America continues to be free and prosperous because veterans have taken disproportionate risk to defend the nation. Continued prosperity and freedom can only be assured by having a military that can protect the nation here and abroad, yet over time veterans who have taken the risk on society’s behalf have lost significant influence over national policy and economic growth. We must help reverse this trend.
Following every major conflict in U.S. history up to the Vietnam War, America’s veterans made up a robust percent of US population, a higher rate of business ownership, and a generally deeper reach into American political and commercial enterprises. Since Vietnam, the statistics have turned dire.
By the numbers:
- Following the 2018 election, “the total number of lawmakers with military experience…at 96, down six from the start of the last congressional session. It’s another decrease in veteran representation in Congress, a figure that has declined steadily since the mid-1970s.” (Military Times)
- Prior to 1993, almost 75% of U.S. Presidents were veterans. President George W. Bush is the only president to have served in uniform since.
- Following World War II, 49.7 percent of vets went on to own or operate a business (Syracuse University) Only 4.5 percent of the more than 3.6 million people who have served in the U.S. military since September 11, 2001, have launched a company (Bureau of Labor).
- “The share of the U.S. population with military experience is declining. In 2016, 7% of U.S. adults were veterans, down from 18% in 1980, according to the Census Bureau. Over the past half-century, the number of people on active duty has dropped significantly, from 3.5 million in 1968, during the draft era, to 1.3 million (or less than 1% of all U.S. adults) in today’s all-volunteer force.” (Pew Research Center)
- “The military draft ended in 1973. VA projections suggest the number of veterans will continue to decline in the coming decades. By 2045, the department estimates there will be around 12 million veterans, a roughly 40% decrease from current numbers.”(Pew Research Center)
Unlike previous periods in American history, the United States hasn’t drafted its Armed Forces since the Vietnam War. In addition to responding to public sentiment towards the Vietnam War, they did this in an effort to build an all voluntary service built on “professional“ military personnel. The merits and challenges of this decision are not for this article. Instead, please focus on the multi-generational result. Today “less than 0.5 percent of the population serves in the armed forces, compared with more than 12 percent during World War II. Even fewer of the privileged and powerful shoulder arms. In 1975, 70 percent of members of Congress had some military service; today, just 20 percent do, and only a handful of their children are in uniform.” (New York Times) The United States now relies on a dramatically small percent of her citizens to fight her wars. In terms of military capability this is great news for American defense. In terms a society’s connection to the men and women that shed blood on her behalf, this represents a troubling statistic.
The United States is becoming a nation that is governed, commercialized, and entertained by the overwhelming majority of its citizens who have zero personal connection to the sacrifices of war. A standing ovation at a sporting event, a “thank you for your service” at an airport, nor a flag flown from your front porch amount to meaningful connectedness. For the record, today’s veterans are not a victim class. On the contrary, they are an enormous repository of talent and zeal. To serve in combat in defense of one’s nation at her time of need is a tremendous honor…but an honor that often comes with an enormous sacrifice. Elected officials are burdened with decisions to deploy a military while having minimal real understanding of the associated cost and an American voter who often has even less awareness. Furthermore, our business leaders are often left to absorb veterans into their organizations following conflicts abroad. Together, these are cumulative, negative trends we veteran business leaders should work to reverse.
What can be done:
Our business leaders who are veterans are especially suited to be able to achieve the connectedness needed to bring the best of business, community, and veteran cultures together and effect positive long term change. Veterans appreciate how they must take care of each other and how “to pay it forward.” They understand business and government and know how to commit completely to a mission to achieve a larger goal than merely making money. They know how to hire and grow good employees, especially veterans, because they understand how the veteran can become a key to success in the company and the community. They are all in.
Put veteran leaders in business on the front lines to cause change. More veterans must accept the challenge to create and grow businesses for the benefit of their fellow veterans and our nation. The veteran community must insure their experience is shared through thoughtful dialogue, advocacy, and old fashioned leadership. For everyone else, it means taking the time to listen, taking an honest look at the burden of defense and how both voters and people of influence can inspire genuine passion towards understanding federal decisions and the very real cost and impacts. This is NOT about gratitude towards the veteran. Simply, it’s about insuring we properly incorporate the warfighter into meaningful and impactful places in our businesses and government. This represents a shared Duty, lest we become a nation that delegates its defense to an anonymous and shrinking portion of its populace.