Today, only about 1 percent of the nation's population is in uniform either on active duty or in the reserves, and the number will dwindle as things such as budget cuts and the drawdown in Iraq take effect.
During World War II, about 12 percent of the population was in uniform. True, it was a different time and a different war. But, an entire generation comprising millions of citizens had some personal experience with the duties, sacrifices, opportunities and pride that came with military service. That shaped citizens' outlook on everything from how they voted to what they considered the proper role of the United States in the world. This gap is particularly large among young people. In November, a Pew Charitable Trust poll indicated that while more than two-thirds of Americans over 50 have a family member who served in uniform, only one in three under 30 has. My own experience as a teacher bears this out in even more drastic terms: Out of the more 190 high school students I currently teach, only five have family members in the military. Perhaps a dozen have parents who are veterans.
Our disconnect with the military not only affects our view of the country's role in the world. It makes our place in the world more dangerous, because it gives the president as commander in chief tacit approval to engage in military adventures that an uninterested public won't pay attention to until it's too late.