Soldiers > Back in the Day

Ridgway and Vicarious War



America’s model for an All-Volunteer Force (AVF) has now become a casualty of our war of choice in Iraq. The consequences for our military, our young people and their families, and our diplomatic flexibility to sustain our current commitments and to meet future challenges will be significant. None of this is being discussed in our current Presidential campaigns.

General Matthew Ridgway would have predicted as much and some twenty years ago he nearly did. I was Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower at the time, and visited with him for two extraordinary hours at his home in the hills above Pittsburgh. The AVF, enacted into law in 1973, was for the first time becoming a success. That is, the American people were becoming justifiably confident that the Army was shouldering its mandate to deter war or to defeat any foe it was compelled to face. Acknowledging the Army’s recruiting and training successes, General Ridgway remained unpersuaded that the AVF was sustainable and that it was good for the country. Specifically, he believed that it was imperative that our “Army be of the people, by the people and for the people.” He thought that a volunteer Army would distance itself from the People in whose name it acted. He also believed that the AVF made America more likely, rather than less, to engage in future Vietnams. For him the “nexus” between the Nation and the battlefield was all that honored the sacrifice and justified the conflict.

Just twenty years later we fight a vicarious war, divorced from the toll on our volunteers, their families and the long-term costs of their service for the Nation, and immune from the horrors of our occupation, having ill-considered either our means or ends in sending our Army into the Middle East. The gentleman that was Matthew Ridgway would never permit himself to say that we have destroyed the AVF by fighting a war of the few, by the few, and for the few. But he knew that it was inevitable, and that we would all pay the consequences for its destruction, and more.