Friday, May 15, 2009

Rough Draft

So I was watching the West Wing the other night, and I found myself beginning to consider the unthinkable.

The situation is this: a genocide has just begun in a little African nation called Blawanda between the Flootus and the Dutsis. Okay, it's not that obvious, but you see what I'm getting at. Rather than twiddle his thumbs as the international community did during the 1994 Genocide, the President of the United States decides he's going to author a new doctrine for the use of force: one that applies when only humanitarian interests are at stake. Naturally (because everyone sucks) he faces heavy criticism from more or less the entire country, which resents his sending US troops to fight and possibly die where no US interests were at risk. The first troops die, the President sends an aide to inform a Senator that one of his constituents has been killed, and the Senator notifies the aide that he's going to propose legislation reinstating the draft.

Ensuring that the military recruits from all sectors of the population (and not just his poorer, blacker constituents), he argues, will change the way the United States enters wars; he cynically suggests that then, and only then, will valuable lives be at stake. So let's do it, he says - let's reinstate the draft.

I was aghast to find myself tentatively nodding along.

Certainly economic and race issues are not my primary concern. It is certainly unfortunate that the overwhelming majority of modern military recruits come from poor families with few other options, but it's not my primary concern. My primary concern would be to transform the armed forces, and I think reinstating the draft might be one way to accomplish that.

First of all, the military is in DIRE need of an infusion of new blood. I'm not going to get into details on this, since my friend Zero Radius has expressed interest in writing on the topic, but the United States Armed Forces have been for some years in the absolute vice-grip of evangelical Christian conservatives. This hasn't been terribly-well publicized, because what about the military ever is, but you will at least recall the recent incident in which US soldiers were caught carrying Bibles in Afghanistan, under orders to "hunt people for Jesus." This is a maddeningly typical example. Soldiers are being punished for not attending church, passed over for promotion due to's gotten out of hand. Perhaps my distinguished colleague will elaborate.

In any event, the near-absence of liberals from the Army seems to have been what's led us here, and to a certain degree that was inevitable after Vietnam and the left's disenchantment with foreign wars. This has a number of short and long-term effects, however. First, it's a simple matter of public record that Democratic politicans served and Republicans didn't, and that's in part an effect of the draft. Republican politicians by and large come from money, and money let you dodge the draft in Vietnam; old money is somewhat rarer in the Democratic party, and so therefore is draft deferment. You can argue that a lot of Democrats enlisted, probably quite a few more than were drafted, but enlistment made more sense when you might get drafted anyway.

Anyway, I'm wandering slightly. The fact is that when the next generation of politicians comes of age, there will be essentially no liberal Democrats with military records. There isn't a draft, and I can tell you I know no liberals who enlisted in Iraq. It just doesn't happen anymore. By contrast, there might be dozens of Republicans with military records. And they're not going to be civilized, moderate Republicans like John McCain or Colin Powell - men I can respect, even where we disagree. Men whose military experience I value, because I know that they know war, and that they know the stakes of starting one. Those men are products of a more moderate, rational army. These are going to be raving evangelical psychopaths raised in an atmosphere of fear and hate, and they're going to advocate application of the Coulter Doctrine - invade all non-Christian nations, murder their leaders, convert their populations. They'll have the experience to lend their words weight, and we won't. They'll have allies in the military, and we won't.

More than even that, though, I'm concerned that the fictional Senator was right - that our view of war really DOES change when there's no chance we will have to be involved. Don't get me wrong, I protested Iraq - I attended a couple rallies, I marched a couple times. For me, at the time, this was zealous political involvement. But I don't see anything in this country like the Vietnam Peace Movement, and our continued presence in Iraq renders me disillusioned about the ability of small, committed movements to affect that kind of change. It might be that if we had to go, things would be different - that if there was a chance we ourselves might die, we would let them know what we thought about that. It might be that the next greedy, rapacious, misguided war our government attempts to wage would be met with something more like revolution.

I'm not sure that's such a bad thing. I'm not sure mandatory service is either. I'm as surprised as you are, but I think it's worth discussing.


Anonymous said...

While this is certainly an interesting idea, I think it would be very difficult to put into practice. Furthermore, I would argue that it would be far from certain to produce the desired effect. I can't speak to the first claim of "new blood" in the military, since I haven't the slightest clue about that issue, nor have I heard it discussed anywhere before now. In regards to the second claim, it is certainly true that views of war would change when the average citizen is more likely to actually be fighting. But would a draft necessarily accomplish this? Of course, there are draft dodgers and conscientious objectors. But that's not the whole picture. Both of my grandparents fought in the second World War, and while I can never seem to get the exact details straight (perhaps for obvious reasons), one of them was a cook on a ship that never left American waters, and another flew in a bomber plane (I couldn't say where). Clearly they had different war experiences

Just because you get drafted, you might not necessarily end up on the front lines. I've been told that because of my horrendous vision if I was drafted I'd probably end up at a desk job. I can't speak to the truth of this, but it would make sense. Some people are simply not physically equipped for war, and in that case the draft might not put them much closer to harm.

So while I'm not a huge fan of war and the idea of being drafted is far from a pleasant notion, I can't be positive reinstating the draft would drastically reverse the popular sentiment towards war.

Free Radical said...

I suppose I can't be positive either, but while it might be true that you wouldn't see combat, there's no question that the majority of Americans meet the military's basic standards of physical fitness to serve - to say nothing of how far those standards have plummeted since they began their newest recruitment drive. The American Military during World War II had more enlistees than it knew what to do with - I'm pretty sure more of us DIED during that conflict than the modern Army EMPLOYS. Bottom line, certainly SOME draftees would wind up on the front lines.

Additionally, having a draft would change the way people think about enlistment. As I mention in the post, I have a feeling that we'd actually see more voluntary service if there was a draft. I don't have the figures to back this, but if there's a chance you might have to serve as a poorly-trained grunt against your will, it is logical to enter the service on your own terms - you might think you have the makings of a good Marine, for example, or want more options as to your job.

Finally, there's the fact that service, of any kind (active combat duty or otherwise) ties one more directly to the military, and thence to the fate of the country - after all, guys like Colin Powell were officers, most of whom see little or no "front-line" duty in the way we're talking about, but I would still consider them "military men" of the sort I don't want to see vanish from the political scene.

I think it would make more of a difference than you suppose.