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Trust is a buzzword in the current political climate. During the first presidential debate on Monday, the candidates talked a lot about trustworthiness and restoring trust within American communities, especially regarding police relations. Yet, only 6 percent of Americans trust the mainstream media, and a June 2016 Gallup poll found that only 9 percent of the American public have trust and confidence in our Congress.
And yet even after the U.S. government spent trillions of taxpayer dollars on misguided wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans still view the men and women who wear the uniforms favorably: The aforementioned Gallup poll found that 73 percent of Americans have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of trust in the U.S. military.
Retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich, author of “America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History,” says there’s a great deal of trust not only placed in the United States’ military, but among it.
“There’s a great deal of historical evidence that those bonds of trust are enhanced the closer you get to being in harm’s way,” he says.
He later adds: “Part of the allure of life in the military that many civilians can’t appreciate — and that’s okay — is to become part of an enterprise that is based on a sense of common purpose, collective purpose.”
Bacevich has seen this first hand, reflecting on his time as a cadet at the United States Military Academy West Point. “The phrase that was drummed into us was the motto … ‘Duty, Honor and Country,” he says, adding that “it ended up translating into a code, a set of values.
Bacevich believes that a lack of shared beliefs is why Americans have little trust in other major institutions.
“If we are going to have any sort of trust in society at large, there has to be that shared understanding of basic values and it doesn’t exist in America,” he says.
“At one level, we would all say that we believe in freedom,” Bacevich continues. “But ask any collection of Americans, ‘What do you mean by freedom?’ [and] you’re getting a whole bunch of different answers.”
Bacevich believes that political institutions like the White House and Congress abuse the public trust placed in the military.
“It is nothing short than a scandal that political authorities devote so little attention to examining the wars that we have been involved in, particularly in the greater Middle East,” he said.
“There’s no accountability. There’s no examination of what’s occurred or what’s likely to come next, and there’s no clear understanding of what victory would even look like,” he continues.
Bacevich speculates that there is probably a growing sense of distrust amongst the Officer Corps in political leaders.
“I hope there’s a growing awareness within the Officer Corps that this enterprise we are engaged in, whether you call it the ‘War on Terror’ or whatever, isn’t going well and that it has become mindless and counterproductive,” he says, adding that he believes the culpability for this lies in the United States political leaders.
Bacevich believes that America’s trust for men and women in uniform has meant a blank check for the White House and Congress to deploy military members all over the world.