THE BLOG
05/08/2014 05:40 pm ET Updated Jul 08, 2014

Beyond Economic Inequality: Worry About Inequality of Sacrifice

Last week brought news that a reliable poll showed a majority of Americas wanted to reduce the use of military power abroad. The Wall Street Journal poll found some 47 percent of those polled wanted a "less active" military abroad. Only 19 percent wanted a "more active" one. This anti-interventionist sentiment "swept across party lines."

Immediately, the pundits went to work. Obama's fecklessness and his "chaotic" foreign policy were cited. His personal weakness and lack of vision were thrown in for good measure. More nuanced observers thought the failure to show any worthwhile results from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan might have something to do with this new sentiment. Lastly, the need to "nation-build at home" received some traction. With cities and states broke, the infrastructure falling down and classrooms overflowing, it seemed to some like a pivot to the homeland was on some people's minds.

Unspoken and unaddressed in the poll, however, was to me the key issue: the absolute inequality of the call to military sacrifice. When America did away with the draft, it gave rise to what is, in essence, a mercenary army. Now, with the growing anti 1 percent resentment -- from both the right wing tea party and the left-leaning occupy movement -- it should come as no surprise that few "across party lines" want to send their sons and daughters into harm's way.

The economic and educational inequality of the military is appalling. Today's combat troops are almost exclusively drawn from the undereducated and impoverished rural and urban zip codes -- those with no other options in life. Recall the captured Iraq war soldier Jessica Lynch who told the world she joined the army only because she was rejected for a job at Wal-Mart. A show of hands among our troops as to who came from Westlake, Texas; Hobe, Sound Florida; Scarsdale, New York; or La Jolla, California might show not a single one raised.

The carnage among counties with the highest rates of service has likewise proven appalling. The deaths, dismemberments, psychological scars, bankruptcies and ruined marriages have taken a very heavy toll. The endless re-deployments, to both Iraq and Afghanistan, have shattered so many. Too many. Once home, suicide, substance abuse and unemployment stare veterans in the face. The aftercare of V.A. support services has been documented to be underfunded and woefully inadequate for the task of rehabilitation.

This stark reality has not been lost on the underclass affected. They may not go to $20,000-a-plate congressional fundraisers, or be able to get legislation drafted for their respective special interests, but -- in their own fashion -- they have clearly had enough of the elite sending their children to war. There is an inchoate rage that the elite should start to recognize and respect. This is true "class warfare," not the phony bastardization of the phrase, uttered ad nauseam.

There was a time in America when war meant shared sacrifice. When a troop ship or foxhole might contain soldiers hailing from top universities as well as high school dropouts. The lack of a draft has created two Americas; one America indirectly dictating, almost tacitly, that the other America has no viable alternative to risking life and limb. This is their plight. Their fate. Their fight. Worse, orders are for often unclear reasons, delineating no definable end. The remaining neocons calling for military intervention in today's hot spots, are in effect akin to the Mandarins of ancient China, demanding sacrifice of others while they stay safe and pamper themselves in luxury.

We need a better military. We need a military that does not tolerate sexual assault. One that instinctively understands that torturing and Instagraming prisoners at Abu Gharib is a reprehensible action. We need more intelligent, more worldly soldiers. Take the Israeli example. There, everyone is drafted and serves to protect their country. No wonder the military is actually an incubator for innovation and systems development. The military in Israel is actually a proving ground for management skills to be utilized later on.

I am glad the majority of Americans want to pull back from policing the world and nation-building abroad. I can't imagine a more self-defeating foreign policy than sending American troops to intervene in everyone's disputes. However, if it is worth fighting for, then it's worth everyone fighting for. Let's have some shared sacrifice in our foreign policy. Imagine what the polling numbers in favor of wars of choice would be if there were a draft that included the 1 percent. How swiftly would we send our sons and daughters to Syria or Ukraine if it meant postponing a degree from Harvard or Brown?

See Errol Morris' latest film The Unknown Known, a documentary about Donald Rumsfeld, and imagine for a moment that the men and women he sent to Iraq were your sons and daughters. Just pause to contemplate, What if?

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