Since 1973, when President Richard Nixon and Congress created the all-volunteer force as an alternative to conscripted military service, there has been a division between the American public and the military. Less than one-half of 1% of our population currently serves on active duty. And as the public has watched the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue on for years after 9/11, they have become more uncertain than ever about U.S. missions.
But active duty and retired military personnel have become more uncertain too. In an enlightening new book, Paths of Dissent: Soldiers Speak Out Against America’s Misguided Wars, a diverse group of veterans who volunteered and served in those wars tell us what they saw, did and learned. In these original essays, selected by co-editors Andrew Bacevich and Daniel A. Sjursen for their candor and eloquence, the contributors share their reasons for deciding to serve, why they became disillusioned and why they now feel the need to speak out about “military policies that they deem ill advised, illegal, or morally unconscionable.”
Erik Edstrom, a West Point graduate, was an infantry platoon leader in Afghanistan, where he “saw the systematic dehumanization and devaluation of Afghan lives on a regular basis. . . . It’s one of America’s deepest ironies: in efforts to ‘prevent terrorism’ in our country, we commit far larger acts of terrorism elsewhere,” he writes. Joy Damiani was an enlisted public affairs specialist who served two tours in Iraq. “According to the Army’s official narrative,” she writes, “the war was always in the process of being won. There were never any mistakes, never any defeats, and certainly never any failures.” Buddhika Jayamaha was an airborne infantryman in Iraq. He and many others “felt that the extreme hubris of American politicians and the commentariat was responsible for the mess in Iraq.”
Bacevich, who served for 23 years in the Army, including in Vietnam, writes that “genuine military dissent is patriotic.” Any citizen who wants to better understand our country’s current military entrapments will want to read this book.