Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Will the war dead change US public opinion? 


Linda Colley has our number:

...Since the 80s, the US has devoted far less effort than most European governments to eradicating poverty. Incomparably rich, it contains within its boundaries millions of poor people with few prospects or state perks. For these Americans, especially in the agrarian, conservative south, military service is a lifeline, even if it sometimes leads to violent death.

The huge US military installations (all called forts) that exist in most states, but that cluster in the south, are well-provided, insulated worlds to themselves. The eight forts in Texas and Georgia, for instance, hold together some 100,000 troops, as well as tens of thousands of civilian aides and family members. Each fort has its own schools, hospitals, dentists, shopping malls, bowling alleys, pools and houses of a style and size most of the men and women within its guarded walls could only dream about outside. Here, the American dream is on offer to a sector

of the population that could otherwise never hope to share it.

What this means is that the US has engineered for itself in the present what most successful empires in the past have striven to create: a highly professional, self-conscious and privileged military caste that is substantially cut off from the doubts and distractions of civilian society. This is why predictions that the sharp rise in US casualties in recent weeks must of necessity result in large-scale American disillusionment with the war are way off the mark. Naturally, Americans grieve for their warrior dead. But since - in sharp contrast with Vietnam - there has been no draft, the US military is just too cut off from civilian experience, and also too privileged, for these kind of losses by themselves to cause widespread and lasting revulsion at the war. Moreover, I come back to the point that most US soldiers are from the poor. By contrast, most of the decision-makers in Congress and the senate are rich. Few have military histories or relatives in the armed services.

It is not individual soldiers dying in Iraq so much as growing doubts about the judgment, effectiveness and truthfulness of President Bush, and about the war's purpose, that are currently leaching support from his administration....


At least there's this:

Dead Soldier's Sisters Excused from Duty in War Zone
Guardian (UK), 14 April 2004
EXCERPT: The two surviving sisters of a soldier killed in Iraq will not be compelled to return to the battlefield, US military officials said yesterday. Michelle Witmer, 20, died last Friday in an ambush of her Humvee, and her father's plea to the Pentagon to spare his two other daughters, who were also serving in Wisconsin national guard units in Iraq, received attention throughout the US.

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