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February 1999

Resurgent Militarism in the U.S.
by Rick Jahnkow

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Is it unreasonable to think that there would be a huge outcry from the press and the public if the Secretary of Defense launched a campaign to undermine civilian rule in the U.S.? Well, there has been no such protest, but that is essentially what William Cohen did when he addressed the Illinois state legislature recently.

The New Military Buildup

In a speech given to the Illinois General Assembly on January 28, Cohen stated his belief that the U.S. military is not getting the support and respect it deserves from the public. According to Cohen, because of the shrinking population of veterans and lessening of economic pressure that would normally compel more young people to enlist, the links between civilian society and the military are weakening and Americans no longer feel a strong association with their armed forces. Cohen and other military supporters believe that unless this trend is reversed, the armed forces will not be able to recruit, train and maintain a military establishment that is capable of carrying out its mission.

The goal of this campaign is to also affect people's view of what the relationship should be between civilian society and the military.

As evidence of the problem, they cite recent difficulty in meeting recruiting goals and a general decline in young peopleís interest in enlistment as revealed by the Pentagonís annual youth attitude tracking survey. The survey indicates that the number of young people with a propensity to join the Army has fallen from about 17 percent in 1991 to 11 percent in 1997, while the numbers for the Air Force have dropped from 16 percent to 12 percent in the same period.

From the standpoint of the Pentagon, this is a serious problem that will continue to grow as the civilian public and military establishment experience greater stress over the expanding missions assigned to the armed forcesómissions that have included air patrols and bombings in Iraq, deployments to Bosnia, operations in hurricane-struck Central America, drug interdiction along the U.S./Mexico border and elsewhere, a continuing presence at older foreign bases and new deployments to places with conflict like Kosovo.

Well before Cohenís January 28 speech, alarms had been sounded by the Clinton administration, the Pentagon and some members of Congress. Their voices set the stage for the largest increase in military pay and benefits since the early 1980s, plus a proposed six-year overall boost in military spending that could total $110-$120 billion.

Some people will protest the increase in military spending because we still havenít received the peace dividend expected after the collapse of the Soviet Union; and also because Pentagon spending inevitably does long-term damage to the economy and degrades the well-being of poor and middle-class people by robbing social programs of funding. Some individuals will also rightly object to the addition of new weapons systems that will eventually be used, directly or indirectly, to inflict greater death and destruction on people in other countries.

However, there is another aspect to Cohenís speech that deserves equal, if not greater, concern, but which is largely being ignored because it deals with a subject that is more subtle than ships, bombers and paychecks.

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