Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Elias Isquith finds Tom Ricks of The Washington Post calling for a return to the draft, for all the usual reasons:

Since the end of the military draft in 1973, every person joining the U.S. armed forces has done so because he or she asked to be there. Over the past decade, this all-volunteer force has been put to the test and has succeeded....

This is precisely the reason it is time to get rid of the all-volunteer force. It has been too successful. Our relatively small and highly adept military has made it all too easy for our nation to go to war -- and to ignore the consequences.

... One percent of the nation has carried almost all the burden of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while the rest of us essentially went shopping....

Elias seconds the notion, and adds:

I'd like to see the draft come back for more abstract, public-minded reasons. There are precious few institutions nowadays that bring together Americans from disparate social spheres; the military used to be one of them. Implementation in this regard was never perfect, of course; there were fortunate sons. But the general principle that the military was a product of our collective labors, spurred by our collective interests, this was more influential during the time of a draft than it is today.

I understand why people say these things. But is there any reason whatsoever to have any faith at all in this country's ability to bring back a draft in a fair, genuinely sacrifice-sharing way?

Do you honestly believe that the children of hedge fund managers and oil billionaires would serve as equals alongside the children of janitors and Walmart clerks? Do you honest believe that this inequality-saturated country could bring back conscription without building massive loopholes for the privileged (and probably a large number of loopholes for the merely well-off)?

Don't you think we'd wind up about where we are now, with low-income conscripts on the front lines (commanded, perhaps, by gung-ho Southerners), while upper-middle-class kids were far from combat and superrich kids were still partying in Biarritz?

And don't you think this new state of affairs would just become a new front in the culture wars, as right-wingers waged class war against the "liberal" upper-middle-class kids in the rear echelons (exempting the superrich, of course) while claiming kinship with the genuinely patriotic grunts? Wouldn't a draft just become part of this problem, rather than part of the solution?

(X-posted at Booman Tribune.)


Ten Bears said...

Here's a thought - No. More. War.

It was actually the draft that brought about the end of my War - the one my generation dropped the ball on... "Whoopie, Nixon Quit! Let's all cut our hair and become hedge-fund managers - when it became clear across the entire spectrum of "America" that the cannon-fodder was from all walks with benefit to none.

[Except, of course, for AWOL frat boys like Bush and bumbling frat boys like McCain.]

Steve M. said...

War is way too easy right now -- but I think a draft now would have even more unfairness built into it than the one in the Vietnam era.

Procopius said...

I have to agree with Steve M., and it's too bad because I served in Vietnam when we still had a draft and I think it was a good thing. A downside everybody forgets is that military commanders, in their role as managers, tended to forget that the labor they had available was not free. But a point you made in passing, "...(commanded, perhaps, by gung-ho Southerners)..." reminded me. Some years ago I ran across an analysis of career military members, and both officerS and senior NCOs were disproportionately from the Southern states. I would expect that to still be true for officers, because of the existence of two military schools, The Citadel and the Virginia Military Institute, which are about equal to West Point in prestige among Regular Army officers. I wonder if it is still true about NCOs as well.

Anonymous said...

While I don't expect a draft would be much fairer than it was before, I do expect it would WAKE up portions of America that are perfectly distracted by 'going shopping.'

But more than that? I feel sending our volunteer forces back again and again (many have five or more combat tours under their belts now) is exhausting and using up good men and women---it is almost on par with the "in for the duration" of WWII standards. And when the stop-loss policies were in force, it was basically an enforced matter where people could not escape even by end of term of service!

I think it is an indescribable disaster that America would need a draft to notice the deaths of young and economically vulnerable members of our society.

BH said...

If a draft were reinstituted (which won't happen, I guarantee you for all kinds of reasons), I'd propose that no religious-related passes be allowed, such as that which protected Marvelous Mitty at draft age whilst he was supposedly nagging the French about Joseph Smith.

But it ain't gonna happen, & if it did, I agree - it would likely be even less fair than it was.

The New York Crank said...

For all the reasons already stated pro-draft, I favor a universal draft, too. Yes, there might be people slipping through the well-oiled cracks here and there, but the overwhelming effect would be homogenizing and would limit the executive and congressional branch temptations to get us into wars.

It would also keep hundreds of thousands of people out of the job market for a couple of years, and return them to the market equipped with some skills and discipline.

Fallback position: demand two years of some kind of organized public service from ever citizen, no exceptions except for the severely disabled, some time between the ages of 18 and 24. It might be the military, or Peace Corps, of CCC, or Teach For America. But require those who are not in the military to live in barracks anyway; again for the homogenizing and disciplinary experience.

And make the same demands of women as well as men.

Guaranteed, this would be a better (and prouder) country for it. And a more peaceful one in the bargain.

Crankily yours,
The New York Crank

Steve M. said...

Well, that would be one problem, though, I think: there'd be class-based attacks by the right on "liberals" who wound up in the Peace Corps and Teach for America while "real Americans" were actually in the military. (Never mind the fact that no Trump, Romney or Koch would be among those brave troops....)

Ben said...

I'm sympathetic to this line of thought, but there are a few huge problems that no one's brought up yet.

Drafts don't stop shit. Vietnam lasted two decades. The largest benefit of Korea was enabling a Big Lebowski joke, but we still lost tens of thousands of men. The machine will roll on. And that's a problem, because

Lots more innocent lives will be sacrificed to that machine under a draft. You can make a good argument that a non-negligible portion of the force now were somewhat compelled to enlist because of various factors, but even so, the moral problems of injuring or killing those soldiers dwarf those of enacting the same violence on drafted soldiers. Frankly I think it's fairly callous to knowingly sacrifice innocent people so that theoretically the political calculus in conducting war will be slightly different. But even ignoring the deaths and injuries of drafted soldiers, it's a troubling idea morally because

People should not be instruments of the state. Full stop. Incentivize, appeal to patriotism, sure. But compelling someone to serve as a cog in the horrendous military machine on pain of imprisonment or penalty is not something a decent society does. Same problem on a smaller scale with the mandatory national volunteer or something plan. Forcing someone to give up two years of their life to carry out the work of federal programs is unconscionable. It violates the integrity of a person's right to conduct her life as she sees fit. (I hope it's obvious that this argument doesn't apply to taxation, which is necessary to the conduct of society; just thought I'd point that out.)

So, yeah. The goals of the draft are good. The draft itself's not a good way to get there. Other potential ways that don't have the above problems: incentivize the shit out of service, on both the individual and employer side; restrict members of the armed services committees from having bases or weapons projects in their constituencies; get serious about cleaning up procurement and bidding processes (good goal, even if not feasible); sunset clauses in AUMF that elapse in a month; restrict DOD labor appropriations that pay for oversees deployment of soldiers to a low level and can only be raised with an AUMF; etc. Some of these things are more effective than others, some are more likely than others, but I don't think any of them is that far afield from wanting a draft to be instituted in the medium term.