Skin in the Game

At a recent family get-together, I was lucky to have a conversation with a distant in-law who’s a 27-year Marine Corps Colonel. Several times he’s been considered for a generalship.
I so looked forward to chatting with a colonel. That’d be a first, for me.
After small talk about summer vacations and Broadway shows, I cornered the colonel in a quiet moment to say, “Hey, um…I rarely get the chance to talk to people who’ve served as long as you. I have some burning questions that’d probably be best discussed over multiple bottles of wine. Do you mind indulging me?”
“Why, sure. Go ahead,” he said. “I’m shocked how few people ever ask me about the military. It’s like no one cares. That’s the problem these days: the country, as a whole, doesn’t care. Or they inform themselves through Facebook articles. But no one ever asks me about my actual experience or opinions.”
“That’s shocking,” I responded. “I’m embarrassed that I can count on one hand my acquaintances who’ve served.”
The colonel nodded. “The biggest problem our country faces is not having enough skin in the game. Few members of congress have any connection to vets, yet they’re making decisions about invading places and funding the military. A draft would change all of that.”
Disclaimer: I think they’re usually contests between rich, insecure egoists to get richer; and the public serves first as pawns, then as casualties. I’m 100% against 99% of wars. But when I heard Charlie Rangel propose a draft in 2002, I completely agreed with his logic. If Congress is cavalierly invading Iraq, we need shared sacrifice. That means children and friends of Congress serving, as well.We’d have “skin in the game.” I support the draft. And would probably dodge it.
My conversation with the colonel continued. y conversation continued. “What’s the greatest military change you’ve witnessed over 27 years?”
“The integration of women in combat.”
I was surprised. I expected something about the shift from “conventional” war to killing terrorists with drones.
“I know this isn’t politically correct,” he elaborated, “but I don’t think anyone’s figured out how to reconcile Constitutional equality with physical ability. How does a woman march 30 miles with 200 pounds of equipment over rocky cliffs in a blinding blizzard?”
Seems to me to be a challenge that can be overcome. Not all men have the same physical abilities, either.
But I had way more questions to spurt out before my children melted down and begged to leave the Sunday get-together.
The colonel volunteered that he (and his peers) knew the Iraqi invasion was a disaster from the get-go, mostly because no one planned for maintaining the peace once Saddam Hussein was gone.
“Were you able to voice your opposition?” I asked.
He nodded. “Among ourselves. But we didn’t discuss it much. And if the press had ever shoved a microphone in my face, it wouldn’t have been my place to question military policy. The problem wasn’t dissenters among servicemen implementing plans. It was Congress and the Bush Administration that had zero military experience (except for Colin Powell).”
And when I asked about his level of optimism for the near future?
“None. Zero. We’re locked in a generational war. This is going to last decades.”
“And do you think anything can be done to fix the ‘situation’, now?”
“Good luck. Skin in the game. That’s all I can say.”
So I feel compelled to share this on my measly blog: Skin in the game.
Citizens are still dying at horrendous rates, we kill one terrorist and create dozens more, we’re still addicted to oil, we still have troops in too many countries, and our elected leaders act as if American interests are all that matter.
Of COURSE terrorism and extremism need to be stamped out. It’s an increasingly complicated, hot, crowded and armed world. International relations are not black and white; and the US diplomatic strategy cannot be simplified to “American-goals-at-any-cost-so-we-can-keep-buying-whatever-disposable-shit-we-want.”
What can help us alter goals, change tactics, understand different perspectives, and hopefully have more constructive dialogue?
Skin in the game.
Does that mean a draft in 2016? Probably not. But polarized Congressional dialogue accomplishes nothing. A stymied, bureaucratic Veteran’s Administration isn’t helping anyone. Racial profiling and xenophobic hate speech from presidential candidates inflames more hatred.
We need skin in the game.
Whatever that may mean, these days.
My unsolicited prescription?: turn off 24-hour news, listen to the 5-minute NPR hourly update, and read varied journalism.
Oh, and push for campaign finance reform to make elected officials answer to the public, not the special interests.
And make the elected officials have skin in the game.
Whatever that means, these days.

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