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Aaron Hochberg

Professor Hamilton

ENGL 137, Section 003

18 November, 2016

Oh Yeah, That War

Consider, for a moment, the daily life of Mary. The year is 1943, and Mary is 26 years

old. She is married, with a husband somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, and two kids, aged six and

two. Mary begins her day by removing the blackout curtains from her windows so she can see

her way around to making breakfast for herself and her children. She goes around to make sure

all of the lamps are put out, wouldnt want to waste any oil, and they all leave together. But wait!

Mary realizes that she forgot her ration book! She knows that she cant go grocery shopping later

without her ration book, so she quickly doubles back to retrieve it before speed walking in order

to drop her kids off at preschool and school, respectively, and get to her job on time. Mary is a

welder at a local defense plant; she helps in the process of making planes which are used in the

war (The U.S. Home Front). After a grueling eight hours of intense manual work, she still has

much to do. She stops by the local grocery store to buy food for the next week, where she

realizes she doesnt have as many sugar stamps as she thought she did. It looks like she wont be

able to buy as much sugar this week. She comes home, tired from a long days work, groceries in

hand, but still must find the energy to prepare dinner for that night. She calls in her children who

are out playing with the other neighborhood kids, and instructs them to run and drop off their

small collection of scrap metal at the nearby salvage drive, so that it may be recycled in the war

effort (The U.S. Home Front). After they are all finished with dinner, they gather in front of the

radio to listen to their favorite show and, of course, to receive an update on the status of the war,
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hoping for good news but always prepared for the worst. Mary redraws the blackout curtains and

turns of the radio, making sure nothing is left on that doesnt absolutely needs to be. She tucks

her kids in and plans to go to bed, herself, realizing that she may have many more days like this

until the war is over, but also knowing that she was proud to live them (Winkler).

Now let us jump forward to today and peer into the life of Jessica, a 24-year-old who

recently graduated from a respectable institution. Jessica has a job. Its more of stepping stone to

where she wants to be later in life, but a job is a job in todays world and she is grateful for the

experience and the income. Especially the income. She was recently able to move out of her

parents house and into her own apartment where she is enjoying the many freedoms, and

learning the many responsibilities, of living alone. Although her job is less than fulfilling and her

apartment is rather cramped, Jessica is an optimist and has a generally positive outlook about her

current situation and the future (Blow). Jessicas day begins much like it has ever since she

started grade school: she wakes up with her alarm and forces herself to move about in an attempt

to get ready for the day. Once she is fully awake, her actions become a bit more intentional and

efficient, moving through her morning routine up until breakfast. As she settles down with her

bowl of cereal she opens up her iPad to watch the next episode in a series she had begun to

watch. When the screen comes on she sees a CNN news alert: U.S. Destroyer Bombs Three

Radar Sites Controlled by Rebel Forces in Yemen (Noah). A feeling of mild surprise goes through

Jessicas mind before she swipes left and deletes the notification before moving on to open up

Netflix. After breakfast, Jessica goes to work where, although she does not enjoy the work, she

does not hate it either. Throughout the entire day, though, she cant seem to shake the memory of

that news update. She must get hundreds of them but this one, for some reason, seemed to stick

with her. She went back and read the whole story, where she learned that the United States was
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essentially getting involved in another war. Why hadnt there been big stories or important press

conferences about this? Why was this the only story she could find, isnt this important?

Shouldnt more people be talking about this? All of these thoughts and more raced through her

mind until suddenly it was five oclock. Usually Jessica stayed later than this in order to show an

effort and attempt to improve her standing with her boss, this being a relatively new job, but

today she couldnt focus so she headed home. She spends the rest of the night watching the news

in search of some story on Yemen and attempting to get some work done but she fails in both

regards. The closest thing she witnessed to coverage on the story was the scrolling feed at the

bottom of the screen on MSNBC. She goes to bed tired and defeated, wondering if the story

wasnt important enough to make headlines, was it important enough for her to think about?

Perhaps not.

Today there exists a new disconnect between us, the American public, and those who

serve in the military as it relates to our effort on the home-front. From the time of World War II

up until today, the average citizen has become further removed from wars that our country is

involved in, and not enough people seem to have noticed the importance of this. Whereas

engaging in warfare used to be a country-wide effort where everyone chose to make sacrifices to

support the military, it is now rarely thought of unless there exists a personal connection. In other

words, it exists almost as a second-hand thought. Take the constructed accounts of Mary and

Jessica, for example. While they are fictional characters, they are very much representative of

what was, and what is, true. The shift from Mary to Jessica was gradual, and it encompassed

many changing factors that, when combined, made it inevitable. Before moving on I feel that I

must clarify this: this paper is not an assessment on war itself, and the way it is fought, nor is it

an assessment on how we should think about our wars from a moral or ethical standpoint. Rather,
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it is an evaluation on how those citizens who are not active military members have become

increasingly removed from involvement in the war effort, or the home-front, and our collective

national support for ongoing wars, and how this can be detrimental to us as a country.

WHAT IS IT?

The conditions that exist in modern society no longer allow us to feel the effects of a nation at

war. Throughout the mid-to-latter part of the twentieth century a multitude of changes have

occurred in a few key facets of American life that have distanced the general public from our

military efforts. The main points which I have selected to elaborate on represent what I believe to

be the most critical in the facilitation of the overall shift. They are a movement away from the

personal effects felt from war, an ideological shift in how we think about war, and a drastically

different social structure.

Absence of Personal Effects. Our increased separation from the military undoubtedly has to do

with the decreased levels of personal involvement that the average citizen has with it. Perhaps

the most obvious and most important reason for this the overall reduction in the size of the

military as a percentage of the population. During the peak years of World War II, over 9% of the

total population of the United States were active duty members of the armed forces (Segal and

Segal 7). Since then, this number has dropped quite significantly and has steadily declined to its

current level of less than one percent (Segal and Segal 7). By both nominal and adjusted

(percentage) standards, the total level of enlisted men and women has gone down significantly.

This means that there are less families in America that include an active member of the military,

less people who know someone who is actively serving, and therefore less people who have a

direct personal connection to the armed forces.


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In addition to this, those ever increasing number of people without a personal connection

are losing the means by which the might still have maintained a role in the war effort. The push

by the United States government during World War II for an active home-front and the

involvement of everyday citizens in the war effort has not since been replicated. Things such as

victory gardens, rationing, scrap metal collection, and other programs promoted or instated in

order to conserve resources for the military no longer exist. The sale of war-specific treasury

bonds has since ended, and whats more than that is we no longer pay for the wars with our

taxes. What I mean by this is, in the modern era, every time the United States has entered a war

and deployed troops, it has been accompanied by an increase in taxes (Tax Foundation). This had

always been true, regardless of who the President was or which party controlled Congress, up

until 2001 when President George W. Bush came into office. Once of President Bushs first acts

as President was to implement a broad series of tax cuts which, at the time, had no particular

impact of the military (Greenberg); however, after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001,

and the subsequent invasion of Iraq in 2003, taxes were not raised. In fact, taxes were not even

restored to their pre-war levels (Tax Foundation). All of these changes, from the loss of victory

gardens to the loss of a personal burden in the form of taxes, served to distance the average

citizen from involvement in the war effort. The reasons to be involved and care were removed,

so the people soon followed.

Another important reason for why the American public no longer feels the personal

effects of our countrys wars is that the war is not brought into their home in the form of news

and journalism. From 2007 to 2008 Iraq coverage by major American news sources has

plummeted, to about one-fifth of what it was, a trend that was virtually unheard of in any

previous wars (Prez-Pea). During World War II, families gathered around their radios to
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receive daily updates on the fighting, and they became more attached to their radios as the war

went on (The U.S. Home Front). During Vietnam, people were able to, for the first time,

receive updates on the war through their television sets where they were able to see what was

going on. The rapid decrease in coverage of Iraq and also Afghanistan has essentially halted the

flow on information to the public, and as a result the average citizen stopped attentively

following the progress of the wars (Prez-Pea). Subsequently, an uninformed citizen has

significantly decreased reason to care about what the military is doing, serving to further the

divide between them.

Change in How We Think About War. Accompanying the shift in our involvement in the war

effort has been a shift in how we think about war. To begin with, we rarely call them wars

anymore. We use terms such as military engagement, military action, armed conflict, or

any other term such as these that avoid using the word war. I would suggest that this is because

war carries with it a certain negative connotation. We associate war with an intense effort

where many people will die, or where many people will have to make a collective sacrifice to

conquer some evil- like say, World War II. The new terms we have constructed to replace war

detaches us from their meaning and their full weight, thus distracting us from the implications of

our countrys actions.

Part of the reason for this, however, is certainly due to the changing nature of war itself.

The move from traditional warfare to our current involvement in the war on terror has added

further disparities between the average citizen and the military. Traditional warfare, such as the

kind seen in World War II theres dramatic change, a moving front line, a compelling

narrative (Prez-Pea). People are able to follow it closely because there are constant updates,

and they choose to follow it because World War II was justly constructed as a battle between
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good and evil. Its consequences matter immensely. The war on terror, however, is not so black

and white. For one thing, after the first few months, the invasion of Iraq became a series of small

and separated skirmishes that resulted in more of the same grim news, day after day (Prez-

Pea). The war on terror, while sounding every bit as grand was World War II, is much more

grueling and its potential payoffs are much more ambiguous and long-term. The American public

has shown that it is much less likely to pay attention to something like this.

Different Social Context. The social conformity no longer exists such that we blindly support any

military action. Before the Vietnam War, only a very small and unpopular anti-war movement

existed. This coincided with the fact that during the 1940s and 1950s, America experienced high

levels of social conformity and not diverging from the popular way. This changed, however, with

the emergence of the counterculture of the 1960s and the rise of one of the more popular

subgroups: hippies. Hippies were one of the first main groups that focused on cultural dissent,

especially as it related to the United States involvement in Vietnam (Sixties Counterculture).

Within a vague alliance involving many other groups, the hippies led the way to the first popular

anti-war movement (Barringer). This is not necessarily a bad thing as a dissenting opinion can be

extremely important to keeping certain views in check. However, this is important because the

hippies and the the counterculture popularized the dissenting opinion and made it socially

acceptable. Whereas pre-Vietnam the nation was unified behind a war effort, post-Vietnam see

the creation of disunity which has severely hurt the strength of Americas home-front.

WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?

As I have shown, the combination of many different forces acting upon the American people

have driven a wedge between their lives and the actions of the military. This is extremely

significant development, yet its importance has not yet resonated with the average citizen, the
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military, or even really the political leaders in Washington, D.C. Accordingly, this is the message

which I will elaborate on in the following section. My main point being that our new disconnect

on the home-front and loss of shared enterprise has been a major blow to the strength behind our

military action.

Keeping Our Military Accountable. When we arent involved in an active war effort, we stop

thinking about what our military actions mean; we dont keep our involvement in wars

accountable. Earlier I spoke of how news coverage of the Iraq War had dipped dramatically, and

how the average citizen stopped intently following its progression. In addition to this, a Pew

Research Center Poll found that by as early as 2008, a strong majority of Americans did not think

it was the right decision to invade Iraq, and that we should pull our troops out as soon as possible

(Public Attitudes). Yet, there was no strong public outcry for this and the fighting went on for

another three years. The lack of involvement by the American people made it so that when a

majority of them did not support the militarys actions, nothing changed. In other words, the

military continued a course of action that did not reflect the wishes and values of more than half

the people it is supposed to represent. And this is only for something such as the Iraq War, which

every citizen had some knowledge of. In addition to large scale wars such as Iraq and

Afghanistan, the United States also has troops stationed in many other countries that get virtually

no news coverage (Historical Military Troop Data). An American public that is disconnected

from the military and what its many missions around the world are cannot begin to hold them

accountable for upholding their beliefs.

From a Practical and Moral Standpoint. If we do not all share the financial burden and personal

sacrifice of military action, we will not be able to pay for it. The absence of increased taxes

which I spoke of earlier has deprived the American people of an important shared enterprise
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from which they could still have a connection with the military. Without this personal stake in

the actions of the military, not only will it be much harder to finance the military, but people will

be less likely to pay attention to what is going on. As Lyle Rubin, a former marine, puts it, its

conventional American wisdom that men and women in uniform bear the brunt of war so that

everyone else can enjoy their freedoms. A more pointed restatement might be that our uniformed

services deal in gloomy realities so everyone else can go about their juvenilia as if such realities

didnt exist (Rubin). They key word here is brunt. Brunt, in this case, means the chief impact;

not the entire thing. However, without the presence of taxes to keep the public involved, the

consequences of fighting wars play no role in their daily lives; they cease to exist.

This creates a twofold problem. First, it places an increased burden on those who are

active members of the armed forces. In addition to this, it removes the public from the

responsibility and personal commitment required to fight and win wars (Zucchino and Cloud).

The loss of the shared enterprise through sacrifice and the national purpose gained by it has

weakened the might of the American armed forces. Essentially, the growing disconnect between

the average citizen and the military is both straining the military, and weakening them. And

regardless of what a persons personal stance on war is, we can all agree that this would

dramatically reduce Americas standing with, and how it is viewed by, the rest of the world.

WHERE IS THIS ALL GOING?

I wanted to include a short segment on the potential future of this shift, given the current

information. In my opinion, the barrier that has been created between the military and the public

will be exacerbated should current trends continue. The main thing that is being seen is the

continued integration of technology into the military. We already use remote-controlled drones to

drop bombs, fire missiles, conduct surveillance, or to do anything that might spare the lives of
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America pilots. Other instances of robots being used in place of people are rapidly increasing in

both quantity and significance (Singer). It is estimated that if the current rate of progression

continues, in about twenty-five years the United States military will encompass many thousands

of robots that are a billion times more powerful in their computing than what we have today

(Singer). But so what? Why does this matter? Ideally, the use of robots in war means that we

wont have to use soldiers, and this will save lives. This is a good thing. However, people are

more likely to support the use of force if they view it as costless (Singer). This is not a good

thing. While measures that save American lives should be embraced enthusiastically, measures

that serve to further distance Americans from the actions of the military should not. Adding

robots to warfare would decrease the amount of human involvement, which, coupled with their

relative expendability, would also decrease the levels of empathy felt and attention paid by the

average citizen. In regards to a solution to balance these two things, adding robots to save lives

versus being wary of an even greater disconnect, I have no idea what a solution might look like.

This is a very complex issue that we will certainly have to deal with in the years to come.

CONCLUSION

The slow and continued movement of the American public away from a national war effort, or

home-front, has been detrimental to both the people and the military. As a young citizen in

America, found it troubling to see just how removed us non-members of the military have

become since the pinnacle of the home-front in World War II. Since then, many changes have

occurred that have made it increasingly difficult to support or connect to military efforts. This

has unfortunately resulted in the creation of a substantial and frightening disconnect, of which

we are now seeing some of the negative effects; effects that we must deal with before they

become irreversible.
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