By Li Jiabao
“For the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 in 2022, the US Army only completed 75% of its recruiting goal. The outlook for 2023 appears even worse. What does this mean?” The Wall Street Journal recently published an article highlighting the recruitment difficulties currently faced by the US. Statistics indicate that for the fiscal year 2022, the US Army had planned to enlist 60,000 individuals, but only 45,000 had been recruited into the military. Among young Americans eligible for military service, only 9% are willing to join the army – a new low since 2007.
In recent years, there have been frequent reports of difficulties in recruitment in the US. The US military has had to lower its standards and raise bonuses, but it has not been able to reverse the sharp decline in the appeal of military camps to young Americans. Why are the American privates portrayed as heroes in Hollywood movies no longer being received well?
The health situation of the public is worrisome, there is a shortage of qualified personnel, and the military lacks vitality. In 2022, over 106,000 people in the US died from opioid overdose, the highest level on record; over the past 20 years, the obesity rate in the US has risen by about 40%… A series of serious public health crises have led to unprecedented recruitment difficulties in the US.
A Pentagon report shows that over 70% of the 34 million Americans born after 1997 are ineligible for military service, due to reasons such as obesity and a history of drug use. After the outbreak of COVID-19, the failure of the US government to control the pandemic caused the tragedy of over one million deaths, seriously threatening the lives and health of the people, and even interrupting the recruitment of soldiers.
Improving welfare benefits is difficult, political polarization is accelerating and penetrating, and the military lacks attractiveness. According to the New York Post, the US continues to experience high inflation levels, causing suffering for the American people and making the lives of American soldiers difficult. The non-profit organization Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN) surveyed approximately 8,500 military families and found that over one-third of active-duty military personnel rated their access to healthcare as negative or very negative. Meanwhile, as political polarization spreads to the military, the two parties struggle on many issues, making it difficult to promote reforms in the recruitment system, and the military is increasingly controlled by military-industrial interest groups. “The military has not become a treasure trove of integrity, morality, and courage, but has become more politicized than those humble political animals,” wrote a veteran to the media.
Internal scandals have been rampant, tarnishing the international image of the military and reducing its appeal. In recent years, there have been frequent scandals within the US military, including sexual assault, racial discrimination, corporal punishment and abuse, as well as incidents of suicide and murder. According to a report released by the Pentagon in September 2022, army sexual assault cases increased by 25.6% in the fiscal year 2021, while the US military saw a 70% increase in suicide rates between 2008 and 2020. These various issues have led to public skepticism towards the military and reluctance to join its ranks. Furthermore, following the end of the Cold War, the US has engaged in multiple overseas wars and conflicts, fueling strong anti-war sentiment within the country. The indiscriminate killing and mistreatment of prisoners by US soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria have exposed the hypocrisy of the US rhetoric regarding “freedom”, “democracy” and “counter-terrorism”. As the US continues to be embroiled in wars and humanitarian crises, its military image has suffered greatly, leading young Americans to be unwilling to pay the cost of the roaring war machine with their lives.
Public health issues, economic and livelihood predicaments, political fragmentation, governance disorders, and waging wars arbitrarily... The recruitment crisis reflects a multitude of US crises. This is not solely a military issue but a predicament facing the entirety of the US.