Somebody, Prove my theory

Today is Veteran’s Day here in the United States and a good time to wonder something out loud. Actually, I’ve been saying this in meatspace for a while, but I don’t think I’ve put it on the blog yet.

As you think about our country’s veterans, ask yourself how many veterans you actually know. It’s very likely that you, as a reader of this blog, know (or are) a veteran: you are reading what some call a milblog after all.

Here’s my theory: more Americans know a mercenary, but don’t know it, than know a vet, adjusting for sheer numbers. In other words, contractors our "outside" in the public more than current or former serving members of America’s military.

I’d like to see a study that looks at how many people know a veteran and compare that to how many people know a contractor (i.e. merc). Like it or now, private security companies has brought back the citizen-soldier. The All-Volunteer Force, on the other hand, has created an increasingly insular sub-group distanced from the larger population on several levels.

The voluntarily association of contractors makes it easier for its members to slip in and out of military duty and into the role of your neighbor, your co-worker, that IT recruiting manager you worked with, the cop who’s a brother of a friend, or that dad you met at a BBQ.

No longer do you need need to live near a military base or work in the defense industry to meet someone sanctioned by the state to carry a weapon into a conflict zone. In other words, while the public is increasingly separated from serving military personnel, it is increasingly in contact with contractors but does not know it.

What to think about this? First, Congress and the media doesn’t care about the people who don’t officially wear a flag on their shoulder. Second, this indicates a depersonalization of war, an argument Kohn and Gelpi make. Third, the already scarce personal links between the public and its soldiers will continue to diminish as conflict is outsourced to machines.

With fewer Americans who know somebody presently serving or even directly impacted by the conflicts after 9/11, there is a redevelopment of a distinct and professional warrior class in the United States proficient in the conduct war that harkens back to professional mercenary soldiers of before. The modern All Volunteer Force (AVF) is far removed from the modern political and social spheres of power in the United States, leading to suggestions that non-veteran civilians may be more "interventionist" and simultaneously placing more constraints on the use of military force while at the same time the American citizen-soldier is increasingly an endangered species as soldiers and their families turn inward and focus on their own support networks. National Guard recruiting trends reinforce this point as they are increasingly drawn from the ranks of former military and not from the general public. It is likely robots will support and increase pressure on this trend, just as private security companies do.

Just something to think about on this Veteran’s Day.

(Major G, first round’s on me tonight, second round too if you’re reading this…)

3 Replies to “Somebody, Prove my theory”

  1. Matt,I don’t think your theory is right — yet. I do know a couple “mercs”, but I know many, many more veterans. If you include Reserves & National Guard, then the pool of candidates is much larger.
    However, there is a marked trend in our collective sense of “service”. While I am pleased to live in a community where local service is assumed (many people volunteering in three or more service-type organizations), service on a national level appears to be atrophying.
    Maybe your theory will hold true for our kids’ generation; but I do not know if that is a sustainable model for security. Besides, isn’t that what ultimately happened to Rome just before “the fall”? (Outsourced security that whittled away the buffer states of the empire.)

  2. Aren’t most mercs (at least in America) veterans as well? While I might know some mercenaries, they would also count as veterans and so I’d still know more veterans.

  3. Good points. There are two refinements I had thought about but not written about that are in order. First, there’s the issue of taking into account the relative size of the groups. Second, inherent in the argument is military personnel tend to congregate in certain areas and a social mapping project would take that in account.Not all mercs are former military, some are cops. But Adrian your point is taken. The point of my post is the mercenary is more likely to have left the military sociatal enclave, if you will, and the contractor option allows him / her to step back in at will.
    Shane’s point is taken as well — perhaps my study is before its time — and hints at the issue of my third issue in the middle of the text: Third, the already scarce personal links between the public and its soldiers will continue to diminish as conflict is outsourced to machines.

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