Biden Must Rethink the American Way of War

Biden Must Rethink the American Way of War

Fighting drags on because it places too little burden on the public and politicians. That has to change.

“You may not be interested in war,” it has often been said, “but war is interested in you.” Perhaps so, but Trotsky’s dictum hasn’t applied to the United States since January 1973, when the country, having relied on conscription from the Civil War through Vietnam, replaced a draft-based military with an all-volunteer force. Since then, only a sliver of U.S. society has ever served in the military, let alone participated in combat. The rest, even people age-eligible for military service, have been walled off from the hazards of war; because the post-9/11 wars have been financed through borrowing rather than higher taxes, Americans haven’t even had pay for it out of their pockets.

In turn, neither post-Cold War presidents nor members of Congress need worry about mass demonstrations or electoral backlashes, which has given them greater freedom to continue wars for years.

Today, only 0.5 percent of the U.S. population is on active duty. Veterans account for 7 percent. The proportion of young people who enlist or choose a military career has declined. In a 2015 survey, 85 percent of those between 18 and 29 said they definitely or probably wouldn’t sign up for military service even if they were needed, never mind that a majority supported using force to combat terrorism. Financial enticements, including bonuses, which run as high as $40,000 for first-time enlistees and $81,000 for those who reenlist—don’t seem to have sufficed