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Drawbacks to a Standing Military

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Drawbacks to a Standing Military

Gil reflects on why there's less support for our troops

Before starting this month’s column I wish to report that the local veteran’s community has lost a valuable member. Keith Nickisch passed away on April 15. His passing leaves a hole not only amongst his circle of family and friends, but in the larger community too. Keith was a volunteer driver for the VA van that ferries vets to the VA Hospital in Spokane several times a week.

This volunteer service means that area vets can be assured of getting to their appointments at the VA Hospital in Spokane in a timely fashion and, most importantly, free of charge. The passing of this dedicated volunteer driver leaves a big gap. The remaining volunteers are being called upon to put in more hours and they need help. If there is anyone reading this who can give a few hours per month, contact either Don Carr at the County Veterans Office (208 255 5291) or Ross Jackman (208 265 2738) for all the particulars.

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As most of you should know by now I am committed to having every veteran receive every benefit they have earned. The 97 percent of Americans who have never worn a uniform owe a debt to these men and women that can never be fully repaid. The very fact that the 97 percent have the freedoms they have and don’t even understand this is evidence of that insurmountable debt.

As tens of thousands of young men and women come home from Afghanistan and Iraq they want one thing and one thing only: reenter society and become contributing members of their communities. What do they get instead? The simple truth is most of their fellow citizens are only vaguely aware there is even a war going on. Sure, there are the occasional TV news reports of death and injury. But unless those injured or killed are family members or immediate neighbors, most people don’t have a recognizable face to put on those reports.

How did this happen? According to “Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power” by Rachel Maddow, it happened slowly over the past 40-plus years. Throughout most of our history the conduct of our wars was a shared burden; shared between our soldiers and those who stayed home. Less than 35 percent of the Colonists were even in favor of separating from Great Britain. The battles of that war were fought largely by citizen militias supported by the communities from which they came. The hardships were shared by those in the field and those who stayed home. 

This shared hardship was a prominent feature in all our wars. During our Civil War, both the CSA and the USA depended mostly on volunteers supported by the communities they came from. Or supported by the wealthy men who founded the force they lead. It was not unusual for troops to elect their officers since they were prominent people in the communities that they came from. 

Both World War I and World War II were large scale examples of shared sacrifice and hardship. Communities and city neighborhoods had Victory gardens in vacant lots and fields to supplement the loss of men that used to work large farms. Scrap metal was collected by Boy Scouts to add to the metals needed to make our armaments and other war machinery. Those on the ‘Home Front’ dealt with ration cards and ration books so that the men and women wearing the uniforms had the equipment and materials they needed to defeat the nation’s enemies.

When did this concept of shared sacrifice change? According to most sources I’ve found, it began during the Viet Nam war. As the war escalated in the 1960s, then-President Lyndon Johnson gradually increased the number of troops by increasing the draft and not calling up the Reserves and National Guard. Why would he do that? The conclusion that Ms Maddow arrives at is that it might have caused the USSR and China to become more directly involved in the conflict and mobilize their reserves too; and two; it would have been politically unpopular to call up the Reserves and National Guard. After all, both those forces were the place the children of the well-to-do went to avoid being drafted. 

So, for the very first time in our history the National Guard and Reserves—our well-regulated militia as defined in our Constitution—was not directly involved in a large scale conflict. What was the impact of this decision on our nation? For one thing, the fabric of entire communities was not disrupted. Companies and other businesses across the country did not have to shut down due to the loss of their work force to the war effort. The other impact was that the women of America were not called upon to take the places of the men who were called to war. 

Of course, the increase in draft call-ups impacted many individual families across the country but it did not affect entire cities or towns. If you mobilize an entire state’s National Guard you’ve put a pretty big hole in that state, whereas if you draft a few thousand from a population of five to ten million, it barely causes a ripple.

When on January 27, 1973 Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird announced the creation of an all-volunteer armed forces, he pretty much wiped out the need for the military draft, although all men must still register with the selective service on their 18th birthday. 

No longer would we find entire neighborhoods filled with only old men, women and children. No longer would we find factories with women building the machines of war.

We have come back to a point that was most worrisome to our founding fathers: a standing military force. And most Americans have zero contact with that military, nor any understanding of it. I intend to pursue this subject further in upcoming columns as I feel it is a topic that needs to be understood and discussed. 

In the meantime, have a great month of May and remember to participate in all the activities that honor our veterans over the upcoming Memorial Day holiday weekend. I’ll be out there shaking my can at Wal-Mart on Monday the 28th. Stop by and say ‘Hi!’ and bring money—it goes to support our local veterans.

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Author info

Gil  Beyer Gil Beyer A 21 year Navy veteran, lived in Bonner County for over 30 years, Past Commander of the Priest River DAV Chapter and admitted news junkie.

Tagged as:

veterans, military, Veterans News, draft, standing military, support for troops

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