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Book Review – Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country

By Andrew J. Bacevich; Metropolitan Books; 256 pages

Americans love their troops, so long as the troops are someone else’s sons and daughters.

Americans were eager to respond to 9/11, so long as their response included heeding their president’s call to go shopping.

When the older Bacevich analyzes the gulf between U.S. soldiers and the nation they serve, he writes using experience and insight.

The problem, Andrew J. Bacevich writes in Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country is that maintaining a constant state of war, and never winning or ending that war, is perfectly okay with the U.S. public, so long as someone else’s parent, spouse, child, friend or neighbor is doing the sacrificing.

 

Breach of Trust Author Knows His Stuff

Bacevich has every reason to discuss sacrifice. Apart from being professor of history and international relations at Boston University, he’s a retired U.S. Army colonel (West Point class of 1969) who served in South Vietnam. Although he mentions it only in passing, an improvised explosive device killed his son Andrew J. Bacevich, Jr., a first lieutenant of cavalry, in Iraq in 2007. When the older Bacevich analyzes the gulf between U.S. soldiers and the nation they serve, he writes using experience and insight.

Breach of Trust

Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country, by Andrew J. Bacevich; Metropolitan Books; 256 pages

The absence of personal involvement of the American public, Bacevich writes, is why the world’s best military no longer wins wars. The distance between today’s citizen and today’s soldier, he argues, is why the all-volunteer force has turned out to be a bad bargain for troops and for the country. It’s why Americans need to rethink what it means to “support the troops” when 1 percent of Americans bear the burden of service and sacrifice while the remaining 99 percent are passive spectators — if they’re even watching at all.

Reflecting on the draft era (1940-73) when war was not yet a permanent American way of life and most American men were vulnerable to being conscripted, Bacevich argues that the public would closely scrutinize any decision to go to war if most Americans were similarly vulnerable today — and in any draft today he would include women. He also believes having a draft would prompt Americans to take a closer look at the nation’s self-perpetuating military-industrial-lobbyist complex and even the doings of private contractors.

Bacevich argues that the public would closely scrutinize any decision to go to war if most Americans were similarly vulnerable today

One version of the program of national service Bacevich wants: “a lottery with Natasha and Malia Obama at age eighteen having the same chance of being drafted as the manicurist’s son or the Walmart clerk’s daughter.” Less heavy-handed, broader and more inclusive, Bacevich writes, would be “a program of national service in which all able-bodied eighteen-year-olds participate, with some opting for the military and the rest choosing other service opportunities.”

On this site last year, I argued that ours was once a nation that went to war reluctantly and only when citizens held a personal stake in the war’s outcome. Bacevich sent me an e-mail message saying I’d needed just a few hundred words to cover everything he was putting into an entire book — what became Breach of Trust, then in preparation.

Andrew Bacevich

Boston University professor Andrew J. Bacevich is the author of Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country and a proponent of restoring the draft. Photo courtesy of Nancy Bacevich

That’s a problem, actually. Although Breach of Trust is quite small it deviates frequently from its main topic in order to delve into politics within the Army. Bacevich doesn’t similarly examine the other military service branches, and much of his inside-baseball analysis of Army officers belongs in a different book. Here, the focus should stay on citizenry and soldiering.

 

Not Easy to Do

It isn’t easy to be opposed to an all-volunteer Army that is worshipped with so many yellow ribbons and bumper stickers. It isn’t easy to ask Americans to look up from their hand-held devices long enough to contemplate the true meaning of sacrifice. It isn’t easy to speak truth to power. Yet for someone who focuses on serious stuff that’s badly wrong in a big-time kind of way, Bacevich is to be admired for his ever-present tone of optimism.

If this reviewer had a choice, every American would read Breach of Trust. Our leaders would act. Our way of war would change.

If this reviewer had a choice, every American would read Breach of Trust. Our leaders would act. Our way of war would change. Some form of national service and public commitment would be restored. Only then would this reviewer be as optimistic as this book’s writer.

It is far easier, however, to fear that while Andrew J. Bacevich is right on all points, not enough people are paying attention.

By

Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...