No draft, no protest

By Jason Roche

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On Saturday, three more U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan, bringing the coalition death toll to 3,378 while another 19,310 have been wounded. The story did not make any of the national news headlines, because the war in Afghanistan has essentially been forgotten by the media and seemingly by the American public as well.

Oct. 7 will mark the 12th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, adding another year to the longest conflict in United Stated history. It has also been the most expensive war with a price tag around $4 trillion and the human cost of 225,000 lives.
The original goals – to eliminate al Qaeda and remove the Taliban from power – have still not been met, as the Taliban retains strong political influence and al Qaeda continues to spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

Operation Enduring Freedom has been a costly failed investment for the United States and throwing more resources to prolong its destruction hardly seems reasonable. Yet the current anti-war movement is almost non-existent in comparison to the protests of the Vietnam War, a strikingly similar conflict.

During the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in frequent protests against the war, demanding that troops be brought home. One of the primary reasons for these mass protests was the draft, which threw unwilling participants onto the front lines. The protests eventually led to an end to the draft in 1973, and since then anti-war protests have dramatically declined.

Unless someone is in the armed forces or has family in the military, the majority of Americans are completely isolated from the war still raging in Afghanistan. The all-volunteer military has created an environment in which most Americans do not even realize if their country is at war or not. This inevitably leads to a greater tolerance of military engagement.

Not only do Americans not have to worry about being drafted to fight, they’re rarely bothered to even hear about the fighting. The war in Afghanistan receives little if any coverage in mainstream media, despite daily casualties and significant events.

We live in an age when wars are fought on the sidelines and no one bothers to give it a second thought.

There are people who have been greatly impacted by Operation Enduring Freedom, namely the brave men and women who have been deployed overseas, often on multiple tours. The all-volunteer force is stretched thin, and in order to maintain enough forces on the ground, many soldiers spend a cumulative three to four years in combat, far greater than the one year deployments faced by most soldiers during Vietnam.

And those prolonged deployments wreak havoc on the mental and physical health of veterans. Nearly 30 percent of all veterans from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In 2012, more soldiers committed suicide than were killed in battle, adding to a total of more than 2,700 military suicides since 2001.
While the costs of the war have not troubled the minds of the vast majority of Americans, they are very real for those who actually have to fight.

Though an all-volunteer military may evoke the thought that only those who want to fight will be sent to war, that is often not the case. Military recruitment frequently targets poor and uneducated individuals who have few alternative opportunities for work. Military service provides a means to pay for college, which is a primary motivating factor for many recruits. The recent protests by service members against a possible strike on Syria clearly show that American soldiers are not hungry for war.

The war in Afghanistan has cost trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives, but has had no immediate impact on most Americans. It has been the longest and costliest war in United States history, but one of the least protested. As the war continues and other conflicts emerge, it is important for everyone to remember that while these wars may go on unnoticed, they do not do so without consequence.

Jason Roche is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]