The war drums are beating, and public officials and the media are certain that the enemy must be conquered. The war is over there, away from home, in someone else’s. The public is conditioned to accept that war is inevitable, that for the liberal democracies of Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States it is an “obligation.” It seldom matters whether the voting tax base wants war or not. As bombs drop in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq, as Israel destroys Gaza and the Russians fight in Ukraine, Washington and its allies talk about expanding the warfront to include Iran, China, and North Korea. Perpetual war is the health of empire, the glory of the nation, and the profit for a few. But who fights these wars?
Many of the veterans who fought in the Global War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan are past their prime, dead, injured, or cynical of the government that exploited them. The recruitment drives, even as the criteria are lowered, are seducing less and less willing bodies to fill the uniforms. The career incentive to join the military is not as appealing when war is a guarantee. Eligible young men are not so naive and removed from the understanding that their mental and physical health may be at risk that they’ll venture into another overseas war. Those who traditionally joined to protect and defend are less inclined to do so given that the mlitary is an offensive instrument of policy, recklessly used without regard for consequence.
In 2024 it’s hard enough for employers to find capable young workers who can handle physical or moderately skilled work, and who will turn up consistently. It’s easier for a lot of people to lean into the welfare state, to seek comfortable, inconsequential jobs or to find careers that don’t involve killing. Physical and mental health is a meandering factor in a culture that swells with obesity and has a populace riddled with depression and anxiety over the mundane. In Australia it is easier and far more profitable for someone to either go on a disability pension (for a litany of real or imagined reasons), or to become a high paid support worker for said pensioners rather than diving into military or even police service.
War is often a voyeur’s experience, where some are cuckolded for the entertainment or cynicism of others. War is the religion of the Anglosphere. Every generation has its war, a foreign land that rolls off the tongue with ease only to return to forgotten obscurity in a generation’s time. Some, however, like Vietnam or Iraq linger permanently. But most are forgotten as war zones and now only exist as destinations for the soldier’s grandchildren to visit, enjoy the food, or marry from, like Korea and Malaysia. The adventurers, true believers, mercenaries, and those with seemingly no other options do still enlist, but there’s less of them.
It’s not just that the military is struggling to get new recruits, but also re-enlistments. The relationship between the military and its members is disfigured as inefficiency and dysfunction become more openly discussed. On social media anti-military voices are competing against their slogans and the empty promises of recruiters in a tug of war between the warfare state and those who are skeptical of its very existence. Social media “influencers” like the Island Boys are paid to push recruitment for the Army alongside the advertising of energy drinks and other affiliate marketing thrown their way—though it is unlikely that they themselves would enlist or be capable of doing so. The children watching are impressionable, all the same.
Woke cultural messaging has also harmed the military, as it has disenfranchised its traditional base while attempting to appeal to those who have no stomach for training, let alone warfare. The wars themselves, along with the government’s own woke cultural shift and attempts at inclusion, have deranged the recruiters task of satisfying numbers and valuable candidates for the services. Confused advertising and a disdain for the people who usually fill the uniforms in warfare has hamstrung the military when it needs bodies to kill and die for it. A woke window dressing to satisfy the academic and corporate zeitgeist may seem empowering, but in reality is another form of mandated delusion.
The government’s will for war exceeds its populations capacity to wage it. Conscription tends to not be a viable solution. Ukraine and Russia have embraced such traditions of martial slavery and it has unveiled a force of fodder to be killed. Another generation of “McNamara’s Morons” is an unsatisfactory solution which may lead to liability for both commanders and what few skilled and motivated professionals remain in the military.
Regardless of the human attrition and how thinly spread the capable and willing may become in such a war, the high maintenance of modern weapon systems will erode their capabilities over time. Skilled crews and technicians will be required to work almost non-stop, not to mention the manufacture and logistics required to feed such machines for prolonged operations, especially in combat against an enemy who is near peer or in some theaters a peer level threat. It is one thing to attack Houthis in Yemen who are recovering from years of war against the Saudi coalition but it is another to wage war against Iran or China on their home turf, a war they have been preparing for.L et’s not forget, neither of them have ambitions to invade Australia, the United States or United Kingdom. But the reverse is a constant.
Images of drones chasing Russian or Ukraine soldiers around their AFVs, only to detonate once in proximity, exposes us to the modern realities of war. The distance between the killer and the killed is not a new thing. The drone and remote weapon system is becoming smaller, with a greater range and versatility that may have people logging on for a few hours a day from home to assassinate strangers thousands of miles away with as much regard as though they are killing NPCs in a computer game. That in itself is not how wars are to be won. That same technology and efficiency of distance will be used against the invader as well. The likeliness of sympathetic outsiders “logging on” to join the fight is a reality that may also occur. Those who will fight for either side given any incentive is also a reality, so long as they have a device that allows them to connect to the remote killing machines. The future remains.
Contractors are becoming more common, professionals who are not constrained by government religion when it comes to how a military must serve and act in matters of formal tradition and legal status. They’re killers and operators who serve the government, work alongside the military, and should they die will not become a statistic that influences politics at home. Many are ex-servicemen of the government that they now are hired by, trained and motivated elements that perform tasks as a service to their singular customer. The Russians on the other hand have a more varied mercenary custom, one that is made up of contractors while also using prisoner units, inspired by the promise of pay and freedom. Both ancient aspects of war are to be dug up in a modern context.
Mercenaries and even drone operators are still only a finite resource, and automated systems are a little ways off. Wars of such a grand scale on so many fronts will still require boots on the ground. The imaginations of the stoic German soldier manning the Atlantic wall in the weeks before D-Day betray the reality that many of the defending Wehrmacht were former Soviet soldiers and a rag tag of convalescing others. Horse-drawn weapons from those captured to mutations of expedience with men in ill fitting uniforms crisscrossing a frontier that consumed men and material was the other reality far in the East. Contrary to the mechanized depictions of a technologically superior, super race of warriors, the reality, then as it is now, is that logistics, man power, and attrition are immutable factors in war.
Waging numerous small wars on a limited scale or even as an occupying force in an attempt to “civilize” a wilderness will always consume. They can become black holes that suck the life, money, and material out of an invader. Yet, still mostly men will be required for these prolonged operations and the well for such men is running dry. The post-9/11 era provided many eager bodies who felt the euphoria for vengeance against enemies. The terrorists and their “alien religion” was an easy to hate specter as the twin towers smouldered into smoke and ash. Over two decades later and the reality of such wars is more apparent to the wider public, while those willing men are now dead, injured, or robbed of their youth. The next generation does not have the eagerness for war, and the crusader’s zeal is not so widely felt.
So, as the drums of war beat and the call to arms is made by those who will never fight it, the question remains: who will? No matter what the claimed reasons for war is—spreading democracy, human rights, humanitarianism, security, or hegemonic expedience for many at home—many may very well. But agree enough to enlist? Unlikely. Many who do believe in the need for war are the creatures of Facebook or social media bobble heads, spectators and opinion spewers alike. They are most welcome to form their own battalions to fight for their cause. They won’t, but rather instead they will merely support the government in its ambition to send mostly men to die and kill. Those killers, however, are becoming fewer.Improving technology so that the human element for war is less important and finding incentives to pay, reward, and motivate human beings so that they will kill strangers with little regard are weak solutions.
The one constant, regardless of the means and methods, is that war will always hurt the innocent. Perhaps in time, as the liberal democracies depress into ill health and rely on automated machines to do the killing, it will be from the minds of the weapons who grow the morality to say, “No more.” For now, while some minds in government seek more war, the public’s flesh is less willing or too flabby to make it so.