I am in favor of a mandatory national service for the youth of the nation.
I want a draft.
I am a serving Marine officer. I am in a Corps of elite warriors, drawn from the best and most motivated recruits, trained specially for fighting wars, and bred with an élan of professionalism. My brethren and I take our professional obligations extremely seriously. Some of the single-term Marines (who intend on getting out after a single enlistment) look at professionals like me and my peers as ‘lifers’ or ‘careerists’, bringing to mind a slew of negative connotations. Bottom line, I’ve been called to defend the United States and it’s Constitution, and that is why I freely pledged my life to its defense. I’m a member of several associations dealing with the Profession of Arms. The studying of my craft has never ceased since it began ten years ago, and hopefully it will not end for another 30 years. I study my craft on my free time, in formal schools, during exercises, and in actual combat. I have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have sailed on Navy ships, visiting ports and showing the flag to people of a dozen nations. I will continue to do this so long as I am able.
And yet I want a draft. I want a bunch of individualistic, averagely-educated, smart-talking, dirty, rich, poor, and middle-classed people to join my military because the country has deemed it right to force them to.
In World War I, the draft in America was imposed to ensure equal measures of sacrifice were exacted from the population. It was not aimed at whom you would expect: the upper classes. The draft’s goal was to ensure that not too great a sacrifice was exacted on the opinion-makers, tycoons, sons of the political classes, etc, as these groups tended to enlist at far greater rates than the poorer classes. (source: AWOL, p. 108) Perhaps it was a sense of noblesse oblige that was remaining from Victorian times that caused this. Perhaps there was a sense of duty that was bred into the young people, and a sense of obligation to maintain (and restore, as necessary) the freedom bestowed by the earlier generations.
Indeed, military service was common to the political class of those years. And once power accrued to those members of the political class, their young continued to serve. FDR’s son James served in the Marines–not in a cushy staff job, but as a front line combat Marine in the elite 2d Raider Battalion. Another FDR progeny, Elliott, served with distinction in the Army Air Corps. TR’s son served in World War I. Harry Truman and JFK served, though their children did not. GHW Bush served with distinction, and his son GW Bush did as well (although with an extreme lack of distinction, to put it very mildly). Al Gore served.
Clinton did not serve. Nor did Dick Cheney, who managed to escape service by means of 11 draft deferments.
The vast bulk of our representatives and senators have no service under their belts. Rather, they are attorneys. And that is a serious detriment to our national power. What specifically qualifies a person with political connections and a law degree to authoritatively comment on American national power? Sure, after several terms, the Representative/Senator may garner enough experience to muddle his way about the armed forces, but only after several terms of trial and error.
Furthermore, how many Senators and Representatives were bruised at being called ‘unpatriotic’ in the run up to the Iraq War? Many claim this, and there may be some truth to it. But a large reason they are vulnerable to this charge is that they lack any terms of service as a soldier. Notice that nobody questioned the patriotism of James Webb (Democratic Senator from VA), or the few others with national service.
Widespread service would allow us to escape the paralyzing ‘Support the Troops’ politics. Having served, we would know what real support is. Having children who are currently serving would ensure we are intimately connected to their needs at all times–not just when it is politically advantageous during the election cycles. Furthermore, it could prevent unnecessary foreign wars, as our sons and daughters would be intimately familiar with the front lines and decisions in Washington would have grave or wondrous effects on the battlefield. And for those wars we are engaged in, a draft army would stiffen the resolve, as those who do serve know that war are not ‘Ended,’ as Code Pink would have you believe. Rather, they are ‘Won’ or ‘Lost’, in proportion to the resolution, generalship, technical ability, and moral clout of the nations fighting.
A draft is certainly demanding. It is demanding to the corps of military professionals to deal with, frankly, a mass of amateurs. More so, it is straining on the individual Americans who would be obligated to serve. Yet this is not immoral, unjust, or wrong.
The professional military can cope with masses of citizen soldiers. Not overnight, but given time, we will rediscover the institutions necessary to make good soldiers, sailors, and airmen. We have done so in the past, and other militaries continue to do so today. This problem is not insurmountable.
It would seem immoral, unjust, or wrong only to those who have been so pampered by “safe” existence provided by over-protective nanny-parents, and to those who have escaped the burdens of guarantying freedom by wealth and influence. Is it too much to ask that we, as democratic citizens, require, in equal measure, to pay our debt incurred by the freedom we exercise? Are we content to rely only on the professionals (those who have been called) and the bribed (those who receive astronomical bonuses to stay in) to guaranty defense?
There is the economist argument against the draft, too. Milton Friedman, conservative arch-economist, famously argued against the draft, saying that it is not economically efficient for the individual or the state. There may be some truth to that. Nonetheless, I do not subscribe to economism–that all worth is determined by monetary value. Furthermore, capitalists understand the importance of the liberal order they conduct business in. The institutions of private property rights, political freedom, transparency, due process, and fair regulation are all prerequisites for a successful market capitalism. These prerequisites must be guaranteed, such guaranties are not always economically efficient.
Nor does economic efficiency translate into military effectiveness, except at the grand-strategic level, where political, military, economic, cultural, and other forms of national power are indistinguishable. At this level, a nation more-solidly and resolutely under arms only adds to national power.
Now, surely, I would allow those with demonstrated conscientious objection to decline military service. They would not escape service–there is other work to be done as well.
Nor would I take away the volunteer complexion of the Marines or of other special units like the Special Forces, Rangers, or Submarine duty. Volunteerism also counts, especially in elite and special units.
I would also maintain a professional officer corps and a professional corps of senior enlisted troops, as a single term of duty is insufficient to provide the leadership at high levels that is due to the sons and daughters of America.
National service, especially military service, strengthens our democratic society. It ensures the sacrifices are levied in a democratic manner with equal hardship to all. It ensures a more informed polity, more familiar with the good and bad aspects of American power. It would help us to avoid conflicts not vital to our interests, and would stiffen our resolve in the fights we do engage in.
Most of all, a draft would ensure freedom is maintained by all, for all. Not by the few, for the remaining.
The Emergence of a Seperate American Warrior Caste, by Dymphna (at Gates of Vienna)
On Forgetting the Obvious, by Kaplan
AWOL, by Roth-Douquet and Schaeffer
Citizen Soldiers, Ambrose
One Bullet Away, Fick
Carnage and Culture, Hanson