Wednesday, December 8, 2010
When we started this blog I assumed we would write about many various and sundry topics. But I never thought I'd ever feel the need to blog about reinstating the draft or compulsory service. Yet, here we are. For some reason, it has been a popular topic of late and I cannot fathom why. Some of the more prominent writers on the topic in the past weeks have been Tom Ricks and Crispin Burke. I cannot express enough how much I think reinstating the draft is a bad idea and I find the arguments for it to be somewhat less than compelling. Crispin tackles some of the hard numbers pretty well at Offiziere.ch, so I'm going to attack this issue from a more qualitative approach (while not completely devoid of numbers). I'm going to pose a lot of questions that I don't have the answers for because the answers are so patently outrageous as to immediately disqualify starting the draft/conscription. If you haven't thought about this things then you're not seriously considering this problem.
The biggest problem I have with the pro-drafters is that they seem to base their arguments on some sense of fairness as opposed to legitimate policy concerns. First, is the pro-draft argument that only 1% of the population is bearing the brunt of Iraq and Afghanistan. My response is: so what? How much of the population needs to be involved in these wars to balance the burden? When policymakers and politicians wrangle over 30 thousand troops here and there (as they should), how would drafting the vast majority of military age men and women affect the wars? Sure, putting 4 million (the number of citizens in the U.S. who reach their majority each year) Soldiers and Marines into Afghanistan and Iraq might be enough to execute the COIN strategy put forward earlier this year, but how on earth would we pay for that?
When we're staring defense efficiencies in the eye, how could any responsible government contemplate increasing the size of the force many times? What with the costs in pay, healthcare, retirement, and other overheads and all. There's also the question of what would these people do? Deploying soldiers costs a lot of money and we couldn't possibly have enough to do for all of them. Would they mainly train? Train to do what? We don't know what our relatively small all-volunteer military is going to do once these wars are over, how could we justify adding millions of people to that problem? The military is not a jobs program.
Then there's the oft-argued question of fairness with the all-volunteer force when it comes to the socio-economic status of enlistees. Crispin cites some numbers that suggest that our recruits don't necessarily come from the poorest as is usually argued, but surely many of them do. And I ask again: so what if they are? Being a private in most branches of the military is relatively low skilled work with huge amounts of supervision. Comparable work in the civilian world, if there is such a thing, would pay similarly to what a lower enlisted person makes, but without all of the long-term costs. While there are many wealthy kids who enlist in the military, the vast majority do not and leave this grunt work, literally and figuratively, to their less-fortunate fellow citizens. If being a soldier is the best you can do with your life than you do it. If it's not, then you do something else. I don't see that as a matter of fairness, I see that as a reality of our world where some people do the things they can and others do the things they want to.
The whole pro-draft argument almost always focuses on junior enlisted and ignores non-commissioned officers, warrant officers, and commissioned officers. The world has it's middle management and its elites. So does the military. These are all important for the functioning of organizations. Why do junior enlisted continuously reenlist and work their way up to the ranks? At that point it's not usually because there isn't anything else they can do - it's a free choice. Do officers go through their commissioning source because they don't have any other options? No. They do it because of very personal reasons for each of them. Just like the men and women who enlist. Those that stay in to make NCO ranks and those that join as officers may have more options in life, but the fact that they choose the military completely refutes the fairness argument of joining the military. It's not the only choice for the poor and less educated. It's an opportunity for those people, just as it is for the less poor and more educated. If it were the only choice, more of the poor and undereducated would enlist.
This probably smacks of an elitist rant, but I like to think of it as more of a realist rant. I came from a lower-middle income family and decided that I wanted to be a military officer and did it. That was my choice. I have no patience with these bizarre concepts of "fairness" that the poor are bearing the brunt of our wars and that that needs to be fixed. That canard isn't merely untrue, it's irrelevant. I spent nearly three years in Iraq, bearing a greater brunt than most military folks, and the vast majority of the people I served with, enlisted and otherwise, did so because they chose to join the military, not because it was the only choice they had. I cannot recall a single instance where someone thought it was unfair that they were at war when 99% of the population was unaffected by that war - we all knew that when we joined. You know what's unfair? Making a young man or woman (yeah, there's that whole topic I'm not even going to go into) go to war who didn't want to be in the military in the first place because some misinformed people thought something they did voluntarily was unfair to them. That's damned unfair. And it doesn't help the national interest to boot. So as the title of this post states, I really could care less about your indignation and sense of fairness on this topic. It's misplaced. The only thing a draft will accomplish is diminish the military's capabilities and satiate your sense of "fairness." Sounds like a couple of good reasons to infringe upon our fellow citizens' rights. But hey, you'll feel better, so that's something.