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  • Jordan Miller

As Russia-Ukraine Conflict Heats Up, Young Americans Don’t Want to Fight for the Military

As one famous TikToker @rynnstar says, “America has the wrong generation if they think any of us are finna line up to die for this country if they wanna start playing war with Russia…This ain’t the 1940s where you bamboozle poor people with a lot of propaganda that ‘the noble thing to do will be to sign up to fight!’

It seems impossible to open any news source and not see foreboding headlines about what’s happening at the border of Ukraine and Russia. “Biden reiterates U.S. commitment to ‘respond swiftly and decisively’ to a Russian attack on Ukraine as diplomacy stalls,” The Washington Post writes. “How big is Ukraine’s military compared to Russia’s? How long could Ukranians hold off an attack?” USA Today asks.

If you’re anything like me, this whole situation is bringing flashbacks to the beginning of 2020, where the internet went aflame with jokes about a possible “World War Three'' following the U.S. assassination of Iran's General Qasem Soleimani on January 3rd. But what was most striking about being on the internet, especially social media platforms like TikTok and Twitter, both in early 2020 and now, was the rise in discussion about how little anyone wants to fight for the United States.

For a country built on exploiting its most vulnerable through the fantasy of militaristic glory and protecting person and country, the United States seems to have lost hold of a majority of this generation. And it’s no shock how this might have come to happen. In the age of the internet, where anyone and everyone’s story can be told, the horrors of the U.S. military-industrial complex and its complete lack of care for its veterans has become glaringly obvious.

Not only that, but a rising perception of the U.S.'s less-than-heroic exploits throughout our military exploits – especially our love of oil– has not only come to light, but become a common joke online.

All this to say, there’s not exactly an excess of fervor for giving one’s life to the U.S. military among today’s youth and young adults. Even the military itself is aware of this problem, and has been for years. A 2018 Marine Corps Times article wrote that “Overall, interest in joining the military is waning,” with a study in late 2017 noting that “the percentage of young people who say they will likely join the military is at 11 percent ― the lowest point in nearly 10 years.” But, again, who can blame us?

Two decades of the War on Terror, vast publicity on the military’s failure of female soliders – partiularly women of color – after the exposed sexual harrasment and murder of Vanessa Guillén, the current Secretary of Veteran Affairs, Denis McDonough, calling the treatment of veterans “a failing of the United States government”, and the government’s failure to protect its citizens throughout the course of the pandemic – what reasons do we have for wanting to fight?

Looking at surveyed opinion on militaristic matters also helps to shine some light on how the public’s view of the military is shifting. The Reagan National Defense Survey conducted in November 2021 found that 45& of pollees responded that they have a “great deal” of trust in the military, down from 56% in February of that year, 63% in October 2019, and 70% in November 2018.

When comparing this to the fact that the percentage of people polled also remained about static in terms of how concerned they were about threats of both thermo-nuclear war (61% November 2021) and conventional military attacks (55% November 2021) over the past three years, this fear of the military not being trustworthy doesn’t seem to come from shifting perceptions about external threats, and seems unique to internal perceptions about the military itself.

But, then again, this same survey found that only 6% of polled subjects were most concerned about Russia invading former Soviet republics when compared to other possible Russian activity (Sponsoring cyber-attacks on the U.S., Launching a thermo-nuclear attack on the U.S., etc.), so the last few months have definitely been more than a bit shocking for the average citizen.

In the end, one thing is clear: the U.S. is going to have a big problem on its hands if the Russian-Ukraine conflict becomes violent, and the attitudes of younger Americans may come to play an important role in this. On the bright side, though, our ability to deal with stress through humor is providing some fantastic entertainment in these calamitous times.

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