I'm reading World War Z right now, it's a series of fictional accounts of a global zombie epidemic. I'm not far into it, but currently the account is from an American military man, talking about why the second stage of the American military response failed against the zombies. The author tactfully changes the names of certain factual aspects of things, but I'm going to copy out what's written to expel a very dangerous truth.
But Phase Two was never completed.
Never even begun, and herein lies the reason why the American military was caught so shamefully unprepared.
Phase Two required a massive national undertaking, the likes of which hadn't been seen since the darkest days of the Second World War. That kind of effort requires herculean amounts of both national treasure and national support, both of which, by that point, were nonexistent. The American people had just been through a very long and bloody conflict. They were tired. They'd had enough. Like the 1970s, the pendulum was swinging from a militant stance to a very resentful one.
In totalitarian regimes – communism, fascism, religious fundamentalism – popular support is a given. You can start wars, you can prolong them, you can put anyone in uniform for any length of time without ever having to worry about the slightest political backlash. In a democracy, the polar opposite is true. Public support must be husbanded as a finite national resource. It must be spent wisely, sparingly, and with the greatest return on your investment. America is especially sensitive to war weariness, and nothing brings on a backlash like the perception of defeat. I say "perception" because America is a very all-or-nothing society. We like the win, the touchdown, the knockout in the first round. We like to know for everyone else to know, that our victory wasn't only uncontested, it was positively devastating. If not… well… look at where we were before the Panic. We didn't lose the last brushfire* conflict, far from it. We actually accomplished a very difficult task with very few resources and under extremely unfavorable circumstances. We won, but the public didn't see it that way because it wasn't the blitzkrieg smackdown that our national sprit demanded. Too much time had gone by, too much money had been spent, too many lives had been lost or irrevocably damaged. We'd not only squandered all our public support, we were deeply in the red.
Think about just the dollar value of Phase Two. Do you know the price tag of putting one American citizen in uniform? And I don't just mean the time that he's actively in that uniform: the training, the equipment, the food, the housing, the transport, the medical care. I'm talking about the long-term dollar value that the country, the American taxpayer has to shell out to that person for the rest of their natural life. This is a crushing financial burden, and in those days we barely had enough funding to maintain what we had.
Even if the coffers hadn't been empty, if we'd had all the money to make all the uniforms we needed to implement Phase Two, who do you think we could have conned into filling them? This goes to the heart of America's war weariness. As if the "traditional" horrors weren't band enough – the dead, the disfigured, the psychologically destroyed – now you had a whole new breed of difficulties, "The Betrayed." We were a volunteer army, and look what happened to our volunteers. How many stories do you remember about some soldier who had his term of service extended, or some ex-reservist who, after ten years of civilian life, suddenly found himself recalled into active duty? How many weekend warriors lost their jobs or houses? How many came back to ruined lives, or, worse, didn't come back at all? Americans are an honest people, we expect a fair deal, I know that a lot of other cultures used to think that was naive and even childish, but it's one of our most sacred principles. To see Uncle Sam going back on his word , revoking people's private lives, revoking their freedom…
After Vietnam, when I was a young platoon leader in West Germany we'd had to institute an incentives program just to keep our soldiers from going AWOL. After this last war, no amount of incentives could fill our depleted ranks, no payment bonuses or term reductions, or online recruiting tools disguised as civilian video games. This generation had had enough, and that's why when the undead began to devour our country, we were almost too weak and vulnerable to stop them.
I'm not blaming the civilian leadership and I'm not suggesting that we in uniform should be anything but beholden to them. This is our system and it's the best in the world. But it must be protected, and defended, and it must never again be so abused.
* Bushfire was the authors name for the armed conflict in question.