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ALLARD: America: The Land of the wimps

Our national character eroding

- - Monday, February 18, 2013

The state of our Union is just fine except for that obsolete notion of liberty. Once the land of the free and the home of the brave, we have become a nation of "wimpodites" and the home of the merely vicarious. The new wimpodite nation outsources war, expecting other people's kids to defend us. It's all downhill from there, with other people's taxes paying for disaster recovery and other people's money paying for bailouts, socialized medicine and everything else. All of that is no problem, until the wimpodite deficits become visible symbols of our eroding national character and lack of common sense.

If that seems harsh, let's review some recent headlines.

First up are the numbers of Army Suicides and servicemen who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Last year the Army lost more soldiers to suicide than to the Taliban. Other signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder keep cropping up as well, from the soldier in Afghanistan last year who killed a dozen villagers, to the Navy sniper ace recently murdered by another serviceman who returned from combat "with issues." The simple fact is that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a lot like radiation: Your chances of having it increase in direct proportion to your exposure to combat stress, especially in battles with no front lines. Vietnam veterans exposed to such ordeals typically returned stateside after only a year, some with mental trauma that has endured ever since. Yet during the decade of the war on terror, our soldiers have been asked to return to combat three or four times, usually for tours of duty lasting 12 months. Why so often? After 9/11, we effectively drafted the reserves, even though the volunteer military was never designed to sustain a war fought with other people's kids.

Next we have women in combat. The wars of 9/11 have been marked by the persistent problem of scarce manpower and the steady erosion of the fig-leaf that women were being spared from direct combat. Nonsense: Chivalry died because there was no practical way to integrate women throughout the military and somehow exclude them from war. In an Army career lasting almost three decades, I saw women take on greater roles with unfailing dedication and professionalism-despite the widening chasm between our society and the 1 percent who wear the uniform and defend us. Wherever you come down on the issue of women in combat, most of the people glibly discussing it on TV had no direct knowledge of military life. How could they possibly understand its hidden complexities and tensions, hardships and relationships, demands and expectations?

Instead of focusing on the most essential issue - whether it makes us more or less capable of prevailing over our enemies - the discussion was exclusively about equities, ambitions and promotion potential. Harvard President Drew Faust, speaking from the populist enclave of Davos, took it even farther, discerning a whole new "right." Now sanctified by the lifting of all restrictions against homosexuals and women, military service was no longer an onerous duty or intrusive obligation. Instead, she asserted it had now been elevated to a treasured right, enjoyed in common by all Americans. Will Harvard students now rush en masse to take advantage of their new privilege? No, probably not.

Another recent headline has been drones in combat. Code Pink was back on Capitol Hill recently to protest the Brennan hearings and the CIA's use of drones to kill terrorists. Drones are used because they embody two qualities not normally seen in the rarified air of high-level defense. For one thing, they actually work, with deadly effectiveness. For another, they are significantly cheaper than boots on the ground -- the other way to fight terrorism. Still, the Code Pink ladies did not brandish signs reading, "Stop the Drones, Revive the Draft!" Nevertheless, the controversy over the Brennan hearings, heightened by a leaked administration memo on drone targeting, clearly demonstrated our Faustian bargain with technology. We now rely on drones to do our killing - neat, sweet and discreet - even if it involves an American citizen and even if insurgencies are best won by interrogating prisoners rather than stacking up their bodies like cordwood. Where once the moral choice in war rested on the infantryman squinting over his sights at an enemy, we have substituted the drone's extended weapon system. It has become the weapon of choice for the Wimpodite Nation: Antiseptic conflicts prosecuted by bureaucratic committees on behalf of the Great Uncommitted.

Here is the bottom line: On March 1, defense sequestration will begin - 50 percent of its mandated cuts coming from just 25 percent of the budget. Inevitably, this also means telling 100,000 soldiers and marines who fought hand-to-hand with Iraqi insurgents and Taliban mujahideen: "Thank you for your service. But we're out of money, so please get lost."

Col. Ken Allard, retired from the Army, is a former NBC News military analyst and author on national security issues.