Soldiers today acquire a great deal more training than counterparts did during World War Two and Vietnam when urgent requirements precluded more than a few months of training before overseas deployment. Mastery of weaponry, physical power, and long-term solidarity with fellow soldiers created, in time, an extraordinary professional ethos that has only a little resonance with the experience of veterans of previous wars, most of whom simply put in their time for the duration, often grudgingly and often disdainful of career NCOs and officers around them.
It is less difficult to socialize recruits into the ways of war than in past generations. Post-Vietnam America is markedly less religious and much coarser and more violent, making reluctance to fight and kill less of a problem. Between impulse and action, the shadow no longer falls. Armies once had to devote considerable energies, during training and with soldiers new to combat, to breaking down reluctance to take human life. The coarseness and violence pervading American life have made that task less difficult, and violent predispositions, though problematic in civilian life, are channeled into national objectives by military authority and institutions.
A quick campaign in Grenada (1983) brought effusive public praise quite unexpected in many quarters still attuned to post-Vietnam expectations. Six years later, George H Bush sent troops into Panama for another splendid campaign, and in 1991 the military devastated the Iraqi army in just a few days. Spirits soared as when the Third Reich and Imperial Japan surrendered. Returning troops were welcomed with hearty pats on the back and ebullient parades down main street. American might was once again shining and seemingly limitless. The problems of the world could be quickly solved by military action.
The public rethought the Vietnam War or at least the treatment of those who served in it. Popular films depicted the sacrifices they made, and memorials were built on the Mall and in towns across the country. A few years later, aging World War Two veterans enjoyed renewed appreciation, especially after the success of the powerful film Saving Private Ryan.
The public once more honored military service, and activism in world affairs came along. Everyone ever to wear a uniform was a hero a well-intentioned convention born of guilt; but as any war veteran will attest, one that trivialized the word and signaled ignorance of military matters.
War became something mysterious and unknowable an all but sacred undertaking that could not be comprehended and should not be questioned. Armed conflicts were quick spectator events in which unknown actors and half-forgotten myths played themselves out around the globe. Casualties there were, but happily they were few. And more happily, almost no one knew anyone in uniform.