I liked this essay in today’s NYT by Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired Army lieutenant general and Stanford fellow, on the growing gap between the US military and the citizens it serves. Here’s an excerpt.

“Together, these developments present a disturbingly novel spectacle: a maximally powerful force operating with a minimum of citizen engagement and comprehension. Technology and popular culture have intersected to perverse effect. While Vietnam brought home the wrenching realities of war via television, today’s wars make extensive use of computers and robots, giving some civilians the decidedly false impression that the grind and horror of combat are things of the past. The media offer us images of drone pilots, thousands of miles from the fray, coolly and safely dispatching enemies in their electronic cross hairs. Hollywood depicts superhuman teams of Special Operations forces snuffing out their adversaries with clinical precision.”

Eikenberry’s proposals to remedy this trend include a return to the draft, which would not work well in countries such as my own, which have long traditions of volunteer service and small peacetime militaries. For Canada, however, as we leave the Afghanistan era and the military returns to garrison and leaves the public spotlight, I think we need the same discussion here that Eikenberry proposes for his country, What is the relationship between military service and citizenship? What is our modern military capable of doing, what is it currently doing, both conventionally and in special operations, and what do and what should civilian citizens know about these things? These questions might be more helpful to pursue than our ongoing preoccupation with military procurement.

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  1. "The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards."