540. Where Are the Vets?

Here are some statistics, tailored for those who read this blog. I know most of you are young. I see your pictures on your likes, and I check out your websites.  I’m not young, so I see changes you may not be aware of.

Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and both presidents Bush all served in the military in wartime. Regan and Bush Two served stateside in wartime; the others all saw combat.

Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump did not serve.

In the current House of Representatives only 70 of 435 have served in the military. In the current Senate, only 13 of 100 have served. Those numbers will go up slightly with the incoming congress.

Veterans were not so under represented in previous congresses.

These figures relate the the reduced number of persons in the military. That is not quite the same as a smaller military, since the persons now serving tend to spend more years in service. Draftees from previous eras tended to go home as soon as they were allowed to do so.

I come from a long line of draftees. My father served in Europe in WW II, was wounded, and remained during the occupation of Germany. His younger brother was drafted, trained, and was on a ship “heading for Japan to die” (his words) when the US dropped the A bomb. He ended up in the occupation of Japan. I joined the Navy, Vietnam era, but not by choice. My draft number was 41, which meant my number was up (in both senses of the word) before I finished college. And no, I did not see combat.

I hated the draft and I still do, but it had one positive aspect. It leveled the playing field. More Americans had to step up, whether they wanted to or not, and that led to more protests. Without the draft, we would have been in Vietnam much longer.

Today is the hundredth anniversary of the end of WW I. All those veterans are gone. WW II ended in 1945. Very few of the vets from my father’s generation are still around.

America left Vietnam in 1973. Any vet who saw that day at age 18 would be 63 today. That was also the last  year American’s were drafted.

I’m not suggesting a return to the draft, God forbid. I have no particular agenda at all; I just want to give you this to think about.

A country which everyone has to defend, or at least has to stand in jeopardy of military service, is a very different thing from a country that depends on a volunteer military.

Better? Worse? That will be your decision going forward.

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The numbers in this post come from PBS.

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2 thoughts on “540. Where Are the Vets?

  1. JM Williams

    There’s certainly a smaller military since WWII, but also as you say, more folks are staying in, so even with 1 million or more current service members, the actual percentage of the population rotating through the ranks has decreased. Higher retention is probably good for the military. I think I am of a different mind than you about the draft. While I am not necessarily a fan of the draft, I am a supporter of mandatory civil service. This comes from living in Korea where every male is required to either join the military or do other government service. You can see the change on the people who return from service. They are more socially and politically conscious. I don’t think people should be forced to join the military, but given a choice, everyone should have to do something for a year or two. Could be the peace corp, or Americorps, or other forms of public service. The trouble we have today is that the vast majority of Americans have no connection to their community or government, and yet are making critical decisions on what form and function those sorts of entities should take. Being involve with government opens your mind.

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  2. sydlogsdon Post author

    Well said. Veteran’s Day is too important for me to let it go by unremarked, but it gets hard to add to all I have said in previous years. On this issue, I was struck by a comment on a news program about the low number of vets in congress, and that gave me an entree into the post.
    I know little about Korea, but I am a fan of the Swiss system in which everybody gets training and is sent home with a rifle and a box of ammunition, to remain ready all their lifetime should Switzerland ever be invaded.
    In America, I’m not so sure mandatory civil service would work. Given our culture, and the way governmental agencies #@&$*# up everything, I could see it being a way to get blacks back into the fields so we can deport the Mexicans who are raising our food. Sorry, too many years in America makes a guy patriotic and cynical at the same time.
    On a personal note, my wife and I volunteered for the Peace Corps and were assigned to a project in the state of Mysore (as it was called then) in India. Just before we signed the contract, Nixon did away with the Peace Corps deferment, so I ended up spending four years working in a Naval Hospital. I helped set a lot of broken jaws and helped extract a lot of wisdom teeth, but I still think we would have done more for humanity teaching horticulture in India.

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