Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I could care less about your indignation and sense of "fairness", the draft is a nonstarter

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, 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.


  1. Damnit, beaten to it. This is what I get for threatening Matt Gallagher with the mother-of-all-responses to his pro-draft post for the last... uh, four months. (I know this because I just checked our post archives; I've got a draft of a post that I started on 11 AUG. I suck.)

    Seriously though, I'm going to get on this subject at some point, because I've got a lot to say on the matter. In the mean time: right there with ya, brother.

  2. The irony of the this issue is that as some Americans want the draft back European nations, on the other hand, are abandoning conscription. The French recently got rid of conscription, while the Germans let pontential draftees go into civilian government service, and the Russians are looking into having an all volunteer army.

  3. Come on, pretty sure me feeling better is all that really matters here.

    Kidding, obvi. Totally agree. I may want service diversified and marketed towards more people, but I think a national draft is ridiculous, as is mandatory national service. Good luck paying for that one, team.

  4. The issue you raise with the unfeasibility of the draft (drafting 4 million per year? Drafting only a handful?) is one of the key arguments in Part Three. Though there isn't much to be said, as I simply can't fathom what we'd do with a military three times the size.

  5. In The Limits of Power, Andrew Bacevich discusses conscription issues in chapter 3. He mentions some of the things you do, and others. He says it is too expensive and neither the American people nor the Pentagon want it. In short, it ain't happening.

    I do think, though, that there is a civil-military divide in the country. The draft (or a national service program) isn't the way to address it, but the problem does need to be thought about. So while I disagree with the pro-draft writers, I think they are thinking in the right direction.

  6. Not to mention, I'm somewhat cynical of the commenters at TBD arguing for a draft. There seems to be a recurring fallacy that instituting a draft would occur with absolutely no loopholes whatsoever (and no one taking advantage of the system) would be a completely egalitarian institution. This is little more than a utopian fantasy.

  7. My doctor has ordered me to not read TBD comments in the interest of my blood pressure. They usually make the original post look like a work of genius, which is no small feat.

  8. The American draft has never taken an entire cohort of a male population, and it is absurd to suggest, Jason, that it would in 2010.

    Even during the existential conflict from 1941-1945, when there were few loopholes Crispin might identify, of the 36 million American men marked eligible for service, only about 9 million joined or were conscripted.

    Of 27 million certified as eligible for service during the Vietnam War, only a little more than 2 million actually were drafted.

    The question has always been one of fairness. Despite only about one in four men being inducted into military service in WWII, the vast majority of Americans, including those who wore the uniform, determined that the draft -- really a tax on blood -- was fair.

    During Vietnam, it began to seem less fair not only because of loopholes but also because of stunts like "McNamara's 100,000" that saw many borderline troops, many from socioeconomic castes that couldn't afford to rig the system, enter the services.

    I also believe that you shouldn't discount the perspectives of the enlisted personnel. By and large, we represent not only the majority of the personnel in the services but becase we overwhelmingly refuse to make it a career continue to illustrate the best sense of America's "citizen soldiers."

    If you were like those of us who were prior service joins during the GWoT and served in combat and nevertheless were stoplossed, oftentimes merely to meet a unit's readiness numbers, you might have a very different perspective on the "volunteer" part of the AVF.

    It also might turn on its head this notion of "elites." By and large, we don't see our sacrifice as any less important than that of the career officers or NCOs. Indeed, we tend to think that ours is more honestly given because we gain so little in financial or status rewards compared to officers and NCOs.

    This would prove true in a conscripted force, too. Because it's a random levy on blood, military pay rates for first-termers would most certainly decrease because there would be no need to pay bonuses to woo us.

    The cohort mostly would be single men, so there likely would be vastly reduced costs for medical care (dependents), base housing (dependents) or other costs associated with, well, dependents.

    (to be continued)

  9. Increasingly we see a professional military untethered from the society that breeds it. We have an officer and NCO caste increasingly partisan and politically conservative. We find a growing addiction suffered by recruiters for those with moral and physical and educational waivers. And the NCO ranks largely have been staffed because of the threat of stoploss, which brought many in the combat arms to re-up rather than get hit with the inevitable stoploss and resulting loss of reenlistment bonuses.

    Today's system discards fairness and substitutes it with an aura of professionalism.

    The current system is unfair to those enlisted who want to get out but can't. The current system is unfair to the families that must suffer endless deployments and training.

    The current system is unfair to those who must serve next to moral and educational recruits within an Army that's growing increasingly fat, addicted to dope and physically unfit because battalion commanders can't court martial them out.

    While I'm very proud of my service to my nation, consider me your huckleberry who nevertheless thought in Iraq that it was unfair for me to be shot at while so many who would send me to fight and die wouldn't go themselves.

    Indeed, they would feel it hardly worth their time or the loftiness of their station to risk their lives in combat. That this was something "other people" did.

    I don't feel better than these men. I only believe that if they shared in the chance of going to war they might weigh better the lives to be risked in the prosecution of war, both today and in later years.

    Conscription not only spreads around the blood tax but it forces those who would so freely spend it to fully invest their political and military decisions with accountability. If they, themselves, aren't to be sacrificed as "elites," at least in a democracy with conscription there's the ultimate realization that the electorate and taxpayers won't tolerate for too long the needless wastage of their children and friends in pursuit of unimportant foreign policy goals.


  10. Carl - you raise a number of interesting points and I appreciate your writing them down here. First, yes, I conflate draft and compulsory service in the post. Obviously those are two different beasts with different, if similar, challenges and elements of fairness. I still ask the very important question though: in a time when all services are looking to make cuts, what could possibly justify adding people to the rolls? That is fiscally irresponsible and I can't find a decent policy argument for what would bridge that irresponsibility. Other than it will make some people feel better.

    As for stoploss - my understanding is that particular practice isn't being practiced anymore. Even if it were, my personal perspective is that I didn't really have an issue with it, and I have that perspective in spite of being stoplossed myself for 18 months. There are many reasons I was okay with it, mainly readiness that based on a peacetime personnel policy that is slowly changing, but the fact is that so few people were stoplossed and it was always a possibility for it to occur as part of your contract when you joined.

    I'm not sure where I discount enlisted perspectives, either. Of course the sacrifice of junior enlisted is every much as important than officers and NCOs. My point in the post on that particular topic was that it's not just the poor enlisted escaping their destitute home lives bearing the brunt of the wars - the military has its own elites who are also there. And if we're to use anecdote, as Ricks' author did, I would argue less than 10% of my platoons had members who joined for those types of reasons.

    I'm sorry but I still don't buy the argument that we should have conscription in any form so the "elites" would feel the pain of war more and therefore undertake it less often. That worked oh so well in Vietnam, didn't it? As for those that sent you, many of them did visit. Sure they were short, choreographed visits, but did you really expect Senator McCain to pick up a rifle a get on a patrol (whose son was a Marine in Iraq by the way)? That's patently absurd. I also think you put too much emphasis on the effects family matters have on politicians...

  11. G'day
    I think there are merits to both sides. Some of my questions would be:

    1) What would be the strategy going forward for use of military power?

    This would be key, as how many people do we really need for the stated strategy. It seems to me given the past manpower has has been a problem, both civilian and military.

    2) Can some of these manpower issues be handled with in the current framework of AVF.

    Make serving in military more attractive between 2 and 4 years, GI Bill that really pays. Like in Wisconsin. Larger reserves serving close to home. Changes in retirement and job to keep people in longer, 30 to 40 years.

    3) What and I think this is key to both sides of the discussion is what the role of citizen in the Nation-State today.

    I think this is changing and going forward there need to be some understand of what each expects of the other.

    Thanks for reading, Cheers

  12. @ limabeanium, thanks for weighing in. I have some thoughts on each of these.

    1) It's a good question, but more people doesn't seem to be what anyone is looking for. There are likely to be manpower cuts in the next few years in all services.

    2) I like where you are going with this one and should be looked into further. There are budget constraints on some of this, but is probably more realistic than conscription.

    3) This is an important question. I won't even pretend to know what the answer to this is. The dialog needs to happen. In the end, if the nation decides that conscription is the answer, then that's the answer. Or it could be something else, a combination, or nothing. I don't see a draft as the appropriate answer to question without further exploration at least.

    Again, thanks for commenting - I enjoyed our chat on twitter yesterday as well.


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