Bringing Back the Draft Won't Fix the "Marginalization" Problem

July 3, 2000

Comment: #370

Discussion Thread:  #s 365, 366, 367, 368, and 369

The following email takes exception to Herber Fenster's call for a return to the draft (see Comment #369). The author is a well-regarded conservative member of the congressional staff (House) with a libertarian perspective.

----[Email from the Hill]-----------

Herb Fenster's piece, "Why Personnel Problems Reflect the Marginalization of Soldiers from Culture and Society," makes some good points about the seeming gap between military personnel and the general society, but veers off occasionally into some rather ill-considered diagnoses and recommendations.

Mr. Fenster is undoubtedly right that there is a gap, but in characterizing the military as being "marginalized" by society, he is attributing false causation.

Is "society" really "marginalizing" the same military which it consistently praises to the skies in every known public opinion poll?

What marginalization exists is more of a self-inflicted wound.

It is in fact the civilian and military leadership at DOD, not "society" (the favorite bogeyman of 60s radicals) that is to blame. Ma and Pa Kettle in South Succotash didn't decree, reinforce and entrench the system of military hospitals, daycare, housing, grocery stores, etc., that effectively segregates military personnel from civilian society; these are in part the products of the DOD leadership and its allies in Congress. Mr. Fenster in fact suggests this point later in his piece, after tripping over the red herring of "society." Admittedly, Congress always votes to maintain (and increase) the non-cash benefits that tend to restrict the military to a base-bound life, because no Member would dare being branded "anti-military." But why would Congressmen even care if society at large had already marginalized the military?

And why would the military leadership segregate its membership from society at large? Probably because, once a person has reached general officer rank, he really does think he is apart from (and perhaps better than) slack civilians. It's not unknown.

Or maybe because DOD's military leadership is so obsessed with colossal, expensive weapon systems that they don't give long-term personnel problems the attention they deserve.

While I agree with some of his comments, Mr. Fenster's cure is worse than the disease.

Universal military training—the favorite panacea of hairy-chested liberals nostalgic for that good, ol' World War II feelin', when we were all united in a common goal—just won't fill the bill.

The problem is that there are too many people to have a fair draft that meets today's needs. Census data indicate about 4 million Americans (more or less) turn 18 each year. What, pray, will this gargantuan phalanx be doing in today's high-tech military, along side the million or so long-service professionals? Emptying bedpans? Raking pine cones outside the Fort Bragg O-club? I doubt they'd be doing avionics repair on an F-22, let alone flying one.

But if we don't force everyone into military, equity suggests we force the others to something. Where should others be forced to go? Into a make-work national service program, like cutting grass and picking up trash in parks, painting over graffiti in slums, or guarding high-income neighborhoods?

Even most European countries (derived from the tradition that the citizen is the personal property of the Sovereign, or later of the omnipotent State) have come to recognize that a conscript "national" army is an anachronism in the modern age.

The old levee en masse, where some peasant or prole was given a rifle, barked at by a sadistic sergeant, and ordered to die miserably at Verdun, ain't coming back.

Furthermore, coercion won't produce the kind of highly skilled, professional soldiers we need to prevail in the Fourth Generation War Mr. Fenster correctly foresees.

There is no other reason to have millions of conscripts under arms. If you don't like the fact that today's youth wear nose rings and never heard of Bastogne, then maybe we've got a societal dysfunction that far transcends the poor power of DOD to repair.

Actually, for the United States, World War II and the Cold War were the anomaly, not the rule. For the rest of our history, we had a small, long-service, "James Jones/From Here to Eternity" type army. Today's military does not come close to being as isolated as those guys were.

But the old army was in the tradition of a libertarian, constitutional republic. Universal military training rose and fell with centralized, smokestack, command and control economies in the century of Total War. Reviving it is about as plausible, and about as useful, as resurrecting the steel mills of Gary or Youngstown.

----[End email from a congressional staff]----

Chuck Spinney

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