Gaza Blowback: How a Crisis of Conscience in the Military Can Impact Foreign Policy

State of Play explores how Gaza violence and rising conscientious objections are exacerbating the U.S. military’s recruitment and retention crisis.

The unprecedented live-streamed violence in Gaza has forced a crisis of conscience for many government employees. From the State Department to the military, individuals have taken rebellious action to remove themselves from participating in a blazingly obvious campaign of controlled famine and collective punishment.

Tonight on State of Play, we interview two conscientious objectors from the United States Air Force and reflect on military retention rates, the recruiting crisis, and the lessening of military capacity due to increasingly unpopular foreign policy actions. Will the younger generation’s lack of jingoistic zeal be a potential brake for US belligerence?

America’s all-volunteer force (AVF) has recently been called into question, with the worst recruitment numbers in years, in conjunction with escalating geostrategic tensions in Ukraine and East Asia. A central question is, therefore, can the Department of Defense fix this national security problem?

Since the inception of the AVF, there has been a perennial concern that economic growth hampers recruitment. Thus, the recruitment crisis is attributed mainly to a tight labor market. In layperson’s terms, when job openings are plentiful and available workers are scarce, military service becomes less attractive as a source of financial stability.

Domestic economic forces, in conjunction with a lack of physically, educationally, and legally viable recruits and overridingly derisive views of what many perceive to be “woke” culture in the military, are generally cited as the main sources of this recruiting crisis. However, this perception of “woke culture” typically misses the mark when conservative pundits lament the lack of military zeal in the younger generations.

Inclusivity and trans-rights are not the primary reasons why buccaneering young men and women refuse to enlist in combat arms and the services in general. According to a 2022 ABC article, the primary reasons cited for not wanting to join are “the possibility of injury or death, and fear of developing PTSD or other psychological problems.”

Why would Gen Z, after watching Gen X and the Millennials fight in two illegal wars before having their benefits slashed and commit suicide at alarming levels, want to be a part of that cycle of violence and isolation?

The horror unfolding in Gaza has only exacerbated these sentiments. Our last occupational war ended in 2021, and we speedily transitioned to the era of tax-funded proxy wars. U.S. soft power – the ability to co-opt through aspirational values rather than coerce through military force or economic sanctions – has declined speedily over the post-9/11 years. Belligerent and ineffective foreign policy has boomeranged back on the military.

Fewer teenagers aspire to be a party to the war machine. The genocide in Palestine has served as a catalyst of mass awakening that will undermine U.S. military capabilities and capacity. If recruiting shrinks by another 40,000 troops, we will reach a breaking point for low personnel numbers. Current members would have to pick up the slack, fill extra positions, and deploy for longer. We are looking at a cascade failure.

History has shown that dissent within the ranks, combined with a broader anti-war movement, has been decisive in ending conflicts. Today is no different.

Greg Stoker is a former US Army Ranger with a background in human intelligence collection and analysis. After serving four combat deployments in Afghanistan, he studied anthropology and International Relations at Columbia University. He is currently a military and geopolitical analyst, and a social media “influencer,” though he hates the term.

Join us for a discussion with conscientious objectors from the U.S. Air Force.

Greg Stoker is a former US Army Ranger with a background in human intelligence collection and analysis. After serving four combat deployments in Afghanistan, he studied anthropology and International Relations at Columbia University. He is currently a military and geopolitical analyst and social media “influencer,” though he hates the term.

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