A case for isolationism

America and its Western allies should either reinstate the military draft or put down their arms, because their way of going to war these days is too unjust, too inequitable to abide.   

Whenever I read or hear somebody say that America, the West, the world must intervene militarily in Syria, I think, very cynically, that if such an intervention were to get messy, as military interventions have been known to do, it’s not America, the West, or the world that will be risking its life – it will be Bill Jones of Omaha and Jane Smith of Denver and lots of other young people who’ve been ordered to Syria by their commander in chief (and lifelong non-combatant) Barack Obama.

So beyond whatever specific objections I have to a U.S. or Western military move in Syria, or in any other conflict where innocents are being killed en masse and where the world supposedly “cannot stand idly by,” I have a fundamental problem with all of these “humanitarian” uses of force, these “responsibility to protect” operations – because who am I, who is anybody with immunity to the danger and whose family is similarly immune, to urge other people, invariably young people, to do what we and our families have no intention of doing?

But that’s the way the West goes to war these days. That’s the situation in the United States, Britain, France and every other country whose leaders and opinion-makers are apt to consider it a matter of national responsibility to use force in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Bosnia or any other strategic spot (which leaves out Africa, ironically) where major crimes against humanity are taking place.

In the United States, less than a half of one percent of the population – fewer than one out of every 200 citizens – serve in the military, which has been all-volunteer since 1973. I imagine the figures are similar in Britain, France, Italy, Australia, Canada and other American-allied countries where military service is voluntary, and whose leaders and opinion-makers are expected to at least sound interested when a “coalition of the willing” is being gotten up to go fight somewhere.

And I imagine that like in the United States, the volunteer ranks of the armed forces of America’s Western allies are rather thin, shall we say, on the sons and daughters of politicians, government and think tank experts, prominent journalists and the other consensus-molders who are responsible for sending soldiers to war.

With the exception of the children of military veterans – who act out of a sense of duty that 99.5 percent of their countrymen don’t share – and the handful who go in for the adventure, America’s urban educated elite (from which the politicians, think tankers and top journalists are overwhelmingly drawn) don’t fight for their country. Not even in a small proportion since Vietnam, and not in large numbers since Korea. Neither do their children. Military service is for other people, not them. 

Yet these are the members of the political class, the decision-makers and “influentials” who cranked up the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who may yet crank one up in Syria. I don’t see how they allow themselves to do it. I don’t see where they get the gall. They warn against isolationism, but their own personal lives and those of their children, which very deliberately exclude military service, are a testament to isolationism.

And from the soldiers’ point of view, it’s even more unfair that they’re being urged to fight these “humanitarian” wars, these “never again” wars, rather than wars in defense of their own country. As far as I’m concerned, a government has the right to order citizens to risk their lives to defend their country, but it does not have the right to order them to risk their lives in a war of choice – and these U.S.-led wars in the Middle East, including the one that was being cooked up in Syria, are purely wars of choice.

For this reason, I think Israelis, even though they and their children do serve in the army, are likewise in no position to urge America to go to war in Syria (which Israel’s leaders were doing implicitly and which the Israel lobby in Washington was doing explicitly). What Israeli parent is ready to see his son or daughter dispatched to Syria or any other foreign war zone for the sake of protecting civilians there? No Israeli government would dream of doing such a thing. So if it’s out of the question to saddle Yossi Cohen of Rehovot with the “responsibility to protect” foreign civilians, what right does any Israeli have to urge that responsibility on Bill Jones of Omaha? Again, America doesn’t risk its life in war, Americans do. Or, rather, one out of every 200-odd Americans do.

So what am I saying – that the U.S. and its allies shouldn’t fight anywhere in the world as long as it’s only a minuscule percentage of volunteers who are doing the fighting? Yes, that’s what I’m saying. America, Britain, France and the rest of these potential members of some “coalition of the willing” should either reinstate the military draft or put down their arms, because the West’s way of going to war these days is too unjust, too inequitable to abide. The blood of the 99.5 percent who don’t fight is not thicker than the blood of the 0.5 percent who do. If a war isn’t important enough for everyone in the country to fight, it isn’t important enough for any of them to fight, and it should not be fought.

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