25 September, 2018
This evening I had the pleasure to sit in the audience of the NY Times A Generation At War panel. This included author C.J. Chivers, Senator Tammy Duckworth, Bonnie Carroll, and Steve Schmidt of the New York Times. The discussion ranged from the disconnect between civilians and military veterans to sharing experiences with PTSD, to thoughts on the current Authorization for the Use of Force, and bringing back a draft. There were parts of the discussion I agreed with, others I disagreed with, and other parts gave me a new perspective. Here are my thoughts:
We are all influenced by our experience, but we should never be captured by our experience. As the panel talked, it was clear that they viewed their own experience with war and their views as though every veteran has a similar experience. This was clear when Chivers spoke about his early field reporting focused strictly in lower tactical level units.
Another example occurred when Senator Duckworth talked about how her promotion to Major was held up because the position was filled by another officer back in the States. She then commented that this was how it worked in the military. While this is true for the National Guard, it is not true for active duty.
Each of the panel members spoke fondly of a return to the draft, or some form of national service, although Chivers was more reserved. I could not disagree more. To me, one of the greatest freedoms we have as Americans is the freedom not to serve. Forced patriotism is phony patriotism. On the positive side, Senator Duckworth had the quote of the night when discussing the divide between the civilian population and the military. “More people in our country will argue about NFL athlete than why we are in Afghanistan, and when we will be leaving.”
Multiple times the members of the panel talked about the “two wars we have been fighting.” Of course they meant Afghanistan and Iraq, with the common perception that we have been fighting these two wars for 17 years now, all under the same AUMF. At this point, I think anyone who uses says “two wars” is low balling it. Besides Iraq and Afghanistan, we have been killing people all over the Middle East and North Africa. This includes Libya, Yemen, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, as well as Afghanistan, and Iraq. Moreover, we can divide combat in Iraq to two or three separate and distinct wars. We should be honest in our language and talk about the 7-10 wars we are fighting.
The panel ended with a question and answer session. None of the questions came from an active duty military member, which was a pleasant surprise. One member was a former CIA member who asked how the country should honor the service of those who serve/fight overseas but in a different capacity (CIA, USAID, State, etc..). There was no clear answer, but general agreement that we should do more.
An international relations student at George Washington asked about the concept of our foreign military sales (FMS) program. The question was a bit naive, as were the answers, which all focused on the idea that we should end these programs. No thought was given to the assumptions of 1) if we end FMS, other nations such as China, or Russia will happily step in to fill the void and 2) we gain leverage over nations should they turn against U.S. interests. In the latter, the US can end the sales of items such as spare parts, and upgrades to electronic systems, putting said nation at a military disadvantage.
Finally, one young women began her question with a short anecdote about her father. She began to cry while asking her question. Although I can’t recall the actual question, she brought attention to how war affects entire families, not just the service member. Whether it’s the prolonged deployments, or dealing with PTSD, the wives, husbands, daughters, and sons all bear the load of these wars.