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Ain’t No Fortunate Son

 

by Gabriel Conroy

About a week ago, Joseph Epstein wrote a defense of the military draft at The Atlantic online.  In that article, he rehashed the points generally raised in favor of the draft.  But those points are not as strong as he thinks they are and they fail to address some critical objections to the draft.

We are probably all familiar with the arguments Epstein uses to argue for the draft.  He says the draft would make policymakers more careful about committing soldiers abroad.  He suggests that a truly universal draft would foster a sense of shared sacrifice among Americans, improve the military, and function as a social mixer, bringing together rich and poor, educated and uneducated, Gentile and Jew (and atheist?),* black and white, and so forth.

The “truly universal” in my previous sentence does a lot of work, and Epstein doesn’t utter the phrase.  But it is the necessary component of what he advocates (“[a] truly American military, inclusive of all social classes….”).  He presumably would not have approved of the “substitute” system of the Civil War, through which a draftee of means could hire a “substitute” in order to avoid service.  He is critical of deferments during the Vietnam era, stating they made Vietnam “the first of our wars to be fought almost exclusively by an American underclass and, in part because of this, at no time did it have anything like the full support of the American people.”

His arguments don’t convince me.  Let’s take what I believe to be his strongest point, namely, the egalitarian potential of compelling people from different backgrounds to work with each other.  I can’t dismiss that point altogether.  My only ready anecdatum runs in support of what Epstein says.  The father of a friend of mine was drafted to serve in Vietnam.  He says he entered the military a conservative racist and came out a pro-civil rights liberal.  (I’m paraphrasing my friend’s own paraphrasing of what his father said.  Take the dose of salt you deem appropriate.)  I can’t deny that a “truly universal” draft might very well foster a sense of mutual understanding via interaction.  And my own leveling instinct takes a certain pleasure in seeing some people (other people, not me, of course!) being knocked down a few pegs and compelled to work with their supposed inferiors.

But still, I’m skeptical.  If one person becomes more broad-minded by working with a diverse group of people, I can imagine another type of person for whom familiarity fosters a hyper-tribalism of the sort that says, “I’ve worked with those people and believe you me, you don’t want to know them.”  Okay, there will always be incorrigibles among us and maybe most people—maybe even most incorrigibles—really do soften their own bigotries by working with others.

I’m also skeptical because a “truly universal” draft is a fantasy, even when there is little likelihood of escaping service altogether.  If it’s not hiring substitutes or winning deferments, it can be having connections to get you into the National Coast Guard Reserve, it can be having the social capital, intelligence, or skills to get the type of job that keeps you more out of danger.  What about conscientious objector status?  Well, if we are to have a draft, I’d want there to be C.O. provisions, and I’d want access to those provisions to be expansive ones.  But then the draft is not truly universal (and C.O. status, as I understand, is hard to secure anyway, and someone with legal representation—read:  social capital and real capital, or being born into a religious tradition that disavows violence—would have a much better shot at it).

But as I said, that was Epstein’s strongest point and I can’t dismiss it altogether.  It reminds me of a very thoughtful comment ScarletNumbers made a while back in response to one of my posts on neoliberalism:  “I would still rather have a Fortunate Son serve in an ‘easy’ position in the military as a draftee, rather not be in the military at all” (asterisk omitted).  Even in an unfair system, some service for all is fairer than some people getting off free.  And ScarletNumbers might have also added that in modern warfare, the “‘easy’ position” is not always safe or easy.  (My uncle was “only” a mechanic in the military in World War II, and he had very disturbing memories of what he saw and underwent, especially during the Battle of the Bulge.)  And at any rate, because non-combat positions outnumber actual “combat” positions, there is a strong likelihood that any given draftee would have the supposedly “easy” position.

But that last point—non-combat positions outnumbering actual combat positions—feeds into my critique of what I take to be Epstein’s weaker point, the notion that a truly universal draft would convince our policymakers to be more careful before committing soldiers to action.  Because non-combat positions, which are supposedly “safer,” outnumber combat positions and because (I suspect) “only” a small percentage of people in actual combat positions suffer debilitating physical wounds, a policymaker might very well believe the odds are pretty good in favor his or her loved ones in the military, coming out okay.

I suppose that because we’ve never had a truly universal draft, I don’t really have a basis of comparison for Eptstein’s claim that policymakers would be more careful with their use of the military.  But I will point out that Truman committed US soldiers to Korea pretty quickly even though there was a draft.  The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which occurred during a time when the draft was in force and which empowered President Johnson to wage the Vietnam War, passed the Senate with only two dissents, fewer dissents than the authorization to invade Iraq in 1991 and 2002.

And then there’s World War II.  I admit, it lends support to Epstein’s point.  That is so not only because of the sense of shared sacrifice Americans supposedly felt during the war, but also because before Pearl Harbor there was fairly strong, albeit eroding, opposition to entering the conflict, and FDR had a hard time convincing the US to go to war.  Maybe what opposition there was to entry owed something to the fact that the draft had already been implemented in 1940?  Even so, the “Good War” was, I hope, exceptional, an King,_Stoddard_WW1_draft_card noted by the tendency to call it “good,” as if wars by definition are presumptively bad.  If a similar conflict arises, or if, as in a hypothetical commenter Roger once offered, the Mongols are surrounding the city gates, I’ll be prepared to reopen the debate, at least as it applies to that conflict.**

But that debate will have to account for one objection that Epstein—who says that “[a]rguments against the draft…are mostly technical”—declines to address.  Compulsory military service meets my common-sense definition (but apparently, not the Supreme Court’s definition) of “involuntary servitude.”  It requires a person to put his life on hold for a time—I believe the standard term of service was two years during the Cold War Era draft—and while in service, that person can be ordered to put his life in danger.  And I believe involuntary servitude is wrong, unless it is the punishment for a crime for which someone has been duly convicted.  And even without the Thirteenth Amendment, I’d still believe it would be wrong.

True, the draft is not chattel slavery.  But it is compulsory service, and if someone who would otherwise not choose to serve is compelled to serve or to face harsh consequences for not serving, then his service is involuntary.

The chief argument against my “involuntary servitude” point is to draw an analogy to jury duty or to the United States’ history of militia service.  And while I don’t fully sign on to Vikram Bath’s argument against analogies, I’ll point out the differences between military conscription and jury and militia service.  For most people called to jury duty, the process lasts only one day unless they are empanelled.  For most people who are empanelled, the duty lasts only about a week.  For only a small number, the duty may last months.  And only in very rare, Grisham-style, circumstances is a juror’s life ever in danger.  (Am I wrong?  I admit I don’t have a cite, but I do ask for the proof.)

Militia duty, when it’s not just an opportunity for homosocial male conviviality, is regular training for the possibility that the local community, or perhaps the country, might be invaded or imminently threatened in some way.  I’m not in principle opposed to militia duty defined that way.  But even then, I’d want the threat to be imminent.  And if the Mongols*** truly are at the city’s gates, I’d want to be sure that a tribute to pay them to go away is not a possibility before I’d admit to the state’s authority to compel my or anyone else’s service.  Whether in the moment I’d have the courage of my convictions to refuse to serve—or more likely, given my less-than-draftable age of 41, to help others refuse to serve—is another issue.

 

—————–

*Yes, I’m aware that Jewishness is as much an ethnicity as it is a creed, but Epstein’s example—a sergeant berating his Christian soldiers to go to Church and his “Hebrew” soldiers to honor the Sabbath—focuses on the creedal aspect of Jewishness.

**For the record, I believe Roger was arguing against compulsory service, stating that his hypothetical situation rarely arises.

***It probably needs to be said that I mean no offense to Mongolians or people with Mongolian roots.  I also realize the “Mongol horde” was not what European and Chinese myth has made it out to be and according to one interpretation, seems to have fit in a pattern of China’s relationship with its neighbors to its North.  See Thomas J. Barfield’s The Perilous Frontier:  Nomadic Empires and China, 221 B.C. to A.D. 1757.  (1989)

 

[Picture: Draft card, via Wikipedia.]

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139 thoughts on “Ain’t No Fortunate Son

  1. I’d be down with a compulsory draft *IF* there is a formal declaration of war. The moment victory is declared (or an armistice is signed, I suppose), the war is over and the draft ends.

    Oh, and if we get rid of the standing Army.

    Maybe we can keep the Navy, if we subsume the Air Force into it.

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    • Add some stipulations. If there’s a draft when war is formally declared:

      1) No exemptions for people with money. That is, you don’t get out of it by going to college, or by joining the National Guard because you know someone in high places, etc. If you’re in the age group, your draft number is as high as anyone else’s, no matter what.
      2) There is ample post-war compensation, like the G.I. Bill. You get conscripted, or you join, during a declared war, you get the home loan, the tuition, etc., when it’s done.

      If we’re going to force people to fight for us, we’re going to have to pay ’em well for it.

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      • No exemptions for people with money.

        There will always be favoritism of some sorts, even if not based entirely on money. I would have been in the first draft group of 1973 except that Nixon cancelled it (seriously, thank you Tricky Dick for allowing me to not have to make a hard choice). But I didn’t have to be a grunt in the Army; I could have walked down the street any time before the actual swearing in and signed up for the Air Force. Three years instead of two but I would have spent those years programming computers stateside as a technical sergeant instead of slogging through a swamp in Southeast Asia. Or in the words of my cousin, who was a damned fine tank mechanic in Vietnam, “Good tank mechanics were a scarce commodity. If there was a rocket or mortar attack on the base, I was at greater risk of suffocating from the weight of the tank crew members who had piled on to protect me than I was from the rockets or mortar shells. And I was strongly discouraged by the tank officers from ever leaving the base.”

        Money might not buy you an exemption, but it will buy you an increased opportunity to have skills that keep you out of the front lines.

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      • My personal problem with a draft is in these two words: draft number. Or as we called it back in the day when I had one, lottery number. A number where the prize wasn’t any of those things in the (2) list, but rather a greatly increased chance of being maimed or killed. A cheaper loan or tuition or whatever doesn’t do me a damned bit of good if I’m dead.

        If we’re going to have a draft, I want not just a declared war, I want a real war footing. Taxes go way up; consumer goods are tightly rationed; the government comes to me and says “We know you’re enjoying retirement, but you can do statistics, so report to the reconstituted Denver Ordinance on Monday to start your new job in QA testing high explosives.” Because if TPTB are in a situation where they can get away with that, they probably don’t need a draft for front-line troops, they’ll have plenty of volunteers.

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      • If the Mongols are truly at the gates then National Guard (aka those troops who stay to defend the city instead of going out to the battlefield) may be vital to the war effort.

        OK none of the wars the US is likely to fight in the foreseeable future involve actual invasion but if we are talking about the hypothetical situations that would justify a draft that has to be in there.

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    • I would’ve interested in seeing an analysis of the military posture that would leave us in.

      Naturally it would likely mean we were slower to respond to force when our interests are threatened.

      But how much slower and how much would the professionalism of a deployed force be affected? How would the other nations respond?

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      • Getting rid of a standing Army would gut American military capability.

        There’s a reason standing armies replaced feudal levies. In a modern world, and a modern army, those reasons have only intensified.

        Leaving aside the issue of ‘where do you get officers and commanders’ — You can turn out a basic infantry guy out in under a year if you push it — but you won’t have special forces, you won’t have decent unit coordination — forget complicated stuff like close artillery support or close air support — I’m not sure you could handle supposedly ‘simple’ stuff like mortars without a lot of friendly fire issues.

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      • The U.S. mobilized, trained, and deployed overseas (in one case, in two huge theaters) massive, largely effective modern armies twice in the last century in relatively short time spans, in both cases beginning with pretty bare bones standing armies with seriously outdated equipment.

        Hell, the second time they even had highly effective special forces (e.g., the Army Rangers and various airborne divisions, Merrill’s Marauders, the Marine Raiders), along with highly specialized units like ski-borne raiders and the 10th Mountain.

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      • I’ll add that the huge, expensive, extremely well-equipped standing army that the U.S. has now is entirely a product of the Cold War. In the years after the Cold War, having that huge standing army with all those shiny, advanced tanks and shoulder launched missiles and such, has undoubtedly had a big influence on how we’ve handled various conflicts, from Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait to the “War on Terror,” and in the latter case at least (probably the former, too), almost definitely not for the better.

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      • How much of our huge standing army is because of policies that seem to do constant active recruitment via ads that make joining the army look like a movie or a video game?

        I think one of the big issues that people have is that it knows seems many poorer people have an option between a dead-end job and joining the military. I remember reading a story several years ago about a guy who drowned during his training because he did not know how to swim or something like that. He was a smart kid but grew up really poor and the only thing his dad could really do for him upon graduating high school was get him a job at Wendy’s. There seems to be a largeish (but I am not sure how large) group of people who seem to have a military or nothing fate because of how the system is set up. Many of these people also seem to get pushed into infantry and not the places in the military where they would learn skills or if they are doing something it seems rather unskill building. This American Life did an episode about life on an aircraft carrier and one guy had a job of just restocking vending machines. That is all he did! I could only think about all the recruitment ads I saw that promised skill building for civilian careers and wondered if the guy would have signed up if he knew he would be restocking vending machines on an aircraft carrier.

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      • Up until Iraq 1 the US military was always mediocre when it faced combat. We learned lessons the old way in ww1 and 2, korea and VN, by taking hard defeats, losing people due to poor training and having to relearn how to be a winning military. Part of the story of US military post VN was learning how to train well so they could be good from day 1. This is also a lot more complicated to do now then it was when we deployed huge forces across the water in ww 1 and 2.

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      • Naturally it would likely mean we were slower to respond to force when our interests are threatened.

        No offense to Trex, but notice how easily that phrase – “our interests” – rolls off the tongue. How easily we slide from “our interests” to accepting that we have a legitimate right (??) to use force to defend them. Whereever they are. Whatever they are. (Well, they’re whatever we identify as a “national interest” yeah?) Seems to me a draft based on those interests requires a different justification than one based on border defense. For one thing, if our borders were seriously under attack – from the Mexicanucks, say – there’d be no shortage of volunteers. For another: Iraq!

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      • Up until Iraq 1 the US military was always mediocre when it faced combat.

        That’s not really true. In both World War I and World War II, the U.S. military was thrust into conflicts against battle-hardened units with years of combat experience, which led to some initial failures, but in both cases in less than a year the U.S. had forces performing pretty damn well. Particularly in World War II, where the North African, Sicilian, and Italian campaigns saw the emergence of the U.S. army as a world class fighting force able to match perhaps the most experienced and well-trained (and in some cases, best equipped) military in the world, the German Heer.

        ads are at the opposite end of the causal chain. The huge standing army exists because it is politically unfeasible to draw it down to any significant extent, and it is so as much for economic reasons as it is for reasons of “security,” precisely as Eisenhower warned.

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      • It was the assessment of the US Mil after the first months/year of ww2 that they needed to learn a hell of a lot more, revamp training and that they made many mistakes. Many weapons, like our torpedoes, did not work decently. It took a hard year or more of hard lessons to get good, which is my point.

        In Iraq I the Iraqi army was filled with battle hardened vets of the long Iraq/ Iran war. That didn’t help them much.

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      • Yeah, that is true: the U.S. military was not up to par with those of enemies that had been fighting a large-scale modern war for 2, 3, even 4 years by the time we were able to engage them in force. Hell, we likely wouldn’t be today if we were thrust into such a conflict, not because we don’t have a standing army, but because war is the best training for war.

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      • That’s one of the things that I’ve heard is troubling Russia, China, etc the most about Iraq and Afghanistan. America has a huge number of trained soldiers. Like, trained FOR REAL.

        I thought that that sounded silly until I looked at Ukraine through that perspective.

        It made a lot more sense, after that.

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      • The U.S. mobilized, trained, and deployed overseas (in one case, in two huge theaters) massive, largely effective modern armies twice in the last century in relatively short time spans, in both cases beginning with pretty bare bones standing armies with seriously outdated equipment.
        That was…60 years ago.

        There’s been a serious revolution in war fighting techniques (WWII was the beginning) since then, as well as arms and tactics.

        If nothing else, there’s a reason for the big tail to head ratio — something like the Air Force would be impossible without a standing air force, and in the US we’d have to write off the majority of artillery, tanks, anti-air doctrine — basically you’d have a whole bunch of unsupported guys with rifles and maybe mortars, who — even with the best American money could buy — would be eaten alive by any vaguely competent force.

        Modern combined arms doctrine has extremely fine tolerances, if you don’t want to accidentally explode your own people. You can use far less precision and adjust for it, but your effectiveness drops rapidly.

        In short, you dispense with a lot of the tactical possibilities.

        That’s for getting rid of a standing army entirely. You could shrink it, leaving a hard core of expert lifers who could be used to flesh out draftees, which would allow you to do both — except you’d have a lag time of several months, and your casualties among the draftees would be considerably higher than if they were careerists.

        In essence, that’s the system we HAVE — except instead of ‘draftees’ we have the National Guard to flesh out our numbers, and we keep them in training.

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      • That’s one of the things that I’ve heard is troubling Russia, China, etc the most about Iraq and Afghanistan. America has a huge number of trained soldiers. Like, trained FOR REAL.

        Trained for the most part against irregular troops practicing asymmetric warfare. In small countries each with one major city to be occupied. With decidedly mixed results. In all seriousness, where would the US deploy those troops that is of concern to either Russia or China? The Ukraine? Kazakhstan? Which countries would allow transit of any significant US forces to either? Iran has more population than Iraq and Afghanistan combined; sure, the US could smack down Iran’s military, and might “occupy” Tehran; but does anyone seriously think that occupation would be any more successful than the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan?

        In terms of immediate benefits, it might be better to use that military to occupy parts or all of Mexico than to attempt things on the other side of the globe.

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      • I’m torn. On the one hand, I do sympathize, and largely agree with, ‘s point about “our interests,” which phrase, I submit, probably is saddled with too much heavy lifting.

        On the other hand, I have a hard time imagining the type of world we’d be in if the US dismantled its standing army. I don’t consider myself a pacifist, even though I’ve opposed most (all?) calls for intervention I’ve heard about in the last 13 1/2 years.

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      • I, too, am bothered by recruitment videos, etc., although I don’t think they’re the driver for our standing army

        Also like you, I’m bothered by the fact that our “volunteer” army takes in volunteers whose choices are very constrained. (That’s not totally true. I know that relatively affluent people–i.e., not only the working poor–choose to enter the service. But I don’t know the numbers well-enough to know how much of a percentage those make. And for all I know, what seems like a free-ish choice to me might seem to even the relatively more affluent person as a least bad choice of a constrained set of options.)

        Still, I have to balance that which bothers me about the “all volunteer” army with other things that are in my opinion at least qualifiedly good. A very poor person who has to choose between Wendy’s and the army is better off than a very poor person who can choose only Wendy’s. Maybe the limited nature of what can be chosen is artificially limited, and maybe more robust education, apprenticeship, or other jobs programs could be a better way of expanding choice. Still, for many people (how many? I don’t know) the military is an opportunity for advancement they probably cannot get elsewhere.

        The other “good” thing. Our “all volunteer” army, even with its apparent reliance for recruits on the limited choices poorer people face, is probably better than a drafted army, where there is much less choice.

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      • I’ve known some that enlisted and didn’t go the academy route. However, they were probably more “working class and/or lower middle class” instead of “middle class and above,” so your point is well-taken. My point, though, is that while the people I know (I’m thinking in particular of my niece, my nephew, and a friend of mine from high school) probably believed that had fewer options than they did, they still had more options than the working poor who can look forward only to a job at Wendy’s.

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    • I think I would oppose the draft even in those circumstances unless we added something like “imminent invasion.” But then we’d face the WWII problem I bring up. If things get that bad, then maybe there should be a draft. I’m not ready to say I’d support it even then, but I think it would be discussable.

      But your conditions, along with ‘s conditions and ‘s provisos would make the system much fairer, in my opinion.

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  2. Yeah, come talk to me when “true universal” is worked out…’cause it’ll never happen.

    Better idea. Change the law so that all who voted for military action or war are the first to be drafted and put on the firing line..not serving in the back. When you know if you vote to go to war you’ll be the first ones taking incoming fire I think you’d see a drastic reduction in the desire to go to war.

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    • Fine rhetoric and fine moral reasoning but it seems difficult to implement.

      What if I were to vote for John McCain because I prefered his agricultural and economic policies but disagreed with his foreign policy views?

      Easier to implement in a direct democracy without a secret ballot but it seems devilishly hard to do in a representitive democratic republic.

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    • I agree, a “truly universal” draft will never happen. I do, however, slightly disagree with your second point, even as you qualify that point in response to Trex. Here’s why:

      I believe many who vote for war or join the army in the war believe casualties will be small as a proportion of the total serving. So they are willing to take a gamble. (That’s a hypothesis. There are probably many very complicated reasons why some people join voluntarily to fight and why some–alas, probably fewer than we’d like–vote to go to war.) Of course, if we could guarantee that the war hawks would be the first in line for super difficult amphibious invasion against intractable enemy, the risk/reward calculus would change dramatically.

      Still, even in that system, I think it would be wrong for them–who by accepting the increased risk show a certain bravery I admit–to compel me to risk my life.

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      • You have a good point. I think, however, that the first time the entire contingent of congress persons who get wiped out on the first way would tend to “moderate” the lust for going to war with any future congress persons. Remember, the point is “those who vote in congress for war are the first to be shot at in that war.” Doesn’t matter if they are 80 or 40. They arm up and walk into the line of fire. I think it would fur sure cause some “reconsideration”.

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  3. “It reminds me of a very thoughtful comment ScarletNumbers made a while back in response to one of my posts on neoliberalism: “I would still rather have a Fortunate Son serve in an ‘easy’ position in the military as a draftee, rather not be in the military at all” (asterisk omitted).”

    This might just teach that Fortunate Son that even the military is just another branch of the Corruption Society, and that the rules are still for others.

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    • Yeah, but he already learned that when he screwed the underage daughter of someone you don’t want to know about (and yes, I’m leaving out the nasty bits).

      The rich live in a world where the rules apply to other people. They tend to have pissy little screaming “it’s not fair” if they ever discover that there are people who are more powerful than they are.

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  4. You wrote:

    But still, I’m skeptical. If one person becomes more broad-minded by working with a diverse group of people, I can imagine another type of person for whom familiarity fosters a hyper-tribalism of the sort that says, “I’ve worked with those people and believe you me, you don’t want to know them.”

    It’s true that very few things work universally. But taken statistically, I think that Epstein’s hypothesis is important and powerful – when people of different social groups work together toward a common goal, it tends pretty strongly to ease intergroup tensions, and form new social bonds. This has worked in lots of different places on Earth.

    Staying alive, and killing those guys that are trying to kill us is a really easy goal to agree on, but there are others.

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    • Good point, . I actually think that’s one of Epstein’s stronger arguments, and one I can’t refute in toto. And the “hyper-tribal bigot” I posit is both an ideal type that doesn’t exist in its pure form or in a vacuum. So I can’t refute Epstein’s–and your–claim that a universal draft could have that good effect. I do dispute that that’s a sufficient reason to compel people to serve.

      I admit that if this discussion were about compulsory national service in some peaceful endeavor, my point would be weaker and Epstein’s stronger, at least as an argument for getting different people to work together. I think I oppose compulsory national peaceful service, and for similar reasons for which I oppose the draft. But my case would be weaker, being more insistent on the “involuntary servitude” claim (which I suspect most people don’t buy) and less insistent on my point that the service be life threatening.

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      • And now I will tell you the strongest counter-argument to this, which is that there are relatively few people out there trying to kill us, and basing our social cohesion on a mission of killing them and not getting killed is going to kind of fall apart once that truth becomes apparent.

        So I endorse the idea of supporting the formation of groups that have a shared, broad mission.

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      • I don’t know that I endorse a mandatory draft, or a mandatory CCC, though it works well enough in places like Switzerland and Israel. Those are much smaller countries, who don’t have quite as diverse a population to deal with.

        But I endorse the principle. I want to see more institutions that encourage and support the forming of groups based on a shared sense of mission rather than on a shared identity.

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  5. The idea that a military draft would stop military adventurism is laughable. France during the Third Republic had a military draft and democratic responsibility. It amassed the second largest colonial empire in Europe. Many of these colonies started before the Third Republic but not all of them dead, particularly the African ones. The American government also embarked on military adventures with a draft and democratic responsibility.

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    • It’s not like the U.S. was shy about throwing its troops around between 1948 and 1973, either.

      Perhaps the best period to look at, in the U.S., is the time between 1918 and 1941, when the standing U.S. military was tiny. The best way to prevent being quick to war is to not have a the military necessary to fight it. Once you have it, via conscription or volunteers, it becomes difficult to resist the collective urge to use it.

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    • I agree with that.

      The biggest counterexample to the “a draft prevents senseless conflict”-argument is WW1.
      A large percentage of the important decision-makers in the relevant countries (generals, cabinet members, parliament, etc.) had sons, grandsons and nephews fighting at the front. A lot of them actually lost them. Officers (which were recruited heavily from the upper classes) had a higher percentage of casualties than enlisted men.
      So if a draft didn’t help to prevent or quickly end this war – one of the more senseless modern conflicts – how could it do the same for future wars which are much more like to appear black-and-white, good-vs-evil?

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      • A quick bit of pedantry, which might be germane to the underlying topic*: France (and basically every other Continental power) did not have a draft prior to WWI, they had conscription**, in which every male citizen was required to sign up for a certain term upon reaching a set age, and remained in the reserves for a set number of years after that term was up. I suppose this might make the system somewhat more egalitarian: if is a certainty, rather than a chance, that a young man of military age will serve absent some sort of exemption, it removes the Join the Air National Guard route to avoiding combat.

        But, as mentioned above, the certainty that many political leaders would see their sons and grandsons and nephews in combat didn’t prevent war, and in fact the logistics of mobilizing large reserves contributed to the failure to de-escalate once the crisis hit.

        *I’m really not sure though, I need to think about this some more.
        **depending upon who you ask, these terms can be used interchangeably, but I’m going to stick to the distinction because there is a substantive distinction I do want to talk about.

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      • , a draft is conscription by lottery. Instead of requiring every citizen to serve, you require every citizen to register to serve and enlist as many as you need by pulling numbers out of a box. Drafts are useful when you want to have a requirement of military service but don’t need to put everybody in uniform for some given amount of time.

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      • I must not have made myself clear, but that’s the distinction I was trying to draw: between a draft that forces some random portion of eligible men into service, and conscription that forces all of them in.

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    • I remember that the British were pretty war mad during the days before WWI. “We want eight and we won’t wait” was a chant when seeing the new Dreadnaughts. Asquith was disgusted about how Londerners clamored for WWI and Lloyd George needed to find a way for his People’s Budget to include more military spending and social spending. He would have liked to cut the military budget.

      Plus we know live in the age of drone warfare. We can bomb without leaving home.

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  6. I’m still skeptical.

    I don’t know why the military gets signaled out as a an organization that can promote national unity above all others. Why not have a Civilian Conservation Corps or a Works Progress Admin or make everyone do the PeaceCorps? Why does national unity need to be built on learning how to use deadly weapons?

    WWII is also not a great example because it was highly controversial to start the draft in 1940 (I think you once criticized me for mocking American First as being largely right-wing) and there was plenty of rhetoric before and after Pearl Harbor about how WWII was a “Jewish War.” Bob Taft still didn’t want to go to war after Pearl Harbor, at least not in Europe and possibly not against Japan. He knew declaring war against Japan would get Germany and Italy to declare war against us (and so did FDR FWIW and FDR wanted Germany and Italy to declare war against the U.S.).

    I am also skeptical of the idea that a universal draft would get our “fearless” leaders in Washington to be more cautious about using military force especially in the age of drone warfare where you can bomb and be home for dinner with the family in the same day.

    WWII was undoubtably a good war but our Pundit class seems to downplay the fact that we had segregated military units, African-American units were often given the worst tasks, and we also interned the Japanese-Americans unjustly. They think it is all Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford in The Way We Were or steely British resolve. Pundits also like to mock against Munich moments but they forget that Munich was extremely popular when it happened, no one in Europe wanted another war and those that were opposed to Munich were alone in the wilderness for a while.

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    • “Why not have a Civilian Conservation Corps or a Works Progress Admin or make everyone do the PeaceCorps?”

      My answer is, it’s involuntary servitude.

      My beef isn’t with your mocking America First, and I agree, it quickly descended into an antisemitic tirade. But I remain hesistant to blame someone for not wanting to enter another European war. My main beef is with what I interpreted to be your baiting people who don’t agree with you on your preferred foreign policy positions as “America Firsters.” I admit I have strayed into misconstruing (not on purpose, but that’s on me) some (but I don’t think all) of what you’ve said.

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      • Well, even if someone is paid, their service is mandatory. I understand that even draftees were paid, too. For me the key definition is compulsion to service, forcing people to do, or punish them for not doing, that which they would not choose to do.

        I’ll admit that my notion of involuntary servitude gets pretty slippery pretty fast. If I pursued it as an absolute principle, I might have to abandon most business regulations, most safety regulations, and most taxation. It’s slippery in another way, too. It can imply slavery (chattel or other kind). In fact, that’s the most reasonable implication given the fact that it’s referenced in the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery. I’m not insisting that involuntary servitude is slavery, or if it is, it’s slavery as EuroAmerica really has never known slavery

        Now, if i had to choose among involuntary servitudes, I would choose the ones you prefer over the military draft.

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  7. This might not be totally (or even marginally) germane, but despite what I read often – that marriage and children could get one out of the Vietnam-era draft – I served with two different guys each of whom who were married and had a child and had been drafted despite that.

    And just one more anecdote about the draft. I enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1969 (idiot!) and while I was standing with about a hundred other guys at the intake facility being medially checked etc., a Marine sergeant strode over to two guys standing in the Army line and barked, “You and you! Come with me! You’re Marines!” and dragged them off to a vastly different future. God, the looks on their faces.

    I’ll stand on the “Against the Draft” side. There was an interesting notion in Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” where in order to be a voting “Citizen,” one must serve one’s country. Provisos: not necessarily military; all who wish to serve must be given the opportunity to serve. Emphasis on “all.” No idea if something like that would even be possible, but it’s an interesting idea.

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    • My family had a family friend who was married and drafted and served in Vietnam. I think his first child was born by that time but maybe not. He got married right out of college to his college sweetheart as people did back in the early 1960s.

      My dad got a draft deferment by teaching in Harlem during the day while he went to law school at night. There was some kind of deferment for teaching in disadvantaged communities. There were also the student deferments which helped explained why there was a sudden increase in college students. IIRC there were a lot of universities which sprung up during the height of Vietnam and collapsed into nothing once draft deferments were no longer necessary. The law school surge in the late 1960s and early 70s also happened because of Vietnam possibly. I’ve heard mixed reports about whether you could get a deferment for law school.

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      • With a few exceptions (mostly at a much younger age) I have worked in white collar, creative situations most of my life. Years of working with very, very educated people (scientists, filmmakers, educators, etc.). In the decades since 1970, I can count on one hand the number of people around my age who were veterans (out of hundreds that I have worked with). By and large, anyone my age who could go to college and wasn’t a goofball, went to college and got the deferment. (For the record, I respect their intelligence and have never felt any resentment.)

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      • I also only know a handful of people with college educations who served in Vietnam. One friend’s dad served as a medic and I believe this was after his undergrad but possibly before he did medical school. Another was the family friend mentioned above and one professor in college (he had burn marks from Agent Orange on his arm and it was the first time I saw someone who was injured because of Agent Orange).

        There are other people who went to college after Vietnam potentially.

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      • I did college after the service. (Thanks GI Bill!) Met a few vets at the university, but not many. I tended to keep my vet status low-key, but every once in a while somebody would catch on and I would be briefly interesting. I did work for a while in a VA hospital and in that situation, of course, had lots of vet contacts, but the Vietnam-era guys in those wards were definitely blue-collar. It was a class thing, this draft of ours.

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      • I went to college between 1998-2002 and there was a non-traditional student (as we called them anyone who wasn’t between 18-22) who was a Vietnam Vet and getting in his undergrad degree. I went to a small liberal arts college without graduate students and I would see him in the computer labs and computer rooms at dorms at night. I never really spoke with him but it was always interesting to see him. He had a girlfriend around his age that was always in his company.

        When I was in law school, there were some people who served in the military. One guy did join after undergrad intentionally and this was post-9/11. Another guy joined because he was 20, bored, and his buddy told him about the language school in Monterrey and he got in (this was right before 9/11 and they taught him Korean). Another person joined and admitted it was kind of an act of rebellion against their middle-class Bay Area upbringing at 18 (so she joined in 1998 but did two tours of Afghanistan/Iraq), and a friend’s husband was discharged right before 9/11.

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      • My mother’s father, who went to college on the G.I. bill after fighting (and losing an eye) in Europe, used to talk to me about the culture of the university in his time there (Carnegie-Mellon, though I believe it was just Carnegie at the time). He was in a fraternity that was composed entirely of vets, and the younger, traditionally college-aged students and vets were almost completely self-segregated in all aspects of university life except classes. My grandfather’s explanation was that the vets were men, because of what they’d been through, and they couldn’t stand the children.

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      • My alma mater was officially all women until 1969 but some of the first experiences with co-education was with the so-called Vassar Vets at the end of WWII. They received their degrees from SUNY until the college officially went co-educational in 1969 and then they switched to being the first men with Vassar degrees. Now Vassar is trying hard to admit Afhganistan and Iraq II vets via another Vassar Vet program. I don’t know how they relate to the general 18-22 year olds on campus.

        I think it could be a bit unfair of your grandfather because those 18-22 year olds were likely too young to serve during WWII. Though I do think the average age of a WWII soldier was older than the average age of a Iraq II soldier.

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      • Yeah, I don’t think fairness has anything to do with it. Just two groups of people at different life stages, with entirely different life experiences, so getting along in general was just not in the cards. I imagine there was a fair amount of condescension (you see a lot of it after WWI in Europe, too) towards those who were too young to fight, but we’re really just talking basic social dynamics.

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      • Saul and Chris;

        There is a bit of a disconnect with me in college, being a few years older than most classmates and having spent those years in the Corps. That really didn’t bother me (or them, I hope) much. O.k., so I could field strip an M-16…on the other hand, they had actually dated in high school. Maybe that sort of evened things out… ; )

        FWIW I was never the target of any negative vibes or comments through my entire university career (1971 – 1976).

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      • I’m glad it had changed 25 years on. . I imagine the massive influx of older college students in the late 40s, because millions came back from the war all at once, was the major reason why the two groups didn’t mix well.

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  8. Well worth reading is a recent article by James Fallows, also in The Atlantic, called “The Tragedy of the American Military.” One of Fallows’ points is that a universal draft would alter attitudes towards the military as an institution:

    At the end of World War II, nearly 10 percent of the entire U.S. population was on active military duty—which meant most able-bodied men of a certain age (plus the small number of women allowed to serve). Through the decade after World War II, when so many American families had at least one member in uniform, political and journalistic references were admiring but not awestruck. Most Americans were familiar enough with the military to respect it while being sharply aware of its shortcomings, as they were with the school system, their religion, and other important and fallible institutions.

    If any of my fellow travelers at O’Hare were still listening to the [President’s] speech, none of them showed any reaction to it. And why would they? This has become the way we assume the American military will be discussed by politicians and in the press: Overblown, limitless praise, absent the caveats or public skepticism we would apply to other American institutions, especially ones that run on taxpayer money. A somber moment to reflect on sacrifice. Then everyone except the few people in uniform getting on with their workaday concerns.

    Fallows’ point is that when we as a people lose our immediacy of contact with the military, we fail to feel the human cost of war and therefore go to war much easier and with less concern about victory than we would otherwise. Fallows, like Epstein, thinks a universal draft would serve as a check against the public dismissiveness of the military as an anonymous, faceless “they” who are somehow not a part of our culture who will of course prevail no matter what and therefore need not be given any further emotional or intellectual investment.

    My critique of Fallows (on this point) is that I believe he significantly overstates the case for our culture’s dismissiveness of the military and of military people. I think he fails to appreciate how many people know and love those who serve, or at who have served; the degree to which soldiers and sailors and pilots are both lionized as heroes and depicted as flawed human beings in popular media; and the fact that people do distinguish between the politicians who give the military its missions and the military that then executes them, and thus have grown frustrated with missions that do not seem to have a tangible political objective while embracing a military that dutifully serves no less enthusiastically.

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    • I’m not sure I agree with your last paragraph. As I read him, Fallows was arguing that diminished contact with the military leads us to venerate the military in a shallow way that inhibits critical thinking about how to make the military an effective instrument with which to achieve national goals. A public that venerates the military can still be a public that isn’t engaged with questions about military priorities, the procurement process, doctrine, tactics, etc.. So

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      • I don’t know if I fully understood where was going, but I will say that I know many members of the military (all COs) and with near unanimity they would prefer less veneration and greater understanding and support of what they actually do. The phrase, “I’ll take fewer parades if it means fewer wars,” captured the sentiment well.

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      • OK, here goes. So the notion is that our debates about military force primarily concern who to use it against and when. What they don’t much deal with is how, exactly, to use military force most effectively. So Fallows argues (and I think I agree) that today very few Americans are interested in whether the F-35 is a good use of resources, how we should balance resources between the Army, Navy, and Air Force, whether the Air Force should prioritize fighters, bombers, close-air support, transport, etc. This is in stark contrast to WWII, Korea, or Vietnam, where lots of people absolutely were interested in whether to prioritize the European or Pacific theatres, cared about the fact that Sherman tanks were outclassed by their German antagonists, or were concerned about reliability issues with the M16. The cause of this, and the key difference between today and past wars, is that vanishingly few Americans know anybody who is flying the planes or firing the rifles in our wars today, where in past wars almost everybody either was in harm’s way or knew people who were.

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        • Yeah, that’s a logical extension of Fallows’ argument. I take issue with the contentions that a) only a small number of Americans know servicemembers, and b) public disinterest in military policy is caused by lack of personal interaction with those involved in the military.

          Though I’ve not served personally, I count a number of veterans, including combat veterans, in my immediate family (I was born in an Army hospital in Germany while my father and his GDR counterpart were looking at each other through binoculars somewhere near the Czech border), and a large number within my circle of close and somewhat-close friends. Most of my parents’ friends when I was growing up and a sizeable number of my friends now are employed by military contractors. A partner in my current law firm, a man only a few years older than my father, did a tour in the artillery in Vietnam and is mostly deaf in one ear to this day. I was law partners with a guy who was an officer in the Guard who served in Iraq I, Iraq II, and the Balkans, and we tailored the terms of our business partnership to accomodate the likelihood of his being activated for long periods of time. A sizeable number of my clients are active-duty, in the reserves, in the guard, or retired; when I adjunct-teach, all of my students are active duty or employed by military contractors and my classes are taught, often as not, on a military base which obliges me to enter military territory periodically. I have handled litigation involving the military, sometimes as a third party and sometimes as an adversary. I feel a close enough proximity to the military, and interact with a large enough number of people in the military, such that I can feel unlike that public whom Fallows describes as “awestruck” but “ignorant” and therefore whose only thoughts or expressions about the military is vapid, mawkish praise. I don’t think I’m the sort of person Fallows was writing about.

          But here’s the thing — I don’t think I’m all that special in this regard. I suspect a great deal of people have multiple, personal, and immediate contact with people in and closely involved with the military. I suspect the sort of person Fallows was writing about are relatively few in number.

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      • My experience (anecdotal, yes) tells me that connection with the military tends to be very concentrated. You know a number of people. I know a number of people. But many people know zero. There are probably a number of reasons why I suspect this is the case

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      • An anecdote: I was speaking with a former Air Force guy 3 (or 4?) years ago now and asked him “what percentage of people in the military have parents in the military? Half?”

        And he said that that guess was low to the point where it wasn’t even in the ballpark. He guessed that the number was closer to 75 or 80 percent.

        While that doesn’t really prove the point, it does seem to indicate some amount of clustering.

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      • I wonder to what extent your experience reflects geographic clustering? There’s a lot of military presence in California. My experience cuts the other way. Off the top of my head, I can only identify five people I know that have served post-Vietnam, and none of them have seen combat or been deployed to a war zone. This does undercut my geography theory a bit, as NC definitely has a lot of military presence too.

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      • It’s true that there’s a lot of military in California. But another one of Fallows’ points is that there’s a lot of military everywhere. He holds up the F-35 sourcing network as a masterpiece of political engineering: every single Congressional district in the US has at least one contractor or subcontractor producing parts for the aircraft. (Granted, it’s my Congressional district where they are actually test-flown. I’ve seen them up in the sky many times.) So whether or not the aircraft is the best thing in the skies or not, any member of Congress who votes against the F-35 is voting against jobs in their own district.

        Let’s do a survey. I’m willing to bet that the readership of this blog is at about maximal isolation from the military, in the sense that Fallows writes about. How many people do you personally know and associate with who are a) actually in some level of military service, whether that is active duty, guard, or reserve; or b) employed by or in direct relation to the military, including working for a contractor that derives a large amount of its income providing parts or services to the Department of Defense; or c) have actually served in the military themselves (including those who are retired or discharged, even dishonorably)?

        With respect to related subjects of recent interest, how many people personally know police officers, whether as family or social friends, or through some sort of professional interaction?

        It’s got to be a lot.

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      • Dad and two uncles were WW 2 vets. I’ve known a handful ( 7-10 so a couple handfuls i guess) of AF people or spouses as friends and worked with literally hundreds of army and AF personal as clients

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      • I think it might be geographic. It really took me until law school to know people in my generation who served in the military. I knew one guy in high school who applied to West Point but did not get in. I knew one guy in grad school who spent a year at West Point before deciding it was not for him and he transferred. I would see people in their uniforms around NYC, it is not an uncommon site to see people returning to bases after a weekend forlough at home. It is a pretty uncommon site in the Bay Area.

        I don’t think my undergrad had enough interest to maintain an ROTC program. Neither did my grad school institution. My law school’s undergrad institution does have a decent sized ROTC program and there was a controversy in SF about whether high schools should bring back JROTC.

        It was just not a thing in my upper-middle class upbringing to enlist in the military after high school unless you got into the service academies and I don’t think many people applied.

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      • Burt,

        Interesting, now that you mention it: I know lawyers, tradesmen, teachers, doctors and nurses, businessmen, academics, waiters, restaurant owners, engineers, bus drivers, contractors, accountants, and so on … but not a single cop. I don’t even know anyone who knows one.

        Is that due to my own insularity?

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      • , I served in the Navy for just under nine years. Both of my brothers served during the Vietnam era. We were all fortunate to not see combat. I’m not sure because I’ve never asked, but I believe they both volunteered strategically to avoid worse duty via the draft. One was a supply clerk in Germany and the other was in the Reserves and never left the States.

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      • I’m not sure of how strategic “strategic volunteering” was in those times, . My father’s enlistment was neither strategic nor particularly voluntary, given that his college’s dean wasted no time alerting the selective service board this his grades were no longer sufficient to entitle him to academic deferment. yet somehow he wound up in Germany instead of the ‘Nam at a time young men were in high demand there.

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      • , per another of my comments on this post, it was certainly feasible. I could have enlisted, swapping three years of programming computers (I had the request aptitude) in the Air Force stateside for two years of slogging through a SE Asia swamp in the Army. Or alternatively, run to Canada to study computer science at any number of schools there. Or married one of the women in Lincoln, NE who volunteered for paper marriages to keep men out of the military. Anyone who wanted to avoid Vietnam badly enough could do so; it was a matter of whether you wanted to pay the cost.

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      • How many people do you personally know and associate with who are a) actually in some level of military service, whether that is active duty, guard, or reserve; or b) employed by or in direct relation to the military, including working for a contractor that derives a large amount of its income providing parts or services to the Department of Defense; or c) have actually served in the military themselves (including those who are retired or discharged, even dishonorably)?

        One coworker is a former marine. A niece and nephew enlisted (and my niece met her now husband while serving in Iraq). A cousin became a pilot. My uncle (aunt’s husband) served in WWII. A distant cousin (now passed away) was at Pearl Harbor. Another cousin joined the army in the early 1980.

        I’ve never served.

        With respect to related subjects of recent interest, how many people personally know police officers, whether as family or social friends, or through some sort of professional interaction?

        My brother and his wife are retired sheriff deputies. A cousin is a cop in the Las Vegas area.

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      • Well, I’m sure some of the folks I know actually know cops, I just never hear about it.

        But yeah, what I said. The last time I interacted with a cop in a social setting was about 14 years ago at my wife’s HS reunion. All he did was tell stories about the crazy shit cops do when they get together. The last cop I knew personally was in a really tiny town in Texas. Like really small. The only other time I personally knew a cop was in another really tiny town in CO (Creede, fwiw) about 25 years ago.

        I’ve had casual interactions with cops when they’re on duty – usually after they take the cuffs off at the station – but no interactions with them in a social setting in a long while.

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    • Thanks for the Fallow link. I probably won’t read it right away, but I’ll try to get to it. As to your broader point, I think I agree. But maybe it’s a question of margins: maybe there’s some margin along which politicians (and regular citizens) act more wisely and less cavalierly if there’s a critical mass of people in the military. Even if so, I’d hesitate to claim that justifies the draft.

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  9. Nice piece, Gabriel.

    Am I being too cynical if I say that I’m dismayed that the only way to convince certain public servants to exercise caution when it comes to the use of force to kill people is to put their loved ones potentially in harm’s way?

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  10. Let me put a related question, would a new draft be for both men and women or just men? BTW it should be noted that 30%+ of the folks subject to the draft in WWII were found to be 4f.(i.e. not capable of serving). Various military types hint that the ratio might be above 50% today with the obesity epidemic criminal records, and other issues. If 50% fail the physical and mental tests then part of the reason cited for the draft evaporates. So for example one could beat the draft by pigging out at Mcdonalds for a year or so.

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    • I chose my masculine pronouns in the OP deliberately. Even in today’s enlightened age, I don’t think a new draft would compel women to serve, or at least not in a combat-related capacity.

      As for the number of people who would be 4F now, I’m not qualified to say or even speculate. But hey, it’s the internet, so here’s my speculation: if the military needs the people, they’ll lower the bar to make sure they get it. That’s just a guess, though.

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      • The Israeli draft might be a relevant comparison. Everyone goes through testing. The IDF then takes its pick of the people it wants. Some of the rest are deferred, most are exempted for “incompatibility.” If what they need this year is drone pilots, it doesn’t matter that you’re a near-sighted overweight couch potato — you’re in. If they’re already full up on 185 cm 95 kg physical fitness specimens, you’re either “incompatible” or put into one of the deferment categories and they’ll look at you again next year. The IDF is struggling — the demands of modern military tech for a professional army is beginning to make a joke out of their universal service thing.

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      • I disagree with you. I think a modern draft would have to include women, if only for political reasons. They might be excluded from combat positions in the front lines, though.

        I have no idea how representative the pictorials are, but I have seen photo galleries of female members of the IDF, and they are smoking.

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      • I think a big part of what drives this debate is not what effect a universal draft would have on the military, or whether the military needs a universal draft, but rather what effect a universal draft would have on the culture. Israel’s experience here seems instructive to me. I am not an Israeli and can only report on what I real in the press, so here’s what it looks like to me with the understanding that the information available to me has likely been lensed to an appreciable degree before I can even evaluate it.

        IDF service appears to drive up patriotism (probably by inculcating the idea that the graduated soldier has now made a personal investment in the state of Israel and will not want to see that investment made forfeit) without squelching at least some significant political disagreement about policy — except with respect to national security and military policy, in which it seems to mold public opinion more towards the “hawkish” camps. Whether that mean it “indoctrinates” the youth into rejecting conciliatory political resolutions with Palestinians or it “educates” the youth into seeing the true nature of the problems inherent in co-existing with Palestinians is a matter of the viewer’s opinion.

        What it does not seem to do is affect the IDF alumnae’s willingness or ability to constructively criticize the IDF itself. As in the US, it appears that the bulk of the criticism of the IDF in Israel appears to come from the political left, who are in response derided by the political right as somehow deficient in their patriotism.

        Obviously, there are inevitably going to be exceptions, but that seems to be the general trend: the IDF service experience seems to be molding the opinion of the future voter in a hawkish direction and to heighten the future voter’s nationalism.

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      • , but demographics are not on the side of the IDF experience being any sort of unifying thing in the long term. This past year Israel changed the law so that the Haredim are subject to conscription for the first time since the country was founded (and the Haredim are not happy about it). Arab citizens are not subject to conscription. Neither group volunteers at a meaningful rate, but between them account for about 50% of the current first-graders in the country. Both groups are growing faster than the population as a whole. The court system has started allowing laws that de facto discriminate against Arab citizens: if a citizen marries someone from <short list of countries and locations including Gaza and the West Bank>, that spouse is never eligible to become an Israeli citizen.

        I am so glad that I’m not a young Israeli politician — all of the choices look bad.

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      • Not only are the Haredim not happy about no longer being exempt from conscription, but the IDF is not happy either. The Haredi by and large lack the education and skills to be soldiers in a modern high tech army. Their “separate but equal” educational system teaches a lot of Torah but not much math and science. So the IDF is now in the position of having to do something with people who are completely unsuited to be soldiers in a modern high tech military in order to appease the politicians who are trying to appease the secular Israelis upset that the Haredi are not pulling their weight. The end result is going to be all-Haredi make-work brigades, thus not at all contributing to national unity.

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    • I think if there’s a new draft, it should apply to both men and women (provided they meet the other standards for being able to serve). Fair’s fair. Equality should apply to obligations as well as to rights. I also think it would be effective in discouraging war-making.

      (Granted, this is a moot point for me, as even if Canada instituted conscription, my religious beliefs would qualify me for conscientious objector status.)

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      • I have to admit that I’m surprised at how strongly I feel about this, even after all the years since I was subject to a draft. Equal opportunity to be maimed or killed. If that isn’t there, then some group’s getting a special deal, no matter what anyone else says.

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  11. Some points:

    1. Modern high-tech militaries utilize force multipliers that make one soldier the equivalent of a dozen WW2 soldiers (nevermind WW1 soldiers). Our current Army of around 400,000 soldiers has more firepower than the WW2 army of over 4,000,000 soldiers in early 1943. The reality is that we don’t need — and cannot arm and equip — an army much larger than around 600k soldiers right now. And we have sufficient volunteers to fill these ranks without a draft.

    2. If we did decide to use draftees rather than volunteers, the small size of a modern high-tech military means that the chances of any specific person being drafted would be slim. There are roughly 6 million Americans arriving at age 18 in any given year. If we drafted 600,000 of them, that means a 1% chance of being drafted. If you think that would prevent wars, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

    3. If we decided to instead conscript *everybody* to provide that universal service, we have no place to put all those young people given the many base downsizings that have been done over the past thirty years, and nothing to arm them with given that we’ve finally exhausted the WW2 stocks of guns and ammunition (meaning even tired old M1 rifles from WW2 aren’t available).

    4. Assuming we do a draft rather than universal conscription, we’d have to draft people for a minimum of 4 years today, because that’s how long it takes to train a modern high-tech warrior. The old days of drafting kids for 2 year enlistments are long gone, even a “grunt” (infantryman) needs specialized training at Ft. Benning nowadays to be able to use the wide variety of force multipliers available to today’s infantryman.

    The reality is that current high tech militaries simply don’t need the kind of mass manpower that would make a draft viable as a method of social engineering. While I can approve of the general sentiment, the logistics simply aren’t workable given the nature of a modern military.

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    • The army has an enlistment goal of 57k for active and 18.3 for reserve and ocs. A total accession goal of about 75k. If we take the 6,000,000 million number of folks arriving at 18 any year that implies a need for 1.25% of the age class. But today the army rejects 80% of those who apply. Implying a need for between 6 and 7 % of those qualified in the age group. Now the first interesting question is how would the standards change, given that you can fail to qualifiy if you don’t pay your debts (no security clearance) thus an easy way to beat the draft, spend spend spend on the credit card. Thus with todays standards no draft could meet the goals cited in the article.

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      • If I remember correctly, the army’s somewhat strict height and weight requirements caused them to reject ~20% of enlistees in 1941/42, until they realized that the depression had resulted in a lot of short, underweight people in their late teens and early 20s, and relaxed the requirements somewhat.

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  12. a very thoughtful comment ScarletNumbers made

    Well that’s a bet a lot of people here would have lost. ;)

    In all seriousness, thanks for the kind words, especially since you don’t agree with my overall position.

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  13. Whether you are to the left or to the right or politically, or even think of yourself as something else, I commend today’s column by my friend, law school classmate, and colleague Kurt Schlichter, Col., U.S. Army (Ret.) — the first he has published since his retirement from the military on Friday — as rather directly on point with the issues raised in the OP and the ensuing discussion thread.

    A few things from the column that I call out for your attention here:

    1. Now freed from the need to avoid directly criticizing military leadership, Schlichter calls out top brass for bad behavior, both personally and institutionally. Maybe this isn’t as deep a set of criticisms as one might prefer; the point of the column, however, is to reflect upon the military as a whole following the author’s recent retirement from it so of necessity it’s all going to be brief.

    2. While dispensing liberal praise for the earned accomplishments of his troops and the NCOs who directed them, Schlichter is neither awestruck by them nor offers a whitewash to his readers — he describes some troops as giving him “consternation.” These aren’t paragons of soldierly perfection: they’re fallible people who despite their flaws, foibles, and failures have done remarkable things.

    3. Schlichter turns to those within his own ideological trench and in rather direct terms tells them to get over the gays-in-the-military thing already, based on his own direct experience. I despair, in skimming the comments, that this message was heard only by some. On a personal level, I can assure even the most liberal of readers here that for the more than twenty years I’ve known him, this has always been his attitude about gay soldiers: the “soldier” part is what matters, not the “gay” part.

    Kurt and I disagree on political matters probably more often than we agree. I’m one of the few people on Earth with whom Kurt will habitually disagree in civil and reasoned terms — note that I distinguish between “bluntness” and “disrespect” and while I’m often treated to a healthy dose of the former Kurt has never served me up the latter. Our friendship, respect for one another as lawyers, and shared professional history are a stronger bond than mere political disagreements can fissure.

    But I’ve nothing to disagree with in Kurt’s column today. It is the sort of thing that both the Epstein post referenced in the OP and the extensive Fallows article I referenced in an earlier comment claim does not exist in contemporary public discourse: an informed, respectful criticism of particular aspects of the military. It’s precisely this sort of thing that keeps our military both honorable and effective.

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