Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Draft

There's a piece at Time, which argues, if not for the draft then for a discussion of compulsory service.  Okay, lets talk about this.

I remember the draft, compulsory military service.  It touched my life as a high school student because we were in the throes of Vietnam.  Arguing about whether or not we should have been there in the first place still causes a huge divide in my age group. I also remember the day that President Nixon ended the draft, the sense of relief among my age group was palpable, euphoric, liberating.  I later volunteered and served alongside draftees, the vast majority of whom served well, honorably, some staying in the service until retirement.

I volunteered from a sense of duty and a yearning for high adventure.  Few can argue that the military life allows you to see and do things that you might not otherwise get to see or do if you stayed home and worked at the local lumber yard.  Military service broadens horizons, makes you think about things that you might not otherwise consider, exposes you to different ideas, cultures, and people.  The only downside is that you might get shot or blown up.  That's a fairly important downside, but one that I discounted over the years.  It happens, but I could just have easily been wounded while working at the lumber yard.

One argument for the draft is that our current all-volunteer military is not particularly representative of our society.  I would suspect that is true, although I've known lots of folks from all backgrounds while I served.  Sons and daughters of very successful people served alongside the dirt-poor.  However, there is an idea... how did he put it... "Without a draft, we are given a great and dangerous luxury: we are, in the main, able to consign our war fighting to a largely isolated force of brave volunteers."  And there is the rub.  It is easier to consign volunteers to battle than to send draftees into harm's way.  It gives politicians an easy-out when you don't have to explain to your constituents why you sent their son or daughter into the military, then sent him into a battle-zone.

Another rub is that there is a large group of Americans who are simply unfit for military service.  During Vietnam, being an infantryman wasn't particularly intellectual.  Lots of high-school dropout draftees wound up in the infantry.  I'm sure that the other services had occupational specialties where they could park people who didn't have much education or native intelligence.  While I can't speak for the other services I know that in my beloved Army, all jobs today are technical.  Lowly infantrymen use a level of technology that would have made me envious in the late '70s army.  The last battalion with which I served in 1999 had an average schooling-level of 16.5 years.  Think about that.  In our battalion, the average soldier had a bachelor's degree.  There was simply no place for a high-school dropout.

I do believe that every high-school graduate should leave their hometown.  Get out, see some of the world, even if it's just another state, another geographical area.  Stay gone a couple of years, and I've recommended that my children take a couple of years and live somewhere else.  Elder son enlisted in the Air Force, second son went to a technical college two states away, younger son finished college and worked for a while in Florida.  Each of them live close to home now, but appreciate the time they spent away.  The easiest way to see the world, to experience another culture, to get out of a stifling hometown is to join the military.  As I said earlier, the only downside is that someone might try to kill you.

During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration were a great success, employing people who were not normally employable.  We will note, however, that they ceased to exist shortly after the beginning of World War II.  Those agencies were not without criticism, though, and a thoughtful student of history would do well to study that criticism before recommending that we update such a project.

One thing I'm concerned about, though, is the length of time we spend on armed conflict.  The Vietnam conflict lasted over 10 years, the Cold War lasted nearly 40 years, and we are now into the second decade of the War on Terror.  Having a draft would insure that more mothers and fathers of our young troops overseas would raise hell at elected leaders, to issue clear guidance with good military objectives, to get the war over with and bring the children home.  It would share the burden among all the citizenry.  It would also probably cause a monumental hue and cry.  The American public tolerates short, clean wars with identifiable objectives and time tables.


Editor B said...

I agree. Compulsory service is the way to go. There should be a non-military option for conscientious objectors. I lived in Sweden for a year and was impressed by the fact that everyone (or was it just males?) had to do a year or two. As the parent of a young child, it's tough, but I would support this. And it's also worth noting that my politics are pretty different from yours, as I have discerned from reading your blog for so long. So the fact that we have common ground here is notable, I think.

Cybrludite said...

The brass would pitch a fit over it, though. The guys with all the stars on their hats nowadays were the butterbars & company commanders during Vietnam and the years just following it. From all I've read, they'd almost rather give up our nukes than go back to using draftees.