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Class and War
JohnH
Yesterday, listening to my local leftist public radio station I was reminded of something. They were interviewing the author of “Washington Rules”.

The author commented on the difference between the political discussion about the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the war in Vietnam. Eventually the political discussion about the Vietnam war led to significant public opposition and finally withdrawal. I do not remember what he said exactly but he did not comment on what I think is the most salient point.

During the Vietnam war the draft was still in place. The public/political implications of this are significant. The draft put middle and to a small extent upper class people at risk of being drafted and sent to war. The draft forced the most politically important portions of the populace to consider the necessity and effectiveness of the war. After institution of the draft lottery the privileged classes even lost some of the deferments that had previously been available to them. This increased the public consideration of the benefits of the war.

The current army is volunteer. This fact also has significant public/political implication. I think that I can safely say those who do volunteer are generally below middle class. They come from families with limited political and economic power. The ability of the families in question to either force debate or publicize their issues is far less than those families who might have been concerned by the war in Vietnam.

I will acknowledge that the total population potentially effected is lower now then during Vietnam. This has some bearing. I will not accept that it is the number alone that influences the general lack of public/political concern over the prosecution of the wars.

The difference in political importance of the people who may be directly affected by the war is the most significant difference between the current reaction to protracted war and the former. The decidedly smaller number of families that may be directly affected and the fact of their class limits discussion of the merits of war.

Americans are trained from birth to ignore the existence of class differences and what they may mean. This is supposedly the country where anyone can grow up to be president. Class differences unfortunately exist. Class differences can dramatically change political outcomes. It is in the interests of the country that we quit ignoring the importance of this and what it may mean.
Edited by JohnH on 08/17/2010 22:58
 
seeker
To some extent I agree John. Even though the wealthy were easily able to avoid the draft when it suited them (Bush Jr, Cheney et al are rather famous examples) the fact that they had to at least forced some consideration on their parts.

I'm not so sure that class differences haven't always been a factor in this country. It's real easy to forget that for most of the history of this country the average person in the US didn't even have the right to vote. Citizenship, up until the Civil Rights Act of 1866, was a very different thing with the determination of citizenship up to individual states and with territorial citizenship that did not include the rights state citizenship granted.

The point is that the whole question of public debate as we think of it now is is a development that only came about in the 20th century and really is still very class oriented.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
 
JohnH
Seeker, It does not surprise me that you understand the facts of class in the US. I expect most people on this board understand this. My comments on lack of understanding of class effects are more related to the general public. A situation that I think is furthered by myths that are embedded in the US society in a conscious manner. I would wonder if many in the general public understand that in the constitution slaves were considered 3/5 of a person.

I will offer two anecdotal examples of the current situation and the sort of problem I am talking about.

Most of my family has been comfortably lower to upper middle class since before the Vietnam war. Vietnam was a frequent topic of conversation at family gatherings particularly after 1968. Eventually even some of the more conservative family members came to be opposed to the war. Several members of the family were at risk of being drafted. None of my family was put at risk by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While most of them are in disagreement with the current wars there is not much discussion of it because of the lack of risk. It is not nearly as significant a concern as it was in 1968. People who vote and have the ability to potentially affect outcomes are not nearly as concerned about Iraq and Afghanistan as they were about Vietnam. I would assume that anyone who lived through both eras would agree that war is not nearly as important to the general public as it was when the draft was in place.

Public displays of opposition to the war are significantly lower now then during Vietnam. People with the wealth to help finance and organize those displays are not as concerned so the depth of public opposition is not as obvious. At least that is my belief.

Yes middle and upper class people did have more deferment options than most of the population. I, for example, had a student deferment for 5 years, and then (like Bush Jr.) joined the reserves. I did not mean to imply that they had the same risk of being drafted.

 
seeker
John - Sorry if my post came off as disagreement, it wasn't meant to.

The only point I was making is that notions of the US as a classless society (yes I'm aware of the double entendre) are largely fiction. Even when the wealthy class do go to war it is often in a way that exposes them to minimal risk.

The interesting thing to me about this war is that not only has there not been a draft but that the kind of war profiteering that people were prosecuted for during WWII has been encouraged here. This war has been a huge economic boondoggle for a few private companies. The wealthy are being encouraged to support this war because they are profiting from it
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
 
catman
The war has been a 'boondoggle' for the rest of us, but a boon for a few private companies (boondoggle = waste of time and money). I find it appalling that we are willing to trade lives for profits for those private companies.
 
JohnH
Catman and Seeker, interesting that both of you brought up war profiteering. I am not so sure that this is in fact all that different from other wars that the US has fought, including both the world wars. I think that the only difference now is that the use of mercenaries has increased the number of ways that war profiteers may make their money.

I do believe that a potential issue that might get more of the general public concerned is the actual cost of the war. I have heard, within the last couple of weeks, the claim that if we were financing the wars on a pay as you go basis the average taxpayer would be paying an additional $3,000 per year. I have no way of completely determining the validity of that claim, a little research did indicate that this number is probably reasonably correct. I do not know about you but, I probably pay a bit more than the average taxpayer and a $3,000 increase would be more than a little painful.

I did not intend for this thread to focus primarily on the current wars. I intended to use the wars as an example of how class differences can dramatically affect what are political outcomes. There are a lot more examples of this fact, a simple, obvious one being how public schools are generally financed. Poor school districts usually are financed at the same rate as rich ones. Clearly poor school districts have greater resource needs than rich ones. A situation exacerbated by the fact that rich districts will often supplement school finances with donations of various forms. The very system which is supposed to be a path out of poverty, for at least some, is hampered by political decisions over which the effected have little control.
 
derF
Have read the preceding discourse with interest. I have to admit to some bias in favor of JohnH's opinion.

In all wars previous to Viet Nam and possibly even including VN, Americas elite were directly involved in the propagation of their particular war.

Roosevelt's son was directly involved in the D-Day landing in France. Gorge H. W. Bush flew bombers in the Pacific in WWII. John F. Kennedy served on a lowly PT Boat (Patrol/Torpedo) also in the Pacific. War was not considered something one must avoid, but, rather, something that a courageous and patriotic young American was expected to support as an upstanding American.

It was during and directly after WWII that America assumed the mantle of...'A Winner'. Suddenly America was the world's darling. Everyone loves a winner. And America fit the bill.

Soon, America itself bought into the 'everyone loves a winner' state of mind. Winners were held in the highest regard. Anyone who came in second or worse was immediately forgotten. The only people who mattered were winners. Regardless of how they achieved their success. From there things went down hill.

Winning and success became everything. The only thing. The ways and means to winning and success became secondary, or worse, unimportant, to how one achieved success. The only thing that mattered was winning.

We became a culture of 'To the Winner Goes All'. And everyone else wasn't just secondary, they were of no importance whatsoever. Those that were in the position of wealth and power no longer felt the need to wield those advantages to the benefit of all but felt justified in using them to advance their own causes.

Now we find ourselves in a country where 1% of the population are in control of over 90% of the countries wealth. And, in lieu of the aforementioned attitude, that is not only acceptable but it is the American way!!!

It will not be long before we find ourselves in exactly the same predicament we were in when our ancestors left Europe and England to escape the greedy, elitist attitude that we wanted to be freed of in the first place .


I'll drink to that. Or anything else for that matter.
 
seeker
derF - Hope you don't mind that I deleted your duplicate post.

I think if you look into it that there are still people from elite families involved in the current conflicts at about the same rate as in previous wars but the difference is that there is more involvement with private companies.

John - I would agree that in previous wars some companies did take advantage but not on the scale that they are now.

I generally agree with your premise and your school example is an excellent one. The fact is that our society has always been set up to favor the wealthy if for no other reason than that everyone else has to cooperate while the wealthy can afford to go on their own.


"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
 
JohnH
derF, I myself almost used the example of the direct participation of elites in WW 2 as an example of changes in the way this country runs. Ted Roosevelt Jr.'s landing in the first wave on Omaha beach being one of them. It is one of my favorite WW 2 stories. He later died due to heart problems and was buried next to his brother who had died in WW 1. I will, without certain knowledge, respectably disagree with Seeker regarding elites participation in our current wars.

Actually the immediate post WW 2 period was one of an unprecedented rise in the average wage and how many people were considered middle class. I think most people date 1970 as the start of the phenomenon you are describing. This is being picky and your point is well taken. The elites have more than solidified their control of wealth and power. Coincident with this control has also been the apparent increase in disregard for the non elites. I believe there are multiple reasons for this, a significant one being the almost complete segregation of the elites from the non elites. Would an investment banker manipulate the housing market if it put their neighbors at risk of foreclosure.

Seeker, I will not disagree that war profiteering is more significant now then in previous wars. My point is that I do not think that the occurrence is greater so much as the number of opportunities have increased. A simple example (from the point of view of an army trained cook) is that food service in Iraq and Afghanistan is contracted out. Up to at least Vietnam food service was primarily provided by enlisted soldiers.

I have to also agree fairly strongly with derF that it is not only that elites have always been favored in this country. The elites that do exist have lost most of their concern for the non elites. I would suggest that the percentage of founding fathers who freed their slaves in their wills is greater than the percentage of wealthy who set up foundations benefiting the less well off and not merely to hide their wealth.

Returning to my OP I might argue that given circumstances it is important that the non elites who may have some influence on political outcomes (basically the middle class) should at least try to understand how those political outcomes may adversely affect the lower class. In general, absent unusual conditions, the middle class is not effected in the same ways that the lower classes may be. Ignoring the lower classes puts the entire country at risk. The myth of the classless society obviously makes it easier to ignore the effects of political events on those classes. Similarly this myth allows the politicians to benefit the elites without political costs.
 
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