Friday, December 10, 2010
Thank you, Tom, for pointing out that the United States has used the draft in the past 100 years. I obviously didn't know that since I was only born in 1980 and obviously nothing existed before me, at least nothing worth knowing. Or maybe my position on this topic is based on the realities of modern warfare, arms, and other conditions and not a "we've always done it this way" mentality. Possibly.
Yes, the draft was used in every major war the United States has fought since the Civil War through to Vietnam - most of these conflicts being of vital interest to the U.S., if not existential in nature. Obviously these conscripted forces performed very well - the Greatest Generation being the exemplar in this regard. There was a call and need for national service and it was well met.
I question the logic that if Americans were conscripted then the U.S. would not undertake foreign interventions because of greater effect on the elites and popular unrest. A war was fought in Vietnam with a conscript military with steady escalation. A war the ended after conscription ended. Decision-makers - politicians - have any number of reasons they make the choices they do, and I don't know how much their personal lives influence that (I'm sure it varies from politician to politician). As I mentioned in the comments to my last post on this topic, Senator McCain supported the Surge in Iraq and he did have "skin in the game" - a son in the USMC and another at the Naval Academy that was about to graduate. It didn't affect his decision making.
I also question the feasibility of conscription in today's economic conditions. All branches of the military are looking at where they can make cuts as our current wars start winding down and I'm not hearing any arguments from Congress or the Executive Branch to significantly increase spending to make these wars more "fair" when everyone is talking about cutting or at least stemming costs. They're much more concerned about weapons development and jobs in their constituencies, not adding tens of thousands (or more) people to the military's roles, with significant short term costs in paying, training, and equipping them and longer term costs in benefits. It is a political nonstarter because no one wants to pay for it.
And speaking of politicians, what do they benefit from re-instituting conscription? Pissed off constituents who feel their rights are being infringed? More national debt? An all-volunteer force is perfect for the political classes because they can use that force with minimal impact on the rest of America. I'd like to think they would do so out of their perspective of national interest and not personal politics, but we all know it's a little of columns A and B. They have zero interest in changing that paradigm - it's just bad politics for individuals.
The insulation of the military is also an absurd argument to bring back the draft. Draftees in our nation's history have been activated for 2-6 years of duty. I have no idea what the numbers are for those that stayed in after their commitment (and would be interested in seeing them if anyone has them), but are today's military leadership much different or more insulated than those during times of conscription? Are they not the same types of people that would have volunteered instead of getting drafted? Or stayed in after their conscription time elapsed? There has always been a core of military "elites" around which these conscripted forces were formed. That was the reasoning behind the founding of West Point - provide the professionals to lead the citizen soldiers when they were required. Conscripted junior enlisted and officers will not change the fact that the military's senior leadership will always be somewhat different from the rest of us.
So, yes, I do think that "some form of the draft just isn't gonna happen." Because it has been used in the past does not mean it will be used in the future. There's a whole other discussion of how the U.S. fights its wars now as opposed to WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam: it is technologically and capably superior to its foes, not based on mass. I think there's a good argument that our type of military does not benefit from losing its professional ideal. But that's another discussion for another time, just like how we'll have to sort out whether or not women get drafted and some other topics before this could be taken seriously as a real possibility. At the moment we can't afford a conscripted military, the politicians don't want one, it would have little to no effect on military "insulation", and probably isn't best for military readiness. If you want the people of this nation to care about war, then raise the hell out of taxes to pay for it. That will make people care and truly spread the pain (as opposed to a lottery that would likely have so many loopholes as to make the tax code look simplistic), even if that, too, is politically unlikely.
Would we reinstate it if a major conflict arose with existential consequences? Probably - and we probably should at that point. Until then there is no political will to do this nor any real reason. Except to make some people feel better that they're not the only ones paying for war. That's an unfortunate reality and will continue to be so until our actual survival as a nation is threatened. So no, I'm not being "solipsistic" or ignorant of our history. I'm looking at today with the benefit of having learned (yes, from books and not experience in this case) from that history and I don't see any real possibility of a draft in the near future nor the need for it.