The Plunging Morale of America’s Service Members – The Atlantic

Source: The Plunging Morale of America’s Service Members – The Atlantic, by Phil Klay

If the courage of young men and women in battle truly does depend on the nature and quality of our civic society, we should be very worried.

interpersonal attraction—the qualities someone has that, under normal circumstances, make you want to spend time with them outside of work—had no reliable impact on unit effectiveness. In fact, high social cohesion could even hurt unit effectiveness, by shifting individuals’ priorities from the organizational to the social. Instead, the most important element was a shared commitment to a task. Emphasis on unity—rather than divisions along gender and race—as well as on the importance of the mission, was the crucial factor.

When a threat is existential, the qualities you value in an individual shift. Marines like Decaul weren’t willing to work with a Klansman and a drug addict in spite of the fact that their lives might be on the line—they were willing to work with them because their lives were on the line.

Which means, when talking about making a military unit effective, we’re not just talking about a grudging choice. … They need a mission—one that is achievable, moral, and in keeping with the values of the society they represent and whose flag they wear on their uniform.

In the long term, the strength and legitimacy of the military will be a function of the perceived strength and legitimacy of the project it is supposed to represent. The clarity of purpose so central to bonding men in combat cannot emerge purely from the military itself.

Can service members maintain a sense of purpose when nobody—not the public, or Congress, or the commander in chief himself—seems to take the wars we’re fighting seriously?

This is reminiscent of what one officer said of the later stages of the Vietnam War: “The gung-ho attitude that made our soldiers so effective in 1966, ’67, was replaced by the will to survive.” It’s not that those troops lacked courage, but that the ends shifted. … if you think the mission your country keeps sending you on is pointless or impossible and that you’re only deploying to protect your brothers and sisters in arms from danger, then it’s not the Taliban or al-Qaeda or isis that’s trying to kill you, it’s America.

How America Shed the Taboo Against Preventive War – The Atlantic

If Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, or Ronald Reagan were transported to 2017, they would be shocked that the United States is considering an attack on North Korea.

A hidden assumption underlies the debate over North Korea. The assumption is that preventive war—war against a country that poses no imminent threat but could pose a threat in the future—is morally legitimate. … By historical standards, that’s astounding. … During the Cold War, the dominant figures in American foreign policy considered preventive war to be fundamentally un-American.

In the second half of the 20th century, when America’s leaders heard “preventive war,” they thought about Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. And for good reason. Both regimes had used the doctrine to justify their attacks in World War II. … Americans wanted a postwar system that outlawed such logic.

If Clinton peeked under a door that his predecessors had tried to bolt shut, George W. Bush flung it open. … Among the duplicities that attended Bush’s new doctrine was a linguistic one. Instead of admitting that he was embracing preventive war, Bush called it “preemption.” That was a lie. Preemptive war has an entirely different status in international law because it refers to an entirely different thing: a response to imminent attack.

It’s hard to recapture the horror that earlier generations of Americans felt about preventive war when it was still something that other countries did to the United States and not merely something Americans contemplate doing to others. They viewed it the way some Americans still view torture: as liberation from the moral restraints that human beings require. … Because Americans recognized that they were fallible, fallen creatures, they did not grant themselves the illegitimate, corrupting power of preventive war.

That humility has been lost. If asked whether China, Russia, or even France, has the right to launch wars against countries merely because those countries are building weapons that could one day pose a threat, Americans would quickly say no. They would recognize immediately that such a right, if universalized, threatens the peace of the world. Yet in both parties, policymakers grant that right to America.

Source: How America Shed the Taboo Against Preventive War – The Atlantic

Bill Perry Is Terrified. Why Aren’t You? – POLITICO Magazine

nukes are suddenly—insanely, by Perry’s estimate—once again a contemporary nightmare, and an emphatically ascendant one.

Americans no longer think about the threat every day. Nuclear war isn’t the subtext of popular movies, or novels; disarmament has fallen far from the top of the policy priority list.

Perry’s hypothesis for the disconnect is that much of the population, especially that rising portion with no clear memories of the first Cold War, is suffering from a deficit of comprehension. Even a single nuclear explosion in a major city would represent an abrupt and possibly irreversible turn in modern life, upending the global economy, forcing every open society to suspend traditional liberties and remake itself into a security state.

As for a nuclear explosion, by Perry’s lights, the consequences are so grave that the rational thing would be for people in the United States and everywhere to be in a state of peak alarm about their vulnerability, and for political debate to be dominated by discussion of how to reduce the risk.

And just how high is the risk? The answer of course is ultimately unknowable. Perry’s point, though, is that it’s a hell of a lot higher than you think.

“Nuclear weapons are the biggest public health issue I can think of.”

“As a 90s baby I never lived in the Cold War era,” wrote one participant, with the Reddit username BobinForApples. “What is one thing today’s generations will never understand about life during the Cold War?”

Perry’s answered, as SecDef19: “Because you were born in the 1990s, you did not experience the daily terror of ‘duck and cover’ drills as my children did. Therefore the appropriate fear of nuclear weapons is not part of your heritage, but the danger is just as real now as it was then. It will be up to your generation to develop the policies to deal with the deadly nuclear legacy that is still very much with us.”

Source: Bill Perry Is Terrified. Why Aren’t You? – POLITICO Magazine