Certainly the military’s purpose is nowhere near so clear as when we could explain it in terms of national defense. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, declaring war was a no-brainer. What are we defending ourselves against in Libya? The George W. Bush administration tried to define a tactic as the enemy in its phrase Global War on Terror. GWOT casualties are listed on the stadium where our graduation takes place next to those of other conflicts like Vietnam and Korea. Yet now the phrase GWOT has been retired. So who or what is the enemy?
Increasingly, polls show, Americans feel that there is no point to the war in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda simply goes across the border to Pakistan. Theorists and pundits spar over whether “nation building” is a legitimate enterprise for the US military. The counterinsurgency movement, COIN, that has apparently stabilized the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, seems increasingly to be about locals lining up to accept our payoffs – and offering no loyalty past the day the payoffs stop. War is just bribery by other means, as the celebrated Prussian theorist Carl von Clausewitz might have said.
What a discouraging time to be going into the military. Yet only die-hard pacifists want to abolish the military in a world full of malefactors. How can we encourage our young people to go into it nowadays if we don’t have any idea what it is or what it does?