Bring It On!

Bubble, Bubble, Who’s In the Bubble?

April 12th, 2008 | by Liberal Jarhead |

Bubbles have been in the news a lot in recent years. The president and his advisors are sometimes said to live in a bubble where they are insulated from unpleasant facts and views; the economy has suffered from the housing and dot-com bubbles, among others.

But a story in the April 14, 2008 issue of the Marine Corps Times highlights a third kind of bubble. Without this bubble, it would have been impossible for the Iraq war to be in its sixth year and for many units and service members to be serving three, four, and five combat tours in a war that is being fought incompetently and does nothing to make America safer.

The bubble is the one in which the American military lives, isolated from the rest of America. In previous wars servicemen were drafted from most of society, so most of society had a very personal interest in what was going on. So when the war was justified and necessary, like World War II, most Americans supported that war but cared deeply and followed its events day by day, and went to great lengths to support their troops. When a war was not considered just or necessary by a majority of Americans, like Vietnam after the early years, there were huge protests that forced the government to pay attention, although a lot of people also took their frustration and anger out on the troops, which was wrong and stupid.

Today polls show that a majority of Americans say that they disapprove of the way the administration is handling the war, that they believe it was a mistake for America to invade Iraq, and that the results of the war have not been worth the American lives lost. This time around, very few are ignorant enough to blame the troops – even though the troops are all volunteers today rather than draftees like many of those who faced abuse coming home from Vietnam. And yet, although there are protests, the outrage is muted compared to that aroused by the Vietnam war.

This leads most observers to the conclusion that this detachment is caused by the all-volunteer nature of the military today. Our uniformed ranks are drawn from an ever-narrower slice of America and keep getting more isolated in their bubble while the rest of the country pays more attention to things that are closer to their daily lives.

But who’s really in a bubble – is it really the military people who are ignored most of the time by most of their fellow Americans? When we look at the reactions of the rest of the world to this war, and how that’s generalizing to people’s attitudes toward America, period, maybe the fact that few of us are worrying about that means that it’s the rest of America that’s in the bubble rather than the people in the military. Okay, people have a sense that it’s going badly and they feel bad for the troops and their families, and they’d prefer to vote for officeholders that advocate ending the war, but there is scant evidence of a sense of real urgency and outrage on a scale great enough to do more than nudge the inertia of the machinery of politics, industry, and special interests.

Either way, this situation is not sustainable. The Marine Corps Times story (which no doubt is appearing in the Army, Navy, and Air Force Times as well) is reporting that the number of young Americans willing to consider serving in the armed forces is the lowest it has been in more than 25 years. Recruiters, whose job has always been tough, are having a harder time than ever, even though the academic and “moral” (in other words, have you done drugs, kid?) standards which new recruits have to meet have been repeatedly lowered, resulting in higher wash-out rates in boot camp, more new service members having trouble learning necessary skills, and a higher rate of disciplinary problems.

The troops already in uniform, like their weapons and other equipment, are getting worn out. Fewer and fewer are reenlisting. So at the same time that the incoming stream of young men and women is diminishing, the number of gaps in the ranks is growing faster. The math is inescapable and inexorable. Soon we will have to either stop using people up so fast or start bringing in more replacements – and since fewer young folks than ever are volunteering, that will mean a draft. Just about everyone seems sure that the American people will not accept the return of the draft, and that legislators would not be willing to commit career suicide by advocating it. But if that’s true, it will soon be impossible to continue this war, at least the way it is now being conducted.

One way or another, this bubble is likely to be popped soon. If recent experiences are any guide, it’s not pleasant to be inside a bubble when it pops. As a country, we’d best brace ourselves.

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