As US standards fall, military less trusted

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The US military is considered the most trusted institution in America by the American people. It is more trusted than the media, big American businesses, the criminal justice system, and even the elected representatives that make up the US Congress. Despite this fact, trust in the US military itself is in decline, stemming from a variety of reasons and reflecting America’s overall decline as a global superpower. 

Politico, in its recent article entitled “Americans’ confidence in the U.S. military lowest in 2 decades, poll finds,” revealed that regardless of political affiliation, be they Republicans, Democrats, or independents, Americans view the US military with far less trust than they have in over 20 years. 

The article notes that after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 military confidence shot up and remained over 70 percent until declining beginning in 2021. This decline coincides with the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan that same year, which was seen as a debacle following two decades of what many Americans believed was an unsolvable quagmire. 

The poor performance of US military planners and their civilian counterparts in withdrawing from Afghanistan led to the death of US service members as well as Afghan civilians, and left the nation in disarray. Videos of Afghans who collaborated with US occupiers chasing US cargo planes down the runway, clinging to their landing gear, and falling to their deaths were burned in the minds of millions across America as well as around the globe. 

Less visible are the fates of tens of thousands of US service members who were sent on multiple tours overseas to either Iraq or Afghanistan (or both), suffered physical or mental trauma, and returned home only to find a system that put them on long waiting lists for inferior care, or received no care at all. These men and women found civilian life difficult to adjust to after experiencing the surreal nature of combat and military occupation thousands of miles from home. 

These US service members spent years of their lives away from their families and friends, fighting abroad for abstract concepts like “freedom” and “democracy” and to “nation build,” only to return home and see their own nation in steep decline. After contributing to foreign interventions abroad, which denied people from North Africa to Central Asia peace and prosperity, these US service members likewise found the prospects of building a peaceful and prosperous life at home elusive. 

This has not been lost on the American people as a whole, who see their veterans neglected, mistreated and forgotten about after fighting wars that more and more Americans neither asked for nor benefited from. 

Not only has public trust in the US military declined, so has the US military itself. 

The Wall Street Journal in its article “The Military Recruiting Crisis: Even Veterans Don’t Want Their Families to Join,” noted a growing crisis facing US military recruiters who are struggling to find qualified Americans who are both capable and willing to join the US military even as standards are repeatedly lowered. 

Standards are lowered for two reasons: to attract more people who are otherwise unqualified to join the military and to resolve the problem that each year the average American is less qualified for military service. This is due to factors such as drug abuse, obesity, criminal backgrounds, and poor education, which in turn lead to poor military entry test scores.

America’s decline feeds into all of these factors, and all of these factors contribute to  America’s decline as well as the US military’s decline. 

As standards are lowered, the military itself as an institution becomes less attractive to the serious mindset that makes the ideal recruit. As less qualified recruits join the US military and work their way up through the ranks, the military as an institution becomes less attractive still. It is a vicious cycle born out of the strain of America’s endless wars spanning both the globe and the decades. 

The American people are losing trust in all of their institutions, including those they’ve historically trusted the most, such as the US military. This loss of trust is not because the US military itself is inherently untrustworthy, but rather because of what America’s political leadership have used the military for, and what they have done to the military as they used, abused and exhausted it. 

These leaders with poor performances have sent Americans to fight and die overseas in pursuit of unsustainable global dominance, which has had negative repercussions on America’s economy, education system, and society at home. The decline in these areas produces the conditions in which crime, disease and ignorance thrive, depriving the military and the rest of American society of the qualified human resources necessary for survival and growth. Unless the fundamental problems of US foreign and domestic policy are solved, the decline will persist, affecting not only the military but also eroding the trust the American people have in it. 

The author is a geopolitical analyst and a former solider of US Marine Corps.


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