I went to see Fast Food Nation last night and before the film there was a long ad for for the Army National Guard, detailing not only the sort of benefits you can obtain through volunteering, but also the sort of exciting missions the Guard undertakes. Except, of course, they didn’t mention anything about Iraq where tens of thousands of Guard soldiers are deployed. There was, instead, a vague mention of “overseas deployment.” Nothing unusual about this, of course. If you watch a lot of male-oriented television programming you’ll see lots of military recruitment ads of various sorts and they never mention that the modal outcome for a member of the US military these days is to be sent to fight in Iraq.
It’s not merely that these posters didn’t obscure the fact that a war was going on. Rather, the fact of the war was the key selling point of the recruitment drives. Which makes sense. Leaving your home and family to go do an arduous job isn’t an obviously appealing thing to do. You get money, to be sure, but patriotic appeals are a key part of getting people to volunteer. The war, in these terms, is a reason to sign up — your country needs you to fight its enemies.
We have to assume that the Army’s marketing people know what they’re doing these days. And there professional judgment is that the Iraq War isn’t like that. Their view is that “the war in Iraq is a vital and necessary cause that you should do your part for” won’t be compelling to people. The best way to get them to sign up isn’t quite to try and dupe them (everyone knows there’s a war on) but certainly is to try and keep the war hidden and downplayed.
What’s more, everyone takes this for granted. Nobody expects the Army to run ads saying “sign up and fight the Islamofascists in Iraq.” I don’t, however, think we’ve really thought the implications of this through. Lots of people are still opposed to a rapid withdrawal from Iraq. But does anyone think Iraq is a cause worth dying for at this point? Does anyone deny that a straightforward recruiting pitch wouldn’t work? But staying in Iraq, obviously, means having people die for this mission. For a mission nobody really believes in anymore.