Sunday, December 1, 2013

Should We Bring Back the Draft?

Everybody knows that something is wrong with America. A nation divided against itself, with an ever-increasing abyss between the rich and the rest, with politicians who put party loyalty above all else… America is filled with individualists who lack the values associated with notions of patriotism, loyalty and serving a higher cause.

Dana Milbank has thought it through and has come up with a solution as simple as it is impractical: bring back compulsory military service.

Many young people now take a gap year between high school and college. They use it to travel the world and to find themselves. What if they were to spend a year in the military?

For those who will not go to college, a year in the military would surely beat a year hanging around on the streets looking for a job.

Today’s America being today’s America the program would have to apply to both men and women. Moreover, it would have to contain an opt-out clause: those who wished could do their service by helping America’s disadvantaged.

The latter qualifier makes the program even more unrealistic. It’s one thing to draft a large number of young people into short-term military service. It’s quite another to send an army of young people to do jobs that are already being performed by others.

If the program contains a social service option, the nation’s young people would immediately divide themselves into the grunts and the do-gooders.

Milbank knows it’s not going to happen. In that he is surely correct. But that does not prevent him and should not prevent us from evaluating his idea.

How much of America’s current problems are caused by the fact, as Milbank points out, that fewer and fewer members of Congress have done military service?

Some will call it a correlation, but I agree with Milbank that it has more to do with causation.

In either case, a Congress filled with people who have never served in the military barely functions:

Because so few serving in politics have worn their country’s uniform, they have collectively forgotten how to put country before party and self-interest. They have forgotten a “cause greater than self,” and they have lost the knowledge of how to make compromises for the good of the country. Without a history of sacrifice and service, they’ve turned politics into war.

Interestingly, Milbank speaks about compromise and the language of civic virtue. Military service teaches people how to put the collective good ahead of individual self-interest. It teaches values like discipline, decorum, propriety, teamwork and respect for authority, among others.

It also inculcates pride in country, in its values and achievements.

For a cohort of young people who have been spoon-fed self-esteem and taught to deride their nation it would surely be a great improvement.

A culture of narcissistic self-esteem has fostered a politics where it’s us-against-them, where the other party is not the loyal opposition but is an enemy that must be destroyed.

Moreover, in a culture where no one really knows the rules, military service teaches people how to follow rules and how to be responsible to others and for others. In a culture where inequality is becoming more and more extreme, military service levels things out.

A few countries, like Switzerland and Israel still have mandatory military service, but most no longer do.

Milbank describes what happens in Switzerland, where they are not doing it in order to ensure their military capability, but in order to make of several cultures, one:

On Sept. 22, the Swiss voted 73 percent to 27 percent to keep their conscription army. It has less to do with security than with national identity in a land of 26 cantons and four official languages.The government argued that military service teaches people “how to live and work with compatriots from all regions, all linguistic groups and all social strata,” which “contributes enormously to the national cohesion.”

In Switzerland, the sons of bankers and farmers alike do basic training for several months and then are recalled to service for brief periods.

Milbank knows that we cannot afford it. Yet, he is correct to measure the costs against the potential benefits:

The costs would be huge. But so would the benefits: overcoming growing social inequality without redistributing wealth; making future leaders, unlike today’s “chicken hawks,” disinclined to send troops into combat without good reason; putting young Americans to work and giving them job and technology skills; and, above all, giving these young Americans a shared sense of patriotism and service to the country.

But, is money really the impediment? If the notion seems completely foreign, isn't that a symptom of the fact that the values instilled by military service have become increasingly foreign to far too many Americans?

Milbank does not say it, but our nation finds itself in this bind because the current culture has systematically repudiated the values that define military service.

8 comments:

Lindsay Harold said...

A draft for men only might be a good idea. But women in the military is not a good idea, for a number of reasons. It is one thing to allow women to join the military of their own volition. But most women are not at all suited for military life and forcing them to join would be a horrendous idea.

Unfortunately, in this country, such observations of differences between men and women are not politically-correct. Our culture clings to the faulty notion that men and women differ only in their genitals. For that reason, if we reinstituted the draft, it would include both men and women. Since I am totally against any draft for women, I tend to be against the draft in general. Even a draft that started as men only might be changed later to include women. I just don't trust politicians or our society to protect women from forced military service.

Charles A Pennison said...

American military service doesn't necessarily turn you into a better person.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs claims that 46% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans sought VA services, and 48% of those were diagnosed with a mental health problem. It's typically either Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Military Sexual Trauma (MST).

And it's not just ground troops who are suffering. A Pentagon Study shows that Drone pilots suffer from mental-health problems just as much if not more than pilots who sit in fighter aircraft.

Based on what we are seeing with recent mental problems of veterans, and some of my own experiences with veterans from Vietnam, I would argue that military service is not the fix in making Americans more community service minded.

Anonymous said...

Before attending college, I had to sign up for selective service in case of a draft, and I considered refusing, but compromised on the principle that I'd accept a draft call but refuse to use any firearms, which would mean in practice I'd not be useful to the military, and probably end up in prison or something, which seemed a sensible way to protest.

I think its reasonable everyone is willing to die for their country, but I disagree we should be willing to kill for their country. I've always been agnostic, never religious, but I'd rather simply die than kill someone by an itchy trigger finger.

I remember the peace-niks wanted a "department of peace" and people could participate who were willing to go into dangerous places, like the inner city (ha!), without weapons and try to help keep the peace. When you get rid of the guns, there's still lots of useful skills you can learn in self defense, like talking and conflict resolution skills, and all that.

So if conscription means learning how to reduce violence in the world, seems like a good idea!

Dennis said...

Does anyone think that an administration that is willing to abuse the IRS and use them for political reasons won't use a military made up of draftees for the same political purposes?
I am against it and would far better have one made up of people who are there because they see the value of the military to a "FREE" country. I am mature enough to have seen what the draft did to this country and its ability to fight in an efficient and effective manner.
This is a way to "hobble" the military. Just how many people does one think won't be out protesting because they will not put their lives on the line for this country? Been there done that and am not willing to see the ramifications played out again.
If drafting women plays out as I have seen before the minute it looks like they have to go in harms way is the minute a significant number get pregnant. The second the threat has passed the number of abortions go up. Just trying to maintain a manning document is enough to drive commanders "up a tree."
Don't want to see a service made up of people who would do their military service in a civilian corps. Just another way to build up another army which can be utilized by the administration for political purposes without "posse comitatus" in the way.
BAD idea from several points.

Anonymous said...

Oh, the military would find good use for you, Anonymous @12:19 PM. The Navy is always looking for good corpsmen to support the Marine Corps in combat infantry operations. I don't believe you'd have to carry a firearm, but you'll have lots of tools at your disposal to support the mission and save lives. I don't have a problem with true conscientious objectors, but it's not a "get out of jail free" card. And shouldn't be. Very often those who think others should be doing something of great social value do not think the rules should apply to them. Kind of like union exemptions and the subsidies given to Congressional staff for ObamaCare.

And FYI: it's not the guns. What a human being can do with his/her bare hands or simple tools is sufficiently devastating. Sure, guns can be used to kill at a distance, but big city gangs aren't running units of sniper teams or riflemen. It's mostly handguns, which is a close-quarters weapon. Killing is killing, and death is death. And when one finds out what leads or motivates someone to kill, it's not such a simple area of study. Violence and other firms of human failing dwell within all of us... some just like to pretend it doesn't apply to them (just to others).

And let's look at the last thing you said about "learning to reduce violence in the world." Are you suggesting it is wise to take a mans freedom by subjecting him to mass involuntary conscription so long as the goal is to socially educate the wider population about reducing global (or local) violence? Violence is a part of all human societies, in an array of forms.

I'm also troubled by just about everything you outlined in paragraph two. We make ourselves willing to die for something we consider of value... why would killing to protect and preserve one's nation be of any less value? You're assuming you would have an "itchy trigger finger," but what if you pulled that trigger intentionally and killed another human being because they were an active threat to what you stood for? Furthermore, I have no idea what agnosticism or religiosity have to do with an "itchy trigger finger."

Lastly, I am concerned that your perspective on whether mass conscription is efficacious or wise depends on an idealistic social mission ("to reduce violence") that is dubious at best in terms of respect to individual rights and impossible to achieve in a collective sense. We are fallen, imperfectible creatures (in a Judeo-Christian sense, if you believe in that sort of thing). When we forget that we're going to follow every "good idea" that seems to offer the promise of freedom from the human conditions. And we'll again be disappointed.

Tip

Anonymous said...

Firstly, ask the military's senior officers (particularly those who remember the draft), and they will tell you that it's a horrible idea for all the reasons Dennis outlined and more. It's bad, bad, bad for morale, unit cohesion, etc.

Secondly, and most importantly, we are again having a conversation about using the United States military for grand social programming and experimentation because we think these are "good ideas" that "make sense." It's more collectivist tripe: "We'll make everyone do something because they don't know what to do for/with themselves. It'll be so great when those vacuous, stupid, spoiled kids get their $&%# together in the military! Won't it? These parents can't discipline or say no to their beautiful little children, so we'll have a drill instructor do it at Parris Island." Wow, yeah man... great idea. Just like unicorns.

Where did military service fit into Dana Milbank's career trajectory? He went to Yale and was a member of Skull & Bones, so he an his fellow Bonesmen, along with the other Ivy League plutocrats in Washington, know what's best for the children of America! Isn't it great??? Aren't we lucky? Dana Milbank has it all figured out. We'll just conscript the young little monsters and miraculously bring people together and America will be totally chill again and political parties won't disagree. After all, it takes a village, right??? The best part of Milbank's Wikipedia bio is that he was a member of the Progressive Party of the Yale Political Union. Who could've imagined that resume item, eh?

And before everyone jumps on me for an ad hominem attack on Mssr. Milbank, please consider that we're in this conscription conversation again because he is suggesting we use our military to achieve an end that has nothing to do with fighting and winning wars. Rather, it has everything to do with another humongous, one-size-fits-all social program to extend the Progressive agenda. But they themselves will find a way to find carve-outs because our country so desperately needs their children in other areas of social value, like going to college for a STEM degree. Or or they will find exemptions for their precious youngster (as though no one else's youngster is precious). No doubt it will come in the form of a psychological disorder in the DSM-V. "Can't possibly send my kid, 'cause he's messed up. After all, we know how ADHD makes people trigger happy. You should see what he does to people in his video games! But your healthy, strapping lad was made for the army!"

The progressive punditry looks at every problem as an opportunity for a grand social experiment run out if Washington, D.C. or the United Nations. Government policies and programs are the Frankenstein of our age. These mad social scientists build them, and scream with joy "IT'S ALIVE!!!" and watch on with sheer delight as the "unintended consequences" of their inhuman ideas wreak havoc on our country's social fabric and private institutions. And this creates more social chaos, for which we need still more, more, more government intervention... with the progressives in charge, of course.

Military service is a great thing, ostensibly for all the outcomes Milbank imagines. But to actually create those positive outcomes, one is best to CHOOSE the military. People are motivated by the things they choose in life. We are not talking about a choice here. We are talking about FORCING people to join the U.S. military. That's what the draft is. "You're goin' in, like it or not!" In a time of war (real, declared war), that's necessary because we as a society have chosen (through our representatives) to make war on another nation. We are in peacetime, and when the government takes people's freedom in peacetime, it knows no limits. What a sickening, disgusting, reprehensible idea.

Tip

Anonymous said...

Tip, (from anonymous, 12:19 PM reply)

My perspective on guns and on being willing to die rather being willing to kill comes from a principle that violence is a process of escalation, and guns are the ultimate (personal) escalation, where the smallest effort can kill or wound another, whether intentionally, or accidentally. And in this escalation, the act of holding a gun threatens others to have their own guns, and I don't see this going well in any world besides TV drama where the good guys always win and never make mistakes.

Also in regards to dying, I consider this in terms of terrorism. If I was an abortion doctor for instance, perhaps I'd feel safer to carry a gun, because I know crazy people who hate abortion may make me a target, but if you follow out that logic, then you have to spend your life being vigilent against those who may hate you, and they'll win without raising a finger. So it seems better for abortion doctors to stay unarmed and simply accept they may be targeted by crazy people and dying from a crazy person is better than living in fear, better than being eternally vigilent with a concealed sidearm hopefully ready in that odd moment you need it.

My hero would be Marshall Rosenberg, and his Nonviolent Communication techniques, used to help people in prison, as well places in the world with violence and genocide.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZ-fUVM4Dos

I don't know how often you can "talk" your way out of potential violent situations, but besides "crazy people" who want to kill and die for their cause, it seems a better way to try than to learn how to use a gun and believe you're safer.

Anonymous said...

Okay, Anonymous. You have your perspective on ways to reduce violence. And you can try those out. I hope that works out for you. I have talked someone who pointed a live pistol at me into lowering his weapon. I knew he was scared. I've never been so scared in my life, but I couldn't let him know that. We stared apt each other in a game of chicken for what seemed like eternity. He lowered the weapon and ran away. I thank God every day,

Just because people own firearms doesn't mean they want to use them. In my case, I want the option. I want an equalizer against lunatics who don't care about my right to life, liberty and property. That's all I want. I own firearms in a purely defensive capacity. I do not have a CCW license. I keep to myself.

All that aside, do you believe that your particular preference for conflict resolution should trump my right to own a firearm (small arms: pistols and rifles, not bazookas) under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? If yes, you and I have a serious disagreement that I'm afraid we'll never resolve. My experience of gun control (or, worse, gun confiscation) advocates is that they have certain parts of the Bill of Rights they hold most important and demand that I respect them. And I do. However, they do not respect the one I hold most dear, the one that protects my person. If they expect me to care about theirs, and they don't mine, why should I?

The Bill of Rights isn't multiple choice.

Tip