President Barack Obama has gained a limited political victory in the passage of a portion of his jobs bill that was tailored to veterans. The passage of the bill yesterday coincides with Veteran’s Day and brings an opportunity to examine the relationship and the disconnect between the American public and the military.
The modern dichotomy between Americans and their military is one that has become increasingly distanced. This distance has negative implications for the country, as its military becomes a semi-autonomous unit that exists in a reality that is separate from that of the citizenry it protects. The American public must be more cognizant of the military to create an institution that better follows the desires of the taxpayers. For this to happen, Congress must reign-in the president’s disregard for its constitutional power to declare war and take greater control over military discretionary spending. If Congress is the one deliberating the initiation and funding of conflicts, they can be held accountable by the constituents they represent and serve as mouthpieces of the people’s will for the military.
The problem between the military and American populace is growing due to so few reminders that America is at war. While I am not arguing for an expansion or cut of the military, the fact that around 1% of the American population actually serves in the military makes it unlikely that the average citizen has any deep emotional connection to the cost of the war. As the years have dragged on, the war is only covered in the media when sensational event occur, further keeping the conflicts out of the public eye. A further disconnect occurs when, unlike wars of the past, there are very few daily burdens, dare I say inconveniences, that remind Americans of involvement in two different wars.
In solving the disconnects between the military and the public, there are a few things that the government can pursue to better align public will with the actual use of the military. The first would be a push by Congress to limit the military actions that the president unilaterally begins. While it is Congress that has the constitutional authority to declare war, modern presidents have tended to rebrand armed conflicts as “police actions,” that sidestep Congress. This dangerous overreach of power serves to create a military that is further separated from the representatives of the people.
Congress can also take a greater role in determining the discretionary budget of the military. Often considered sacred when cuts are to be made, the military budget seems to exist outside of the economic reality of the nation and should be better aligned with the nation's financial priorities.
The president also has a role to play in improving the nation’s awareness of the military, by helping to reintegrate veterans back into society so they can capitalize on the skills they learned in the military and be in a better position to open positive dialogue about the military. Obama is already moving in this direction, but more needs to be done to address issues that plague veterans, such as PTSD and other mental problems.
As another Veteran’s Day comes and goes, I encourage you to be thankful of our veterans and take into consideration the burden they bear. A greater awareness of the military’s role is a positive step that will combat the negative consequences of a military disconnected from the national conscience.
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