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Location: LaGrange, Kentucky, United States

The opinions and interests of a husband, analyst and Iraq war veteran.


Thursday, July 28, 2005

Why is it that the only ones who want to bring back the draft are liberals?

Could it be because their heyday, their crowning achievement, their day in the sun was during Vietnam? Could it be that they're feeling just wee bit miffed that they're out of power these days?

This commentary in the New York Times is so egregious as to be offensive. And I'm going to fisk it line by line.

The Best Army We Can Buy


THE United States now has a mercenary army. To be sure, our soldiers are hired from within the citizenry, unlike the hated Hessians whom George III recruited to fight against the American Revolutionaries. But like those Hessians, today's volunteers sign up for some mighty dangerous work largely for wages and benefits - a compensation package that may not always be commensurate with the dangers in store, as current recruiting problems testify.

Ready for it? Our all volunteer military is BAD! It's a "mercenary army!"

Neither the idealism nor the patriotism of those who serve is in question here. The profession of arms is a noble calling, and there is no shame in wage labor.

Whew! That's a relief. For a second there I thought this was a hit piece attacking our "merc army". Of course, if it was a hit piece attacking our "merc army" it would be handy to throw in a line or two about how you don't question the "idealism nor the patriotism" of service members.

But the fact remains that the United States today has a military force that is extraordinarily lean and lethal, even while it is increasingly separated from the civil society on whose behalf it fights. This is worrisome - for reasons that go well beyond unmet recruiting targets.
There's always a "but." Guess it is a hit piece.

One troubling aspect is obvious. By some reckonings, the Pentagon's budget is greater than the military expenditures of all other nations combined. It buys an arsenal of precision weapons for highly trained troops who can lay down a coercive footprint in the world larger and more intimidating than anything history has known.

This a bad thing? I should think that the deterring influence of having the most intimidating military in the world would be... I don't know, comforting? Professor Kennedy finds it "obviously troubling."

Our leaders tell us that our armed forces seek only just goals, and at the end of the day will be understood as exerting a benign influence. Yet that perspective may not come so easily to those on the receiving end of that supposedly beneficent violence.

Oh! So now it becomes clear that it's not the idealism of our service members that he questions, just the idealism of our leaders. And he throws in the frightening qualifier that "prospective" is lost on the poor SOBs we regularly "violate."

But the modern military's disjunction from American society is even more disturbing. Since the time of the ancient Greeks through the American Revolutionary War and well into the 20th century, the obligation to bear arms and the privileges of citizenship have been intimately linked. It was for the sake of that link between service and a full place in society that the founders were so invested in militias and so worried about standing armies, which Samuel Adams warned were "always dangerous to the liberties of the people."

That's right. Modern military types are "disjointed" from society. Those crazed war veterans are the fringe! You know, as opposed to successful businessmen, entertainers, politicians, and other sorts of decent folk. Whose estranged, again? "Standing armies [are] always dangerous to the liberties of the people." A coup d'etat? Is this man worried about a military take-over? He is! I've no doubt that, if it were even remotely plausible, that would just make his decade. He's a freedom fighter, you see. Hey Professor? If you want to fight for freedem, in the mode of Samuel Adams and the rest of the founding fathers, it's fairly easy. Contact your nearest recruiter.

Many African-Americans understood that link in the Civil War, and again in World Wars I and II, when they clamored for combat roles, which they saw as stepping stones to equal rights. From Aristotle's Athens to Machiavelli's Florence to Thomas Jefferson's Virginia and Robert Gould Shaw's Boston and beyond, the tradition of the citizen-soldier has served the indispensable purposes of sustaining civic engagement, protecting individual liberty - and guaranteeing political accountability.

Rule #1 when arguing a liberal position: Invoke the Holy Demographics. Otherwise minorities might start to think of themselves as just plain American instead of "African-Americans" ... right?

The African-Americans I served with weren't black. They were dark green. Not PC, I know. But it preserved the sense of brotherhood.

Rule #2 when arguing a liberal position: Prove That Your Superior Education Trumps All. "From Aristotle's Athens to blah, blah, blah." Pure rhetoric. There's no argument here. No defensible point. Just Kennedy attempting to prove that he reads hard books.

That tradition has now been all but abandoned. A comparison with a prior generation's war illuminates the point. In World War II, the United States put some 16 million men and women into uniform. What's more, it mobilized the economic, social and psychological resources of the society down to the last factory, rail car, classroom and victory garden. World War II was a "total war." Waging it compelled the participation of all citizens and an enormous commitment of society's energies.

Make no mistake: World War II was a "total war." That means the war against Islamic totalitarians is just peanuts. A clever diversion from what ought to be our top priorty, namely... um... Kennedy doesn't say, exactly. But make no mistake: Tradition has been abandoned! "Economic, social and psychological resources" are being squandered. Squandered!

But thanks to something that policymakers and academic experts grandly call the "revolution in military affairs," which has wedded the newest electronic and information technologies to the destructive purposes of the second-oldest profession, we now have an active-duty military establishment that is, proportionate to population, about 4 percent of the size of the force that won World War II. And today's military budget is about 4 percent of gross domestic product, as opposed to nearly 40 percent during World War II.

"We're collectively richer than any civilization ever before in the history of mankind," Kennedy sobs. "The grandiosity of it all! It's just not fair!"

The implications are deeply unsettling: history's most potent military force can now be put into the field by a society that scarcely breaks a sweat when it does so.

This is somehow a BAD thing?

We can now wage war while putting at risk very few of our sons and daughters, none of whom is obliged to serve.

Again, I ask is this a BAD thing?

Modern warfare lays no significant burdens on the larger body of citizens in whose name war is being waged.

Untrue! Flatly, patently, and in all other conceivable ways... WRONG! How dare you so casually dismiss the struggles American families of deployed soldiers go through! How dare you dismiss the prayers, care packages, and other support patriotic Americans give to deployed military members! How dare you, sir?! Just because you aren't overly affected, don't project that indifference onto the rest of us.

This is not a healthy situation. It is, among other things, a standing invitation to the kind of military adventurism that the founders correctly feared was the greatest danger of standing armies - a danger made manifest in their day by the career of Napoleon Bonaparte, whom Jefferson described as having "transferred the destinies of the republic from the civil to the military arm."

To recap: Kennedy has at this point compared our modern military with "mercenaries," the "Hessians," and "the army of Napoleon," and not once in a favorable light. I get the impression that he believes mercs, Hessians, and Napoleon were better than our current military.

Some will find it offensive to call today's armed forces a "mercenary army,"

Ya think?

but our troops are emphatically not the kind of citizen-soldiers that we fielded two generations ago - drawn from all ranks of society without respect to background or privilege or education, and mobilized on such a scale that civilian society's deep and durable consent to the resort to arms was absolutely necessary.

Translation: "our troops are emphatically not the kind of citizen-soldiers that we fielded two generations ago" = "substandard"

"drawn from all ranks of society without respect to background or privilege or education" = "we should bring back the draft, at least it was fair"

"mobilized on such a scale that civilian society's deep and durable consent to the resort to arms was absolutely necessary" = "war is never the answer, but if we fight anyway, make it bloody. That'll teach us a lesson"

Leaving questions of equity aside, it cannot be wise for a democracy to let such an important function grow so far removed from popular participation and accountability. It makes some supremely important things too easy - like dealing out death and destruction to others, and seeking military solutions on the assumption they will be swifter and more cheaply bought than what could be accomplished by the more vexatious business of diplomacy.

I don't even know where to begin here. I'm stymied. Kennedy seems to be saying that a lean, effective, high tech military is BAD, BAD, BAD because we'd be better off battling out international differences with diplomacy. Is he under the impression that we've disolved the State Department, dispersing them to the winds? Bottom line is this: When diplomacy fails, I want the leanest, meanest, most technologically advanced military in the world to protect my nation. Kennedy lives here, so I guess that includes protecting his arrogant ass, too.

The life of a robust democratic society should be strenuous; it should make demands on its citizens when they are asked to engage with issues of life and death. The "revolution in military affairs" has made obsolete the kind of huge army that fought World War II, but a universal duty to service - perhaps in the form of a lottery, or of compulsory national service with military duty as one option among several - would at least ensure that the civilian and military sectors do not become dangerously separate spheres. War is too important to be left either to the generals or the politicians. It must be the people's business.

"We don't suffer enough!" cries Professor Kennedy.

David Kennedy is a classic example of the punative liberal. He sees injustice in the world and blames America. We're too big, we're too strong, we're too rich, we're too advanced... it's just not fair!

(Via: Blackfive) (See also: Greyhawk)

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