I mentioned yesterday about the lack of visible sacrifice in the modern American military, extending so far that cost and investment are almost entirely unseen, even on the multi-trillion-dollar scale. Unless you'd seen an analysis, you'd never even be able to guess the full cost of the war on terror. Most people just don't see any impact from American military efforts abroad, directly or indirectly. It certainly doesn't make the news that often.
Of course, even aside from war bond sales, the American people's relationship to the conflict defined the major conflicts of the 20th century. America probably would have avoided the European theater for quite some time if the American people didn't see the Nazi Menace as relevant to our interests – it was contentious at the time, and Pearl Harbor forced our hand less than you'd think. Our involvement could have been similar to Chinese involvement – defense against Japan without engaging in Europe was very possible. But we helped Eastern Europe, even before the complete scope of Nazi horrors were uncovered (of course, even the complete scope of Japanese horrors took some time to unearth, and it's still unclear to me how involved Japanese medical schools were with the vivisections they hosted of captured Allied troops).
America fought proxy wars because Communism was so well understood to be bad, and the Soviets so sure to doom a country to poverty and indignities, that we wanted to make sure that wasn't the dominant model for the world. How could the U.S. survive in a world with a global power like that? Easily, perhaps. But it's safe to say the wars in Korea and Vietnam make virtually no sense if the American public doesn't fear the rise of the Soviets. How the public related to the wars is what made them possible, and without them, perhaps the United States would still exist – but maybe in the shadow of the Soviet Union, and American values would face an ongoing assault that would reshape the world into a more horrifying and totalitarian vision.
It's easy to be unimpressed by American WW2 propaganda, and even less impressed by the Cold War stuff. But here's the thing: they worked. It was an unabashed propaganda campaign that helped people see real evil and destruction in truly terrible governments. On a matter of principle, I don't think the government should use tax dollars to persuade me of things (they aren't my life coach). But of all people to have propaganda against, they couldn't have chosen governments that deserved it more than the Nazis and the Soviets.
These days, the military pays Micheal Bay to tell stories about how soldiers are solid people and it's those bureaucrats that keep messing things up (think of how messed up it is for government to use tax dollars to attack each other in the press). They pay for video games that show military service as something you can just respawn from. Tomorrow, I'll be talking about how the American military is one of the most cautious, constructive, and generally positive forces in modern conflict – but that isn't one of the stories they choose to tell about themselves. Why?
Because it's massively unpopular.