an impression on me was because of a question
that was often put to me and that the senior officers who were
running the whole encampment exercise would often put to each other
in one form or another, but the most frequent form was simply – this was at the height
of the Iraq War, incidentally, and they would ask: How can it be that the Army is at war
but the nation is not? How can it be that the Army is at war
but the nation is not? That question got under my skin, and it really encapsulates the topic that I want to discuss
with you here this afternoon. The more formal way
to describe my subject matter is to say that it is
about civil-military relations. It’s about the relationship between
the particular kind of armed force that we have here in the second
decade of the 21st century and the civil, or civilian, society
in whose name and on whose behalf that force fights. And I want to call
your attention in particular to two dimensions of that relationship between the military
and civilian sectors of our society, and I’m going to call them –
these two parts of the topic – social equity and
political accountability. So let’s begin just by taking a look at some of the salient characteristics
of the force we have today. It is, first of all, quite a small force:
about 1.4 million active duty personnel. That’s a big absolute number. But scaled against
the size of our society, which has approximately
311 million people in it, it means that the armed forces are composed of less than
one half of one percent of our citizenry. Now, one way to put that in perspective
is to remember WWII, when we took 16 million men and several thousand women,
for that matter, into service, and that represented about 12%
of the American population at that time of roughly 140 million people. So today’s force is roughly
1/25 the size of the WWII force, measured relatively
against the size of the society, and if we remember what a deeply formative
experience that war was for a generation – gave that generation
its identity, in fact – we understand how far we are
from that kind of experience today. Now, another characteristic
of today’s force is that it is rather phenomenally
technologically enhanced, especially with a whole
suite of technologies that were largely developed
here in Silicon Valley: communications technologies,
information processing technologies, and navigation technologies that, adapted to military purposes, have so amplified and leveraged
the firepower and fighting effectiveness of any individual soldier or sailor or airman or marine
by orders of magnitude. Those individuals have more
fighting effectiveness in the battlespace than their predecessors
of a generation or two ago had. And this is one of the reasons
why the force can be as small as it is: because of the amplification
of the battlespace effectivenes of any individual warrior
because of those technologies. Also because of
technological enhancement, the force that we have today
is relatively inexpensive. Now, again this is a point that comes
as a surprise to many people, and well it might because the absolute size of
the Pentagon budget for fiscal year 2015 – the budget that’s being
proposed for next year – is almost $500 billion. That’s a lot of money, to be sure. It represents about 35% of the entire planet’s
military expenditure and more than the sum of the next 10 nations
and the military budgets combined. But again, scaled against the size
of a $17 trillion economy, the Defense Department budget is actually
only about 3% of Gross Domestic Product. And again, some ways
to put that relationship in perspective are once again to remember WWII, when military spending consumed
over 40% of GDP in 1943 and 1944, the two most engaged years of that war. Over the decades of the Cold War, the Pentagon budget typically ran
in the 8-12% of GDP range. Today, to repeat, we are
at about the three percent range. And today, we spend roughly six times more
as a society on healthcare than we do on the military. About 18% of our GDP goes to healthcare. So this is another characteristic
of the force to keep in mind. It’s not only small, but it’s also,
relatively speaking, inexpensive. It is also, to say the obvious,
an all-volunteer force, and it has been since 1973. And just for that reason,
that it’s all volunteer, it is rather dramatically unrepresentative
of the society as a whole, that the demographic profile
of the armed forces today does not map neatly onto a demographic
profile of our overall society. And I’ll give you just a couple
of points of information about that. African Americans are roughly 12% of the 18-to 44-year-old
labor force able-bodied cohort, but they are 19% of the military. So African Americans are rather dramatically
over-represented in the military. These numbers, incidentally, come from a Pew Research Center
survey about two years ago. And another metric which to me is, if
anything, even more arresting about this is that if we take
the 18- to 24-year-old age cohort – that’s college-age young people – in that cohort in civil society, about 36% of all young persons in
our country between the ages of 18 and 24 have had some exposure
to a college classroom. In the enlisted ranks of the armed forces,
that number is 2.6%. Now, Secretary Robert Gates – I’m going to go to my crib sheet here because I don’t want to misquote
somebody as important as that. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates,
in a speech at Duke University in 2010, highlighted these very facts
when he said the following. He said, “The propensity to serve is most pronounced
in the South and the Mountain West and in rural areas and small towns.” “Concurrently,” he said, “the percentage
of the force from the Northeast, the West Coast, and major cities
continues to decline.” And then he added something further. He said, “I am also struck by how many young troops I meet
grew up in military families, and by the large number of our senior
officers whose children are in uniform.” Now, that last point is another one
that I encountered at Fort Lewis when I was there a few summers ago because at that time,
as it happened, just coincidentally, the senior officers
in the United States Army, the general officers –
rank of Brigadier General and above – had just completed
a kind of survey of themselves and generated a bunch of data
about themselves, and among the things they had found out
was that there were, at that time, 307 general officers
in the United States Army, and amongst those 307 general officers – that’s Brigadier and above – they had 180 of their children in service. And they spoke about this with a mixture
of both pride and anxiety – pride that their children
had hearkened to the call to service, pride that they were following
in the family tradition of service, but also anxiety that they were – these people were quite articulate about – that they willy-nilly
found themselves complicitous in the creation and sustenance
of an inter-generational military caste that was largely reproduced from
within the ranks of military culture and was not drawing people
from general civil society to replenish its ranks. Now, I thought that was
an interesting enough proposition that I came back to campus, and my research assistant and I
tried to figure out how many children of the 535 elected
members of the United States Congress were in service – 435 in the House of Representatives
and 100 in the Senate. To the best of our ability to determine, those 535 elected federal officials had 10 of their children in service. And I think those numbers
all by themselves suggest something
that we should reflect upon about the depth of the
civil-military divide in our society here in the year 2014. It would be outrageous
and a gross distortion to say that we have a mercenary force, but it would not be such a distortion to say that we have a force that we recruited from some of the least
advantaged sectors in our society and that we were able to put
that force into the field without civil society breaking a sweat, with very little skin in the game, either in terms of the endangerment
of our children or our pocketbooks. So that leads me to the question
of political accountability because I think these considerations do have considerable light to shed
on the notion of political accountability. Remember Article I of the Constitution gives the Congress of the United States
the right to declare war. Congress has done that
exactly five times in American history. But the constitutional provision is a reminder that the founders
wanted public engagement in this all-important decision
about waging war. So I want to, here, invoke another
Secretary of Defense by the name of Gates, no relation to Robert Gates. This is Thomas Gates, who was the Secretary of Defense
in the Eisenhower administration and was commissioned
by Richard Nixon in the late ’60s to head the commission
that came in with the recommendation to create the all-volunteer force,
which we went to in 1973. And in that report, the original
Gates Commission report, dated 1970, the Gates Commission
highlighted several problems that they anticipated
might possibly come into play once the all-volunteer force was created. They waived these all away. They named them and then said, “We really have nothing to worry about. Some critics might make these objections, but because of the ever-vigilant citizenry
and so on and so forth, we have noting to fear
from these considerations.” But here are the ones they highlighted. I’m quoting now. They said, first, “an all-volunteer force will become isolated from society
and threaten civilian control.” Secondly, “an all-volunteer force will be all black or dominated by servicemen
from low-income backgrounds.” Third, “an all-volunteer force will lead to a decline in popular concern
about foreign policy.” And fourth, and probably
most unsettling of all, “an all-volunteer force
will encourage military adventurism.” Now, they said none of these things
will come to pass. This is what the critics anticipate,
but there’s no basis for this. I would suggest to you that, in fact, in one degree or another,
all of those things have come to pass, that we have a military establishment which is largely isolated
from civilian society, and civilian society
does not understand it well. We have a force that is
disproportionally recruited from some of the least
advantaged sectors of our society. We have a force that has nurtured a kind of popular
detachment from foreign policy issues and, most controversial of all, a force that arguably
has, in fact, nurtured some degree
of military adventurism. Now, again, we can put
some numbers to this, and the numbers are – let me put you on notice – plenty unsettling. Thanks to a study by
the Congressional Research Service, we know that in the 28 years
when we had a conscript force – between the end of WWII and 1973,
when we went to the all-volunteer force – in that 28-year period, we, as a country, commissioned or authorized
exactly 19 overseas military deployments. The two biggest ones, of course,
were Korea and Vietnam. In the 41 years since we’ve had
the all-volunteer force – since 1973 – there have been 144 overseas deployments, the biggest: Iraq one and two,
and Afghanistan. If you annualize it, since we’ve gone
to the all-volunteer force, we have deployed
our military forces overseas five times more frequently
on an annual basis than we did in the era
of the conscript force. Those numbers alone
suggest to me that we have, whether intentionally or not, created – because of the structure
and configuration of the force we have, we have created a moral hazard for the commander in chief to resort
to the instrumentality of military force as an instrument of national policy much more readily and easily
and frequently than was the case in a prior era. Now, I know, drone warfare, in a sense, is nothing but the logical extrapolation of this trend of technologically
enhanced warfare that imposes no particular
burden on us back home, whether in terms of our sons
and daughters being in harm’s way or in our pocketbooks. So no discussion of this matter,
I suppose, would be complete without quoting the most famous
of all American military leaders, George Washington,
who, in 1783, said the following. He said, “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 service to the defense of it.” That is not the system we have today, and I invite you to think through
what are the implications of that fact for fairness and equity in our society, and especially
for political accountability when it comes to the crucial
decision to shoulder arms. Thank you. (Applause)


Reader Comments

  1. george washington's quote could not possibly apply to today. Read our constitution, look at our laws. The military is at war and the people are not because the military is controlled by a government that runs rampant and has become absolutely corrupt. George Washington would probably remind our people of their oaths to protect the constitution against enemies foreign AND DOMESTIC. By law, I have to pay 2 payments to banks. 1 of those payments I could avoid if I chose not to drive a car on the roads that may have originally been paid for by American tax dollars. Since the release of the grace commission report in 2002, I don't believe income taxes are used for any of that anymore. According to that report – which was created by our government and for our president – 50% of all income taxes are lost, 50% pays interest to the central banks. Another thing Washington might have pointed out that did not exist in his day was 1) the 5th plank of the communist manifesto present in the United States (a central bank) and 2) Plank 2 of the communist manifesto, a heavy graduated income tax. Income tax is particularly interesting because, by its nature it is slavery. If a person pays 20% of their income to taxes under threat of imprisonment, is a slave for 20% of their work day so with all do respect David, stop asking us for shit.

  2. Fantastic lecture by Prof. Kennedy! We should head his warning; he KNOWS what he's talking about, because he KNOWS history!!

  3. A good short lecture.   I woulds be more interested in a discussion or presentation that focused on the principles of the military draft vs the all volunteer force, especially in light of the entire history of the United States and how a draft contributed to an increase in foreign adventure vs a all-Volunteer force.  The issue of the morality of the state to conscript its citizens without individual consent is another topic that would merit another lecture or panel discussion.  Thank You.

  4. Considering our military serves a financial "Network of Global Control" ..per Karen Hudes, World Bank whistleblower, the military have a moral right to know just who & what they actually 'service'.

  5. I am going to write as a war Veteran and hope my words get through to those students who know not war. Having studied most of Dr. Kennedy's works I believe his first statement about the Army at War and the People who are Not explains the problem of the modern political–military quandaries which we fall into, and the disconnected greater public. Only when we engage the People in war, or rather Against War, through a peacetime draft causing far more public Interest in our potential war engagements or conflicts, and returning to greater Congressional Accountability over war making powers will we shed the excessive Presidential exercise of War Powers. WE ARE DIVIDING ALONG THE LINES OF THOSE WHO SERVE AND THOSE WHO LIVE AND ENJOY THE COMFORTS FROM SECURITY WHICH OTHERS PROVIDE! That complicity of those who do NOTHING to contribute to the debate for and Against war places them in the same boat of blame as the conspiratorial organizations or tax fiends which are described in the comments below…

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