September 16, 2005

Clarification on Military Thoughts

While playing with the new BlogSearch tool at Google yesterday, I found out that Elizabeth D. has a blog, and she'd linked to some of my posts. Unfortunately, it turns out that she and some of her readers either misunderstood me, or couldn't understand me at all. :-) So, maybe I can clarify things a bit.

The post was about the military and citizenship. I'd tried to make a few points in the article:

  • America has a standing army which is large enough and well-funded enough to allow politicians to send troops around the world without causing undue distress at home. As the article I was quoting put it, "Modern warfare lays no significant burdens on the larger body of citizens in whose name war is being waged."

  • This disconnect between military and the broader population raises the scary possibility (based on the history of other nations) of the USA at some point becoming a military empire, a fear the nation's founders felt: "a danger made manifest in their day by the career of Napoleon Bonaparte, whom Jefferson described as having "transferred the destinies of the republic from the civil to the military arm.""

  • Compulsory service to the government, which could be both in service to the military or to other functions (such as land beautification), is distasteful in many ways. But it does tie some large fraction of the citizenry to the nation's politics, especially its military activities.

In the comments on my post, Elizabeth D. wrote, "Draftees tend to make poor soldiers." I think it depends on the situation. Surely the Israeli military (which requires everyone to serve for some time, I believe) is not seen as a poor quality army? I don't know enough about other countries to compare other volunteer versus draft armies. Options to keep both a volunteer component and a draft component in the military could also probably help with some of the problems.

The other comments about mandatory work are valid. I'm not saying that forcing all (or a randomly selected fraction) of the population of a certain age to work for the government (either in the military or in infrastructure improvement) is a great solution. I do think, however, that variations of the idea should be explored, because the current system has its own problems.

Posted by Tom Nugent at September 16, 2005 09:44 AM

As for draftees making poor soldiers, they seemed to do well enough in WWII and Korea (facing down the Chinese who had virtually no limits on their fighting, while the UN hamstrung the U.S. from doing anything too drastic). Vietnam was different because of the nature of the war. We could have had success in that conflict had there been more of a commitment on the homefront from the politicians and citizenry. In Vietnam, as in Iraq: the problem is compounded when you are not an invading force, but an occupier, trying to hold the nation together until a unified government forms.

At least in Iraq, the stated goal is extremely clear ..... it remains a question as to whether it can actually be pulled off.

Several schools in our area have mandatory volunteerism (an oxymoron to be sure) as a graduation requirement. Talking to some kids, I would say half like it, and half are turned off by it (which may mean that they would be less likely to help out in the future, since they have "done their time".

Israel is a poor example to use, since the citizens are keenly aware of the consequences of not havng as large a military as possible: they get bulldozed into non-existence. Some of the nations of Europe that still mandate military or civilian service might make better examples, but several of these nations have citizens used to taking orders from the government, and not vice-versa.

Posted by: Tom at September 16, 2005 12:26 PM

The 'draftees tend to make poor soldiers' meme is very situational. A lot depends on the war, the society and (most important to this former Marine) the NCOs in charge of training and cadre at the units the draftees end up in.

I am not sure forced labor is the solution to the ills we have. Sure - when we had a draftee Army we were (perhaps) more cohesive. But was that because we had draftees or in spite of it? There might be something to think about there - that forcing young men from disparate backgrounds reinforced a good direction in society, not the cause of it.


I am sure that a draftee army could not have won the recent campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan as neatly and easily as the AVF recently did. That may be a good thing in that we wont' _try_ such campaigns in the future. Or not.

It strikes me that wanting a draftee force (which is not what you're saying I know, but others have argued this) that is not the best we could have not optimal. You won't be tempted to foreign adventures, sure but if you really _need_ them to be effective ... they won't be.

The solution might not be to impell people to work against their will but to fix the underlying culture. This might not be easy - it might be impossible.

Now THERE is a down note to end the post on.

Posted by: Brian at September 16, 2005 08:20 PM
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