Toward the end of the increasingly-unpopular Vietnam War, President Richard Nixon led efforts to end the draft and create an all-volunteer military.
Our all-volunteer military has played a central role in making the relationship between soldiers and the American people quite distant. A growing lack of personal concern among citizens has also enabled federal government leaders to declare, and conduct, the new wars they want to pursue.
An all-volunteer military also enhanced the power of top military leaders and the White House.
Andrew J. Bacevich's new book -- "Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country" -- powerfully argues Americans should become much more involved in working to influence government decisions.
"Popular attitudes toward war, combining detachment, neglect and inattention, helped create the crisis in which the United States is mired," Bacevich writes, focusing on the ongoing "Bush-Obama global war."
Many people eagerly promote their own "patriotic" feelings.
But in recent years, Bacevich writes, "the actual relationship between soldiers and society consisted for the most part of prayers offered at Sunday services, pontificating by politicians of all stripes, and scripted rituals of respect inserted into celebratory occasions like the Super Bowl or the World Series."
"Breach of Trust" begins by recounting the July 4, 2011 spectacle before a Red Sox game at Fenway Park in Boston. A gigantic flag covered the Green Monster in left field, videos played on the ballpark's Jumbotron and four F-15 fighter planes screamed overhead.
"The Fenway Park Independence Day event provided a made-to-order opportunity for conscience easing," Bacevich writes.
Today, 1percent of all Americans are directly involved in today's military conflicts, Bacevich points out. The other 99 percent watch from the sidelines.
As a consequence of Vietnam, Americans "jettisoned the tradition of the citizen-soldier."
Bacevich believes nearly all Americans should spend time in public service, if not in the military, then in groups like AmeriCorps, Vista and the Peace Corps.
Bacevich advocates a "program of national service in which all able-bodied 18-year-olds participate, with some opting for the military and the rest choosing other service opportunities: preserving the environment, caring for the sick and elderly, assisting the poor and destitute," as well as helping the Veterans Administration provide services to wounded veterans.
New Companies and New Enemies
The all-volunteer military has had other major consequences, including ballooning the number and size of private security contractors (PSCs), also known as "mercenaries" or "war profiteers."
These highly-profitable companies include: KBR, formerly Kellogg Brown & Root; Academi, formerly Xe and Blackwater; and DynCorp. Between 2001 and 2011, KBR received $40.8 billion in federal contracts.
In 2010, PSCs operating in Iraq and Afghanistan employed 260,000 people, more than the number of U.S. troops in those countries. The vast majority of those contract workers, paid from our tax dollars, were citizens from foreign countries.
The collapse of the Soviet empire during the 1980s posed a major threat of budget cuts to the American military.
"The most obvious way to deflect that prospect was to conjure up new dangers," Bacevich writes.
Islamism replaced Communism as the major national threat. Saddam Hussein was a "made-to-order helpmate" to sustain military expenditures.