The Personnel Crisis is Not About Selling Fruit Loops

July 5, 2000

Comment: #371

Discussion Thread:  #s 365, 366, 367, 368, 369, 370

Related Threads - #s 126, 136, 137, 206, 281, 282, 303, 321, 336, 337, 344


1] Greg Jaffe, "New Report Says Military's Advertising Is Ineffective, Reaches Wrong Audience," Wall Street Journal, July 6, 2000. Excerpts attached.

Captain Damon's critique of the Army's analysis of its own disastrous retention rates for captains [Comment #365] triggered a flow of emails culminating in Herbert Fenster's call to end marginalization of the military by reinstating the draft [#369], among other things. This was followed by a counter-argument from a conservative staff member of the House of Representatives [#370].

The following two emails present additional pro and con cases on question of reinstating the draft. Some may argue that a debate over returning to the draft is useless in today's political environment, but the question keeps cropping up among thoughtful people who are deeply concerned about the rapidly deteriorating state of the U.S. military.

One of the recurring themes in the debate over recruiting and retention is a perception of a growing disconnect between the military and the larger society, what Fenster called "marginalization."

The first email is from Col Mark Pizzo, an active duty Marine assigned to the National Defense University. While he does not agree with Fenster's argument about "marginalization," he also rejects the staffer's libertarian views. Pizzo nevertheless supports Fenster's call for the draft by laying out the benefits universal military service would have for the entire nation.

The second is from Emery Nelson, a proud citizen, former soldier, and father. His case against the draft boils down to the basic mistrust of big government and institutionalized power that led the Framers of the Constitution to limit a standing army and establish a general system of checks and balances to protect the individual from abuses by his or her government. In this context, Nelson argues that re-instituting the draft in isolation will merely serve to paper over and endorse the leadership failures that have created the personnel crisis to begin with and thereby eliminate any possibility for real reform.

Email #1:

Case for the Draft
by Col Mark Pizzo, USMC

It might be only natural to return from a grand Fourth of July that represents the "spirit of America" and get "fired-up" over the discussions of Mr. Fenster and a congressional staffer.

Both pieces hit the hard points of a very contentions and spirited issue, how to meet the military needs of our country. I do not buy into the "marginalization" discussion for the very reasons that are expressed in comment #370. At the same time, characterizing universal service as "demeaning labor" and suggesting WWII and the Cold War were anomalies is both short-sighted, and definitely "libertarian." Since being "united in a common goal, just won't fill the bill," perhaps we should change our name from the United States to Individualism Island.

I strongly endorse a solution that calls for Universal Service. Saying this is easy, structuring the answer is much more difficult, BUT POSSIBLE. Actually, we need a revolution in human affairs. The culture of our nation has changed and we must recognize those changes and restructure the military personal system accordingly.

For starters, people are "homesteaders," most couples pursue professional careers, families are starting later in life, and the 18-hour-a-day-365 days-a-week work ethic is passé. Globalization and 4th Generation Warfare demand a different personal system with different management policies.

The bedrock of the restructure, I argue, is universal service. (For the sake of time and space, I would refer anyone interested in "an approach" to read my proposal in the April 5-12, 1999 issue of Insight on the News magazine.)

The benefits to the country: E Pluribus Unum. Society and the military will be brought closer together, as will the nation as a whole. All classes of our society can contribute service to the nation. We can achieve the diversity we seek in the military. Some of our most promising high-school graduates headed for college will be motivated to seek officer programs and become future leaders of our military. The infrastructure of our country will be repaired, the homeless cared for and cities cleaned up. With a bit of luck and the right application of this service, we could start winning significant battles in our war on drugs. Our armed forces will be stronger and more ready to meet the daily needs of global diplomacy, and we will have a reservoir of experienced manpower if we have to execute our national security strategy. While some bright young men and women brought in by universal service would stay in the military, most would return to civil life after a short period in uniform or service to their nation. These men and women would continue to serve in a variety of ways as leaders who had proved their mettle in a tough school, as a class of American with an emotional stake in the nation as a whole and as citizens who are savvy in military matters. They also would understand the weight of a decision to send Americans into battle. It is time to revitalize President Kennedy's challenge to ask what we can do for our country.

Email #2:

Case Against the Draft
by Emery Nelson

Emery Nelson: Citizen, father, and a former soldier who loves his country.

Every time we have a personnel crisis in the military, the answer is too force young men into service.

The so called "fairness" issue is complete BS.

We've had the draft before and I don't remember it being particularly fair. I know that many think that somehow it would be different "this time" but as a student of history I doubt it.

If we reinstate the draft, you can also forget about any worthwhile changes taking place in the Military.

The Draft would merely reinforce the behavior of the short sighted political and military Leadership that created the problems and end any hope for constructive change.

But since we are speaking of coercion, perhaps it would be better if our leaders were forced to understand why young men don't want to serve and how come so many who are already in uniform are choosing to leave. Reinstating the draft will give the leadership no reason to correct current problems and will only encourage their continued incompetence. As the father of two teenage boys that are probably not going to college, I reject the idea of some nameless bureaucracy or bureaucrat using force to cover up his sins.

And make no mistake about it, the draft is about force used by the federal government. If you don't believe it just see what happens if it's reinstated. Those who refuse to serve will have a SWAT team of Draft Marshals kick in their front door in the middle of the night and a gun put in their face while others truss you up the draftee like an animal. At a press conference the bureaucrat in charge, will claim, "it's voluntary for those selected, as long as they show up at the induction center." He will say it with a straight face. When questioned, he will sight the example of our "voluntary tax system."

I won't have my children forced to fight in the Balkans or anywhere else where the security of the United States is not threatened. If they freely chose to go into the military on their own, then so be it, but my message to the present administration, Congress and the military leadership is, when you bomb aspirin factories to cover up questionable activities and then gorge congressional districts on F-22s and V-22s (oink, oink), you lose me and the rights too my boys.

I will never trust them with my sons' lives, unless the security of the country is threatened.

Emery Nelson


There is clearly merit to both arguments. Pizzo appeals primarily to the welfare of the nation as a whole, whereas Nelson rests his argument on protecting the welfare of the individual. Each recognizes the legitimacy of the other perspective, but a difference in emphasis leads to opposite conclusions. Finally, their divergence in opinion is grounded in a tension among moral values—the ideas of service, duty, and subordination of the individual, on the one hand, are opposed the ideas of protecting the inalienable rights and liberties of the individual on the other. This conflict is made more complicated by the fact that protection of individual rights and liberty via a system of checks and balances is the supreme moral value underpinning the design of our constitution, and thus the liberty of each individual is a reflection of the welfare of the entire nation.

Abstractly, therefore, the question of the draft opposes the welfare of the "whole" to that the "parts." This creates the classical conundrum of reconciling conflicts among incommensurable categories - the problem of commensurating the incommensurable, to borrow the memorable phrase coined by Garret Hardin in his classic essay, the "Tragedy of the Commons" [Science, 12/13/68]. The common denominator in this kind of problem is that it defies neat Cartesian solutions or top-down arguments from design - what politicians, ivory tower wonks, and policy elites fatuously refer to as 'silver bullets.'

One reason why the question of returning to the draft keeps resurrecting itself derives from the obvious fact that the twin crises of recruiting and retention crises are not resolving themselves, and may in fact be worsening, despite pay raises and blatant appeals to self-interest. This is evident in Greg Jaffe's report in the Wall Street Journal [Reference], which describes the Pentagon's most recent silver bullet.

A team of advertising consultants hired by the Secretary of Defense to study the effectiveness of its recruiting strategy has concluded the obvious: namely that $265 million worth of "be all you can be" advertising appeals to self interest are not working to attract recruits.

The report, which is based at least in part on the highly questionable methodology of using focus groups to probe and test for opinions, suggests the existence of a disconnect between the society and military. It says the biggest recruiting challenge is to reach a generation of teenagers whose parents came of age after the draft ended and have no connection to the military. In the words of one author, "The disconnect between many teens and the military is incredible" [e.g., see the reference to "Full Metal Jacket" in last two paragraphs of Reference 1]. Consequently the advertising strategy needs to be refocused.

The recommendations for re-focusing include an advertising strategy that would -

  1. De-emphasize appeals that stress cash for college.

  2. Give a clearer sense of what the service does and how they do it to parents, teachers, and potential recruits.

  3. Stress patriotism and the benefits of discipline and pride.

  4. Give young people a clear definition of the U.S. military's post-Cold War mission

  5. Target special age or ethnic groups and start early, begin targeting kids as young as 12 years old.

  6. Develop distinct brand identities for the services, as exemplified by the current crop of Marine Corps ads

The fact that leadership in the Defense Department had to pay advertising consultants big bucks to "discover" such obvious recommendations as 1 thru 4 suggests real disconnect is between the leaders and an understanding of their job descriptions.

The clinical use of "targeting" in Recommendation 5 smells like some kind of Orwellian propaganda that, taken to its limits, would result in ideas like the Hitler Youth.

Recommendation 6 takes the cake, in my view—Brand Names for the Services—give me a break.

We are not selling Fruit Loops—or are we?

Maybe the real problem is amateurism.

The answer to question of if, not to mention how, we should return to the draft should be evolved in the larger context of reforming the entire personnel system. At the heart of the recruiting and retention issue is a question of leadership and professionalism, particularly officer selection, training, and promotion criteria, but also the way we organize our forces for military operations in the changing conditions of the 21st Century, particularly with respect to the emerging requirements of 4th Generation War. [Note Defense and the National Interest has a special section on 4th Generation War ]

Military service is not and should not be about selling Fruit Loops.

Rather than paying outside dilettantes to produce vapid market research, wouldn't it be better to listen to thoughtful professionals on the inside who have made an effort to study the recruiting and retention crisis from the perspective of what is needed in their profession of arms?

For readers interested in more serious analyses of the personnel problems that are eviscerating contemporary American military culture, I recommend you start with the Tillson Report [Comment # 367 - and attached PDF file] and the Vandergriff Report [i.e., "Careers and Cohesion for Effective 21st Century Leadership," which is available at].

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]


Wall Street Journal July 6, 2000

New Report Says Military's Advertising Is Ineffective, Reaches Wrong Audience

By Greg Jaffe, Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal


Typical of recent Army ads is one featuring a picture of a giant calculator. Under the picture, the text says: "Learn that a reward means more when you earn it. Now earn up to $50,000 for college." The report's authors argue that that focus belittles the training the military itself provides, while boosting the profile of the competition: community colleges and universities.

The report recommends that some ads stress patriotism while others emphasize the individual benefits of discipline and pride. Whatever they do, the ads must "give young people a clear definition of the U.S. military's post-Cold War mission," the report states.

As an example of what works, the authors cite recent ads touting the Marines as an elite group of warriors and characterizing service in the corps as a life-transforming experience. In one magazine ad, a sweating Marine is pushing to finish a grueling run. The caption beneath reads, "Running won't kill you. You'll pass out first." In larger print, the ad goes on to promise: "The Change Is Forever."