Andrew J. Bacevich has an intriguing op ed in today’s Boston Globe that presents another side to the question, “to draft, or not to draft.” His argument is that an all-volunteer army has created a U.S. Army that is completely estranged from U.S. society. I’m not necessarily endorsing a draft, but I am presenting Bacevich’s view for your consideration.

Historically, Americans had viewed a “standing army” with suspicion. After Vietnam they embraced the idea. By 1991 they were celebrating it. After Operation Desert Storm — with its illusion of a cheap, easy victory — soldiers like General Colin Powell persuaded themselves that “the people fell in love with us again.”

If love, it was a peculiar version, neither possessive nor signifying a desire to be one with the beloved. For the vast majority of Americans, Desert Storm affirmed the wisdom of contracting out national security. Cheering the troops on did not imply any interest in joining their ranks. Especially among the affluent and well-educated, the notion took hold that national defense was something “they” did, just as “they” bus ed tables, collected trash, and mowed lawns. The stalemated war in Iraq has revealed two problems with this arrangement.

The first is that “we” have forfeited any say in where “they” get sent to fight. When it came to invading Iraq, President Bush paid little attention to what voters of the First District of Massachusetts or the 50th District of California thought. The people had long since forfeited any ownership of the army. Even today, although a clear majority of Americans want the Iraq war shut down, their opposition counts for next to nothing: the will of the commander-in-chief prevails.

The second problem stems from the first. If “they” — the soldiers we contract to defend us — get in trouble, “we” feel little or no obligation to bail them out. All Americans support the troops, yet support does not imply sacrifice. Yellow-ribbon decals displayed on the back of gas-guzzlers will suffice, thank you.

Bacevich is a West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran with 23 years of service in the U.S. Army. Today he is a professor of international relations at Boston University.

It so happens I have an advance review copy of Chalmers Johnson’s upcoming book, Nemesis. I’ve read enough of it to know that lots of you folks will probably want to read it. Anyway, Chalmers Johnson quotes Bacevich,

Americans in our own time have fallen prey to militarism, manifesting itself in a romanticized view of soldiers, a tendency to see military power as the truest measure of national greatness, and outsized expectations regarding the efficacy of force. To a degree without precedent in U.S. history, Americans have come to define the nation’s strength and well-being in terms of military preparedness, military action, and the fostering of (or nostalgia for) military ideals. [Andrew Bacevich, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 2]

Now, lots of us have noticed that while righties romanticize the military, and they fancy themselves great supporters of the military, they aren’t real big on joining the military. This seems to me to support Bachevich’s thesis. To see an example of the weird way the Right objectifies the troops, see this recent post by Dean Barnett. Barnett has a snit because Pelosi referred to the late Marine Corporal Jason Dunham, who died in Iraq at the age of 22, as a “young man.” Barnett writes,

I know the Democrats have developed as one of their pet Lakoffian tics the habit of describing our warriors as defenseless children. Thus, when Pelosi refers to Dunham as a “young man” and the men he saved as “other young people,” she’s merely falling into a bad habit.

But it’s a real bad habit; a truly offensive one. This is a matter of more than just mere semantics. Jason Dunham was a Marine. So, too, were the men he saved. They see themselves as warriors, and that’s what they are. The term “young people” is meant to demean them, and in Dunham’s case denies him the dignity that he has so completely earned.

A 22-year-old man is a young man. This is not demeaning. I don’t see anything demeaning about referring to people as, well, people, young or otherwise. And soldiers are people. But not to Barnett, it seems.

Additionally, the failure to use the word “soldier”, “Marine” or any other term that acknowledges a connection between Dunham and the military is borderline grotesque. In Pelosi’s formulation, it almost sounds as if some random “young people” were frolicking in Iraq and stumbled upon a live grenade.

One other thing: If Dianne Sawyer really wants to see human beings that are like “galvanized steel,” she might consider turning her journalistic gaze to Iraq and the Marines still there like Jason Dunham.

It is not an insult to Marines to acknowledge that they are human beings. But to Barnett, Marines are not people. They are not made of tender flesh and blood, but galvanized steel. They aren’t human, but objects.

Let’s go back to Bacevich’s Boston Globe column:

Stipulate for the sake of argument that President Bush is correct in saying that failure in Iraq is not an option. Then why limit the “surge” to a measly 21,500 additional troops? Why not 50,000? With the population of the United States having now surpassed 300 million, why not send 100,000 reinforcements to Iraq?

The question answers itself: There are not an additional 100,000 Americans willing to commit their lives to the cause. Even offering up 21,500 finds the Pentagon scraping the bottom of the barrel, extending the tours of soldiers already in the combat zone while accelerating the deployment of those heading back for a second or third tour of duty.

After the Cold War, Americans came to see war as something other than a human enterprise; the secret of military superiority ostensibly lay in the microchip. The truth is that the sinews of military power lie among the people, who legitimate war and sustain it.

For the United States to remain a great military power will require a genuine reconciliation of the military and American society. But this implies the people exercising a greater say in deciding when and where American soldiers fight. And it also implies reviving the tradition of the citizen-soldier so that all share in the burden of national defense.

Now, I’m sure it’s the case — it’s what everybody says, anyway — that from a purely military perspective a professional force is superior to an army of draftees. But what about what Bacevich writes, about the relationship between society and the military?

Add to this what I wrote in an earlier post, that America will have to choose between being an empire and being a republic; we cannot be both. I am more and more persuaded this is so, and that we have already reached the fork in the road (if not passed it).

18 thoughts on “Drafty

  1. I look at this as an aspect of the rise of, and dominance by the military-industrial (and I would add: -oil) complex, warned of by Eisenhower. The powers that be have done everything they could to make their war of conquest as invisible as possible, from avoiding an official draft at all costs, to shunning photographers from returning caskets. You do your duty and go shopping. What a sacrifice.

    I am struck by the contrast of how FDR in 1940 campaigned on a promise to reinstate a draft. This is what a real threat looks like, one that everyone recognized and rallied around, as opposed to Bush’s lies about WMDs and Imminent Danger ™.

    As for chosing between an empire and a republic, in my view we crossed that line quite a while ago. We had our reluctant empiricists of the late 20th century, who tried to operate as a republic within the bounds of international law and treaties while having worldwide military bases and covert operations. Now we have our empire enthusiasts, the current crop of megalomaniacs, who are nakedly ambitious and have no real use for the citizenry except as sheep to be fleeced, and laws to be flaunted.

    The real question for me is how the genie will go back into the bottle. There’s no question in my mind that the day of reckoning for this country is coming – given our financial position, our inferior education system, the broken political system, the clueless media, the crappy health care system, the enormous polarization where cannot have a conversation about anything serious in this country….etc, etc, etc. It reminds me of the final days of the Soviet Union – a giant, hollowed out carcas of a country but with a huge military and nuclear missiles. It reminds me of a star going super nova, a period of over-expansion, followed by a bang that leaves nothing at the center.

  2. Amen, Moonbat.. powerful comment!

    Seems we’re finally getting around to reading the fine print on this contract called an all volunteer army. There are 100,000 contractors in Iraq. I’m sure a good portion of them( the foreigners) are being paid peanuts,but I’m also pretty certain that their services are being billed to Uncle Sam at a premium. I don’t think the setup was designed for endurance.

    I read today that the rent in Iraq will be increased from 8 billion a month to 10 billion a month this year. I guess Haliburton is forced to pass along the rising cost of laundry detergent.

    In regard to the relationship between society and the military…my personal feeling is that enough time has passed for those who were caught in Bush’s scheme to run down their contractual obligations and get away from the lies a deceits. Whoever is in Iraq today are there because they chose to be there, or at least to remain in the military. I don’t feel an obligation to honor them for a sense of duty to country..I do feel for the naive ones who think that their sacrifices have something to do with defending America. Essentially they are Bush’s mercenaries because they have an obligation to themselves to understand what they are risking their lives for.
    I guess that comment puts me in the hating America crowd…huh?

  3. I was one of the last people drafted, very late in 1972.

    I agree that a draft focusses the nation’s mind wonderfully on the real consequences of going to war. And I agree that the duties of citizenship should fall equitably on the shoulders of all citizens.

    I have a concern, and a quibble:

    I’m not so sure that the draft was good for the _military_, especially for the Army in which I served. Many of the draftees were superb soldiers, but many more had an attitude problem. It’s probably impossible to disentangle the destructive effects of Viet Nam from the destructive effects of the “get over” draftee attitude — but at least in Europe, the U.S. Army of 1973 and 1974 was a sick organization. The troops were plagued with serious drug problems (for example, four of the five guys that lived next to me in the barracks for a while were addicted morphine, which they somehow obtained in cases of clinical injection ampules). Equipment was half-assed maintained — we got called for alert one morning in 1973 and only half the tracked vehicles in the TOE actually made it out of the track park. There was, I believe, considerable corruption in parts of the NCO cadre.

    With the advent of the all-volunteer force, and the end of the VietNam war, all these problems were addressed firmly and competently. By the time I left in 1975, the equipment was ready, and the troops too. Or so it seemed to me.

    The quibble –
    > … while righties romanticize the military,
    > and they fancy themselves great supporters
    > of the military, they aren’t real big on joining
    > the military.

    My impression is that the divide falls more on economic class lines than on political lines — that the people who have volunteered for the US military over the last ten years are about as likely to be politically conservative, and to come from a conservative background, as they are to be liberal.

    There are, however, almost no scions of the comfortable classes in foxholes any more.

  4. More troops? Wait, who promised how many to whom?

    Today’s MTP opened with a Russert softball to McCain about troops levels.

    To which he reponded:

    SEN. McCAIN: I am concerned about it, whether it is sufficient numbers or not. I would have like to have seen more. I looked General Petraeus in the eye and said, “Is that sufficient for you to do the job?” He assured me that he thought it was and that he had been told that if he needed more he would receive them.

    If he needed more, he would receive them. What? Who, the Hessians? Just where does he think these troops are going to come from? I have maintained for sometime now that Cheney and Co. have every intention of starting wars until we were in one we have to fight.

    We are much closer than the average 17-24 realizes to reviving some form of conscription. A glacial legislative pace and a cross examination from Fitz are not going to stop him.

    Something’s gotta get moving to rip this evil man away from the helm of our ship of state. I wish this were hyperbole.

  5. I tend to agree with Bacevich’s view. There is a lack of identification between the ‘civilians’ and the ‘military’ people. A military person, while quite admirable, seems to me to be viewed by many people as somewhat less human. They are, therefore, disposable.

    This observation is not a condemnation of people, merely an observation. It may, in fact tie in to the propaganda currently being used to dehumanize the ‘enemy.’ (i.e. whoever we want to disagree with.) It is obvious in the writings and pronouncements of ‘true believers’ of many persuations.

    I would also note that for many people in the service, the only information they may have available is likely censored and slanted to the administration’s view. It was definately true for me in the Vietnam War.

    I went into the service in 1962 after completing 2 years of college to get that requirement out of the way while we were at peace and got to participate in the Vietnam fiasco twice. In 1964, at the ramp-up beginning, and again in 1966 before getting out somewhat later then my agreed upon 4 years of active duty.

    There is a law that allows the Federal Government to extend ones active time up to, and possibly beyond, the full committent which was then 8 years. It was used to extend those of us who were due to leave active duty in 1966 until the increased draft requirements could fill the slots. It has been used to extend the active duty time for the present soldiers. Some ‘critical’ job soldiers have even been recalled after being discharged from active duty.

    In 1969, I returned to college to complete my degree as a part time student with a full time job and participated in a few of the anti-war demonstrations at San Diego State. While there was some animosity toward the military there was also a sense of connection with individual soldiers. Some had friends in the service and some were at risk of being drafted. That doesn’t appear to exist today.

    Returning to the concept of ‘disposable’ soldiers if I may; this attitude may explain in part why the Bush budget for the past few years has felt justified to propose reductions in the funds for veterans benefits, both for education and for hospitalization and rehabilitation. It is especially egregious that this is occurring even as the number of soldiers needing hospitalization and rehabilitation increases dramatically.

    The House and Senate may want to consider taking the requested funds for the Bush Augmentation (is it really for him or???) and applying the funds to these vitally needed resources. This would also show that we really do value, and validate, our servicemen while simultaneously repudiateding Bush/Cheney, et al.

  6. An important article as backgtound:

    I think the article, “Why hawks win,” points to several ways doves can make their case.

    I consider myself a dove. When Chamberlain attempted a peace with Hitler, I was glad. Because when Hitler reneged, that was proof that Hitler was a madman. Of course I was angry that Chamberlain would consign the Czechs to Hitler.

  7. Moonbat: There’s no question in my mind that the day of reckoning for this country is coming…

    You may well be right, but it might not happen as soon as you think. The Roman Empire lasted almost 400 years, after all … and we haven’t had Julius Caesar yet.

  8. I do not disagree with conscription in times of real war; legitimate, last-option prolonged war. It is difficult to separate Society’s consideration for the military from the huge mess Bush&McCain&Co have made of our foreign policy from the Military Industrial Complex that Chalmers Johnson writes about in Vanity Fair. The volunteer military accomplished their military objectives within a few months. However, the foreign policy and the military occupation they are trying to implement is nothing short of a complete fiasco. We are so lucky we do not have a draft and unlimited military manpower for Bush&McCain&Co to do with as they please.

    Bacevich asserts that without the draft the people have lost their say in what and where wars are fought. I think it is clear, with Bush&Co, the people have lost their say regardless if military manpower was conscripted or volunteer. His assertion that society feels little or no obligation to bail the military out of a jam is just incorrect and misdirected. Society is expressing it’s will and the recruitment numbers are basic economics. Society does not support their involvement in Iraq’s civil war and the lack of recruitment proves it.

    Society did not choose to invade and occupy Iraq, or to slash the Vetrans Affairs Hospitals budget, or delay armoring the Humvees, or to attempty occupy Iraq an not provide for the security of the Iraqi citizens or any of the hundreds of other entirely noxious mistakes. These were decisions made by our present Administration, which rather than the military, has itself become divorced from society.

    Bacevich is very correct when he says, “The truth is that the sinews of military power lie among the people, who legitimate war and sustain it.” Therefore, the Bush&Co adventure in Iraq should be brought to an end. Please, Mr. Bacevich, tell the President!

    Bacevich also asserts that “Military service became a matter of personal preference, devoid of political or moral significance.” Military service is not just a matter of personal preference. While it is an individuals choice, many people make that choice based on economic and cultural reasons which may include a strong sense of service. Regardless of why people decide to serve in the Military, the political and moral significance comes from the tragic affects of war and not the rational for choosing to enlist.

  9. Whenever a Republican accuses a Democrat of not wanting to win this thing, the Democrat should look the Republican straight in the eye and say, “Well, you don’t want to win this thing either. Otherwise, you would urge your party to institute a draft in order to get the numbers of troops necessary to end this war in Iraq.” No political will you say? Well, I thought this war was supposed to be for freedom and democracy and so we don’t have to fight them over here. Not important enough to call a draft? Thought so. Tell me about how Democrats don’t want to win again.

  10. I am thinking that there is an intentional disconnect between our military and our larger society. The larger public, to BushCo, are targeted, passive consumers of marketable ‘security’ delivered by the ‘ship of state’ piloted by the decider himself. Bush has demonstrated that he does not understand democracy as much as he understands corporatocracy.

    In fact, BushCo most reminds me of Enron . Those at the top lock up decision-making and huge monies for themselves, build ‘brand name’ on hype and inside deals and untenable debt, use lies to create espanding markets [wars] to keep the scheme going [hiding failure in a complexity of ‘new products’], screw over the subjects of their power/money game [California energy consumers, Iraqis, American public], and blithely risk the future of their employees [soldiers] and investors [citizen taxpayers].

    Enron created its power by manipulating the energy market while BushCo created its power by manipulating the ‘national security’ market. If BushCo attains oil control in the middle east, they know that those in the top circle are secure for life and especially able to game the world-wide market.
    American taxpayers, meanwhile, are free to foot the bill for generations to come, but not free to be in on decision-making, which might be demanded should the whole country be on a war-footing.

  11. Chalmers Johnson’s article, “Republic or Empire
    A National Intelligence Estimate on the United States” was in the January issue of Harper’s….(my mistake)

  12. I must quibble a little with Jim from Raliegh…

    The “war” in Vietnam started when two batallions of Marines landed at Danang in Feb. or Mar. of ’65…While there had been a concerted “build-up” the previous year, Americans were not participating in combat operations before early ’65…

    I joined the Marines in March of ’64…LBJ ran for election on his own in ’64 as the “Peace” candidate…

    I can remember my Mother saying: “If Goldwater is elected, wew’ll be in a war within a year”…So LBJ won and I was in the war a little over a year later…

    And, while I’m at it…Our Founding Fathers all had a real abhorrence for “Standing Armies”…They knew that the only “Soldiers” who are worth a damn are “Citizen-Soldiers” like the ones who served so well in WWII…

  13. To further numb americans to violence, cable media offers (flood the airwaves) for our viewing pleasure such fare as The Military Channel, prison life, real life murder stories in excruciating detail, The History Channel which has seemed to become all things war, young boxers beating the crap out of each other & more. Gosh, if one was paranoid, one might think we were being conditioned to be not only indifferent to but enthralled with war & violence.
    I read a lot about “family values” groups freaking out over anything having to do with sex on tv or video games. War & violence, not so much.

  14. Kevin Phillips Wealth and Democracy convinced me that our days of empire are very close to ending. The only real question is how hard the landing will be.

    I am (in theory) in favor of a period of mandatory gov’t service. Those who want to play with guns can go to boot camp. Others can go to some Outward Bound like program, then work in hospitals, parks, homeless shelters… Lots of stuff to be done, and some of the children of privilege might learn something. Yeah, like that’s going to happen.

    One other point: Love of things military is a very natural phase (probably hormonally driven) in most children. Most outgrow it. I bring this up because some pacifists act like it is a disease. It’s not. It’s normal, it can be healthy (learn discipline, get in shape). Learning to be a warrior doesn’t mean you have to have wars. (This is not directed towards anyone in particular, but the tone of some of the comments brought it to mind).

  15. There is a story about a drill Sergeant with recruits in the time of Nam. He asks a recruit to name the 2 kinds of soldiers on the battlefield (answer: the quick and the dead) and he immediately replied: the poor and minorities. Funny, but also true. The sons of the rich were exempted in a number of ways from the draft. (Can you say ‘deferment”?)

    So if we are talking about a draft, will it be totally impartial, or riddled with exemptions for the rich? I mean TOTALLY impartial! The draft lottery was based on birth dates selected at random. If you are the son of a congressman, admitted to Yale and your number comes up – tough shit. You report.

    Democratic congressmen want to exempt their sons as much as neocons do. So my idea does not stand a chance in hell. And I am therefore opposed to a draft that will discriminate in favor of the rich and connected.

    I feel the same way about bans on abortion. Back in the back of his mind, a righite Senator KNOWS that if his wife gets pregnant and it’s obviously not his – or his daughter gets pregnant and it IS his, he has the money to send her to Norway or somewhere the deed can be done safely and privately. It’s the gal without means who gets caught in the prohibition.

  16. Pingback: The Mahablog » It’s Easy Being Right

Comments are closed.