David M. Kennedy was quoted extensively in a Salon.com article on the casualties and related military costs of the Iraq War. This follows on Kennedy’s Op-Ed in the NYTimes on July 26 where he said that a return to “a universal duty to service — perhaps in the form of a lottery, or of compulsory national service with military duty as one option among several — would at least ensure that the civilian and military sectors do not become dangerously separate spheres.” We told you back then what a ruckus that column caused in certain circles. Will the same argument be any more popular this time around?
Politicians no longer have to fear a broad public backlash for waging an unwise and costly conflict. David M. Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and history professor at Stanford University, calls that phenomenon “a standing invitation to military adventurism.”
After Vietnam, the military reorganized to restrict politicians from engaging in another unpopular war. In what’s called the Abrams Doctrine, after Gen. Creighton Abrams, Pentagon brass backed active-duty fighting units with reserve units, or weekend warriors, for transportation and other logistical support in a big ground war. It was basic politics: The Pentagon figured a president would be reluctant to mobilize waves of weekend warriors from across the American heartland without broad public support. “The logic was to compel the president to carefully evaluate the political price before undertaking a Vietnam-scale military deployment,” Kennedy says.
Since then, rapid advancements in military technology have allowed the United States to dispatch an exponentially more lethal, but smaller, all-volunteer force. “What was supposed to be the restraining logic behind the Abrams doctrine has been seriously attenuated,” Kennedy says.
Kennedy is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945.