The Less than One Percenters

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For a country that’s been engaged in two major theaters of war for around the last 13 years, much of the service and sacrifice has been made by the true 1%’ers.

A 2013 Pew Research article reports that only a 5th of the Congress at the time had any military experience, themselves.

Not all that long ago, military service was practically a requirement for serving in Congress. The high point in recent decades was the 95th Congress (1977-78) when, following an influx of Vietnam-era veterans, a combined 77% of the House and Senate had served in the armed forces. But as World War II veterans have retired and relatively few Americans enlist in the all-volunteer armed forces, veterans account for a smaller and smaller share of Congress.

Veterans-and-Congress_1That reflects the wider trend in U.S. society. According to Census figures, veterans currently make up about 7% of the overall population, down from 13.7% in 1970 — when the Vietnam War was raging and the draft was still in place. As a 2011 Pew Research Center report noted, the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been fought by a historically small U.S. military; this has contributed to a distance between the military and civilian society. While Americans overwhelmingly say they feel proud of those who’ve served and appreciate their sacrifices, 71% say most Americans know little or nothing about the problems faced by military personnel; about as many (74%) oppose reinstating a draft.

If ordinary American citizens who benefit from the service and sacrifice of soldiers and the families who directly support them don’t have personal blood and treasure at stake themselves, it creates for a detached citizenry.

I think one of the most important aspects of Eastwood’s American Sniper is its portrayal of the jarring difference between being “over there” and being back here at home where most Americans go about their daily business, care-free and sheltered from the harsh conditions and brutal realities faced by our military men and women serving in theater. Our care-free American lives and livelihood is made possible only because of the few willing to enlist and militarily serve.

This article is spot-on:

Like nearly everything else—a ball game, a rock concert, a political debate—anyone who buys a ticket or takes the time to watch instantly becomes a critic. And today, with twitter and texting and all the other tools we have literally at our fingertips, a debate quickly turns into a cyber-space brawl.

People on the left go back and forth with those on the right about the movie’s merits. Is it pro-war? Is it anti-war? And while a platoon of professional essayists, film aficionados and all around ‘I’m smarter-than-you’ folks attack one another’s opinions, there seem to be a couple items that have been forgotten along the side of the long road we’ve traveled for 15 years—15 years!—in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The most obvious is the lack of attention paid to the fact that only about one percent of our population has borne the weight of war. Then there are the families left behind while those fighting are deployed multiple times to both theaters—Iraq and Afghanistan—breaking the military and too often breaking those who sit state-side, worrying, waiting, while 99% of everyone around them dances through the day without any real prospect of danger or death knocking on their door.

Mike Barnicle concludes:

A friend of mine who worked on American Sniper for months and attended several screenings in places as different as Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City and Washington D.C. had an interesting observation that mutes some of the ideological ‘wars’ that have consumed multiple critics conducting operations from the safety of their laptops and iPhones.

It revolved around the scene where Chris Kyle sights, shoots and kills the major-league caliber Iraqi sniper from a distance of more than a mile away. In a sand storm.

At a screening in L.A. and New York, the crowd cheered. In Dallas there was no cheering. And when the film was screened at one site in Washington there was only a heavy silence.

At the LA theater I was at, there was only heavy silence at the end of the movie, as well.

Where was that location? Walter Reed National Medical Center, where the wounded, the limbless, the brain damaged are treated for injuries that linger forever and are largely forgotten by a country and a culture where more attention is paid to deflated footballs than the needs and cost of caring for men and women who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

American Sniper is a movie. War is a grim reality and with us still.

I don’t know much about Bradley Cooper. But his experience in working with the movie seems to have instilled the right respect and appreciation that all Americans should feel- that deep sense of personal gratitude for every man and woman who proudly wear the uniform of our armed forces.

It’s a cruel twist of fate that Chris Kyle lost his life not on the battlefield, but here at home; and he was killed doing what all Americans should be doing: Caring for those who carry the scars of wars fought on our behalf (yes, on our behalf whether you agree or disagree with any particular war).

51 Responses to “The Less than One Percenters”

  1. 51

    another vet

    @Tom: I think the six trillion estimate for GWOT (not Iraq) over 53 years is high but not too far off. I’ll be long dead by then so I’ll have no way of knowing how accurate it was.

    As for the selling of wars, the majority of the American public is disengaged be it war or anything else. People live in their little shells now. My 15 year old nephew’s geography teacher had a class devoted to 9/11 complete with film footage etc. My nephew was very distraught about it and said out of the whole class only a few other students were interested. That is a reflection on the parents and thus the times we live in. People just don’t give a shit as long as it doesn’t personally affect them to the point where it has a noticeable effect on their daily rituals.

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