Robert D. Kaplan has an excellent piece in the current issue of the American Interest examining what is necessary to maintain a "first-class, professional military"--and why it is that Europe's armies are in such a wretched state:
European civilians take little pride in their standing armies; in America, however, civilians still do. Iraq, in this respect, has not been like Vietnam. While Americans may have turned against the Iraq war, they have not turned against the troops there. If anything, in recent years, they have grown more appreciative of them. The upshot is that America has a first-class, professional military that is respected even if it is not reflective of society.
But to see that America's circumstances are not as bad as those of the European Union is not the point. The point is to remember what we have forgotten. A military will not continue to fight and fight well for a society that could be losing faith in itself, even if that society doffs its cap now and again to its warrior class.
There's a lot more in Kaplan's piece--it's a must read--but another bit that catches my eye is this powerful defense of patriotism:
Now, patriotism, we have heard, is the last refuge of the scoundrel. It can be that when patriotism is misappropriated by those who have little loyalty to place, and who therefore lack any accountability for their words or their views. It is easy, after all, to be in favor of this or that cause, or against some other ones, if one has no real stake in the outcome. But while some patriots are scoundrels, the vast majority are more trustworthy than those who are not, precisely because they do accept a stake in outcomes. And they do so most often because patriotism overlaps with what, for lack of a better phrase, is a kind of moral hardiness, by which I mean an attitude of serious engagement concerning right and wrong behavior.
That patriotism even needs to be defended is much the point of Kaplan's piece, but it should be noted that Kaplan's definition of patriotism is an inclusive one--it can be applied to those U.S. soldiers guarding detainees at Gitmo just as easily as the torture hysterics who would paint them as war criminals. But Kaplan isn't arguing for or against any particular policy, only that Americans need to remain engaged with the world and prepared to fight for what it believes. Go read the whole thing.