Fat Steve's Blatherings

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Draft: A Bad Idea


      My friend Col. Larry sent me an article arguing for restoring the draft, in a new form, and asked for comments.  Here’s why I disagree with the article, and think the draft’s a terrible idea.
  • This is mostly an attempt by some Democrats to undercut the Campaign in Iraq, and the Global War on Terror.

  • The draft is not a suitable tool for this conflict.

  • Our experience with the draft hasn’t been good, from the point of view of producing soldiers who fight well.  We’ve never trained them properly, and there’s no reason to believe that would change.

  • The people who endorse this seem moved by nostalgia: ‘There was a draft in my youth, so let’s have one today.’  That is not a basis for good military planning -- especially when the nostalgic memories are inaccurate.

  • The draft is targeted on the young, and not all of them, contradicting Moskos’s argument that civilian society needs to sacrifice.

  • Moskos’s refutations of arguments against the draft don’t make sense, his argument that a draft would save money isn’t likely, and the whole article contradicts itself.

  • The real reason Moskos wants to do this is to shape up the damn kids.  His scheme wouldn’t work.  We won’t enact the kind of draft we’d need to do what he wants (we never have), and we won’t get good results from the kind of draft he proposes.

At length:

      Charles Moskos, a Professor of Sociology emeritus at Northwestern University, and a former draftee himself, has lately been beating the drums for a new draft.  A friend sent me this and asked for comments. Let’s fisk this sucker.

Feel that draft?
By Charles Moskos
Published June 8, 2005

      Recruitment for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps is on the brink of disaster.  Indeed, along with combat, recruiting duty is now considered the worst mission in the military.

      “Disaster” is hyperbolic, and undefined.  We’ve maintained a larger volunteer Army than this in the past.  Since Moskos doesn’t give any arguments for why we can’t do that in future, there’s nothing that needs be said.

Although we are in a global war against terrorism, the American citizenry is not being asked for any sacrifice.  In the last election, both President Bush and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) were united in their refusal to consider a return to conscription.  “Patriotism-lite” is the order of the day.

      Would somebody explain to me in what sense a draft makes “the American citizenry” sacrifice?  I was born in 1953.  There was a draft till I was twenty, but I drew a high number in the lottery.  I never noticed being called upon to make any sacrifices.  Those drafted sometimes sacrificed everything, and those with draft age children or grandkids perhaps as much, but most of us didn’t break a sweat.  You want to make “the American citizenry” sacrifice?  Draft all non-veterans who aren’t senile, oldest first.  Have them fill out forms, man guard posts, and do other work suitable for the physically unfit.  Funny, I don’t here anyone proposing that.

      What are you prepared to sacrifice, Moskos?  You, personally.

      As for Bush and Kerry not being willing to call for a draft, that’s because there’s no public support for it, and much opposition (the military also oppose it, as I’ll discuss presently).  Absent a huge change in public opinion, there’s no chance of it happening, and the change won’t come quickly in any case.  Rep. Rangel introduced his draft bill as a means of opposing the President’s policy, and Kerry and the Democrats endorsed rumors that there’s be a draft to chase the kid vote.  Since the public won’t elect a Congress that will pass a draft law, this whole discussion is rather unreal.  I feel like I’m reading the comics: “Hey Charlie Brown, why don’t I hold the football and you run up and kick it!”  The whole question is a con job.  I could write the press reaction to all this in my sleep: Viet Nam, quagmire, no-win, sacrifice of youth, blah, blah, blah.

      But truth to tell, a draft for the 21st Century is the only answer to our national security needs.

      Again, assertion without evidence or argument.  Didn’t this guy ever study logic?

      The draft is a tool, and and like any tool, one should begin by asking what it is good for, and why the task at hand would benefit by its use.  If you look at history, you’ll find that the only times the draft has worked at all well is when the U. S. military is engaged in a short, all-out, war of total destruction.  That isn’t the case today.  The draft worked in WWI and WWII, because we had a clear commitment -- Victory over Germany and Japan!  We had a clear measure of success -- Defeat the enemy army, and occupy their homeland!  And we had total commitment to doing anything we needed to in order to win -- Burn Down their Cities from the air!  The draft sorta worked in the Civil War Between the States for the similar reasons (note that the passage of the draft occurred at the same time as the Emancipation Proclamation (which the Confederacy interpreted as an attempt to spark a race war of extermination, and the Union considered a way of undermining the Confederacy’s war effort, and preventing future rebellion by wrecking the existing society; it worked, too)), and the draft was followed by Sherman’s and Sheridan’s policy of burning out areas that supported the Confederate Armies.  For that matter, I recall a passage from the Official Records, detailing the capture of about a dozen Confederate guerrillas captured in the summer of 1863.  On the way back to camp “they fell off a log, breaking their necks.”  I believe that passage is literally true.  The log was humanely set high enough that when the guerrillas came to the end of the ropes, their necks snapped properly.

      So the way the U.S. fights when it uses a draft is dirty, hard, get-it-over-with-and-lets-go-home.  In WWII, people were drafted for “the duration, plus six months,” the six months to supposedly allow time to bring them home in an orderly manner.  Think about the fact that it wasn’t “Three years regardless, or the duration plus six months, whichever comes SECOND.”  The idea was that when the war was over, the boys all came home right away.  Someone care to tell me how that fits the strategic situation?

      When we haven’t been involved in total war, the draft hasn’t worked with a damn.  We had a ‘sorta’ drafts from colonial times through the end of the War of 1812.  The ‘militia’ would meet four times a year, fire the muskets, and get drunk.  Whenever war came, and the militia were called up, they usually fell apart in combat.

      And as a final reflection on the draft as a tool, when we had a long-term, ‘peace-time’ draft during the ‘Cold War,’ (and the fact that we simultaneously thought of ourselves as at war and at peace is interesting, no?), we sent the drafted Army into combat twice, in Korea and Viet Nam.  We got our only draw and our only defeat, ever.

Such a draft would have three tiers of youth service, with 18-month tours of duty for citizens ages 18 to 25.  The first tier would be modeled after a standard military draft.  The second tier would be for homeland security, such as guarding our borders, ports, nuclear installations and chemical plants.  Included in this category would be police officers, firefighters, air marshals and disaster medical technicians.  The third tier would be for civilian national service, such as the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Habitat for Humanity, Teach for America, assistance for the elderly and infirm, environmental work and the like.  Women should be draft-eligible for the latter two categories and, of course, can volunteer for military service as now.

      We’re going to draft people and force them to be cops?  Or draft cops, to do some undefined task, while leaving the streets unpoliced?  Kinda vague, Professor.  Clarify, please.  And note, also, the very short term of service.  18 months isn’t long enough to train anyone to do much of anything useful in the military or police work, much less get a decent amount of work from them.  Finally, note the third tier: we’re going to draft people into the Peace Corps, or Jiminy Peanut’s hammer-armed home-builders, to enhance our national security?  This is fatuous.

      But an outline is beginning to be clear.  Moskos wants to draft lots of kids, and doesn’t care what they do once drafted.  The short terms and multitude of tasks is just to have something to do with all the bodies he’d collect.  The draft is desired for its own sake, but he won’t tell us why.

      In return, all draftees, as well as voluntary servers, would receive generous financial aid for college and graduate school modeled after the GI Bill of World War II.  Non-servers would be ineligible for federal student aid.  Today more than $20 billion annually in federal funds is given to students who do not serve their country. We have created a GI Bill of Rights without the “GI.”

      There may be a good argument for restricting college aid to veterans.  But we can do that without reinstating the draft, and we have had the draft without granting college aid.  Therefore, the argument has no logical merit.

      The reference to non-servers implies we aren’t going to draft everyone, though.  So just how does this work?  Do people get to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and Teach for America?

      In Mr. Heinlein’s novel Starship Troopers, there was a volunteer “Federal Service” something like this, but you volunteered blind.  You could ask for assignment to what you liked, but you had to take what they gave you, whether it was underpaid Civil Service or Infantry combat.  There might be an argument for such a thing, on a draft basis, if the work was guaranteed to be low-paid and very hard, no choice was given as to what you did, it applied to men and women equally (the Army could say ‘No women in Infantry units,’ there’s plenty of posts open to women as it is) and the term of service was reasonably long (like three years, with five more reserve), but as it Moskos frames it, the idea makes no sense.

      And creating a “GI Bill of Rights” for volunteer teachers, and equating that with risking one’s life for one’s country, is both ludicrous and obscene.  A soldier is someone willing to work, fight, and die for his country, not someone who “assists the elderly and infirm.”

      Any conscription system must start at the top of the social ladder to have widespread public acceptance.  During World War II and the Cold War, privileged youths were conscripted at a higher rate than youths from the lower socio-economic levels.  (My draftee contemporary was Elvis Presley!)

      Elvis was a poor kid born in a two-room shack.  The idea he was at “the top of the social ladder” is very funny.  The claim about WWII is not supported by evidence, so I can’t evaluate it, but I’d bet a moderate sum that the children of the “lower socio-economic levels” had a higher rate of being declared unfit for service, either because they were 4-F, had criminal records, or weren’t white.  Another bet I’d make is that “privileged youths” were less likely to die in combat.

This was not true in the Vietnam War draft or in today’s all-volunteer force.  That only a handful of those in Congress have children in the military speaks directly to the inequity of military service today.

      Oh, there go those damned niggers, spics, wops, gooks, slopes, white trash etc., muscling into the military in order to improve their lives.  The swine.

      But I tell you, Professor, you want to restrict eligibility for the draft to children of Congresscritters, and make non-veterans with children who are too old to be drafted and who didn’t serve unable to run for Congress, I’ll agree.  But of course, you aren’t proposing that.

      Three major arguments are raised against conscription. These are given below with rejoinders.

      1. Short enlistments would increase demands on the training base.  Let us remember that almost one-third of our service entrants now fail to complete their initial enlistments.  This contrasts with a 10 percent dropout rate for draftees in the Cold War.

      In the first place, we once again have no citation. Second, the “rejoinder” doesn’t meet the objection.  What kind of training standards were there in the Army during the Cold War, compared to now?  Moskos doesn’t say.  And what does “fail to complete their enlistment” mean?  A lot wash out in the first few weeks?  They crack-up their first week of active service?  This is so vague, it isn’t possible to discuss.

      The late Col. David Hackworth, another fan of the draft, told a lot of stories about training and equipment in his memoir About Face.  They come down to ‘it stunk.’  The military exists to kill people and break things, in Uncle Rush’s famous phrase.  When large numbers of people are being drafted, they write home and tell their friends and relatives how they’re being trained to kill people and break things.  Then what?

      In peacetime, as Hackworth pointed out, you could always find soft-headed relatives who’d complain to their Congresscritters about tough training whose purpose was to teach recruits how to kill and destroy.  More softheads would point out how “expensive” it was to train properly.  Funds got cut, and troop quality declined.  When combat came, a lot of draftees died, unnecessarily.  There’s no reason to expect it would be any different today.

Completion of an enlistment term is strongly correlated with higher education.

        So?  If by higher education you mean graduation from college, well, your draft is designed to put them through college after their term of service is over.  Or did you mean something else?

It’s much better to have a soldier serve a short draft tour honorably than be prematurely discharged.

      And why is that?  Assertion without evidence or argument seems to be Moskos’s specialty.  But I suspect that once more, Moskos thinks having people ‘in the military’ is more important than what they do for the country while enlisted.

Conscription would both reduce personnel turnover and counter shortfalls in end strength.

      Oh, please.  With people serving eighteen month draft terms, we’d be lucky to get six months service out of them.  And for every such drafted soldier, we’d have to have two in training, plus large numbers of trainers.  It would be very difficult to keep up end strength this way.

      In the real world, when we relied on a draft, we trained for crap.  And our troops paid for it with their blood, while our enemies took fewer casualties than they ought to have.

      2. The modern military requires highly technical skills that cannot be met by short-termers.  Precisely.  Higher compensation should be aimed at those whose skills require extended training and experience.  In the draft era, the pay ratio between a senior non-commissioned officer and a private was six to one; today it is three to one. We now have overpaid recruits and underpaid sergeants.

      The modern military trains privates better than it trained WWII non-coms.  We won’t be able to do this with eighteen month terms.  We’d have to create a two-tier military, consisting of draftees and ‘real fighters.’  They’d have to be volunteers.  Wasn’t the alleged problem of getting them where we came in?

      As for pay, is Moskos proposing to cut the pay for newly enlisted in half?  Get real, never happen.  Does he think cutting a private’s pay down will make sergeants more likely to stay in, at the same pay as today?  This is beyond belief.

      3. Volunteers make better soldiers than those who are conscripted to serve.  Item: in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, draftees had lower desertion and AWOL rates than volunteers.

      With no source, and no definitions of “desertion and AWOL rates,” this can’t be evaluated.  And what makes a soldier “better?”  And notice Moskos says nothing about Korea, the Cold War, Viet Nam, or the present volunteer force?  My speech teacher taught me that trick: ‘When told to speak about something you don’t want to talk about, start out pretending to talk about it, then change the subject.’

Item: Surveys of veterans find that draftees have a more favorable opinion of their military experience than do volunteers.

      AGAIN, aside from no citations, what is the definition of “a more favorable impression?”  And how does that correlate with military effectiveness in killing people and breaking things?  Most of today’s brass, having seen the drafted Army of Viet Nam, and the volunteer Army of today, prefer the volunteers, because they fight better.

      Of course, once your military service is fifty years behind you, it’s easy to wax nostalgic on memories of being young and fit, with your whole life ahead of you.  But in reality, most draftees got out of the Army the moment they could.  They didn’t like it while it was going on.  In fact, I’ve read of several ex-socialists who lost the faith when they were in the service, figuring ‘If this is how a society looks when the government runs everything, forget it.’  Add the low combat effectiveness of drafted troops at the beginning of every major conflict, vs. the stunning way our forces have succeeded in every case since Grenada, and I think we need a little better reason for a draft than your highly inaccurate but sweet memories of youth, Professor.

      Oh by the way, how many times did you reenlist?

      In brief, draftees could readily fill the multitude of jobs that require only a short formal training period or even just on-the-job training.  It is well documented that higher-quality recruits have the skills and motivation to learn quickly a wide variety of military jobs.  Draftees would be ideally suited for duties on peacekeeping missions such as in Bosnia, Kosovo and the Sinai.  Better educated and more mature draftees would also be ideal for guard duty in military prisons.

      First, this contradicts argument number two.  Does the modern military need high skills, or not?  Second, we are in a “global war against terrorism,” as he said at the beginning.  You don’t win that by “peacekeeping.”  And we don’t need prison guards without prisoners, which his short term draftees are unlikely to capture.

      Without conscription, what will happen?  We will see, as is already happening, a lowering of military entrance standards.  And, as is already occurring, there will be an exponential increase in enlistment bonuses.  And we can expect new policies to recruit non-Americans into our armed forces, though we will probably call such a force a Freedom Legion rather than a Foreign Legion.

      We won’t have a lowering of standards with his draft?  If the only way to get public money for college is to serve in the armed forces, and we have high standards for them, then lots of people won’t be allowed to serve and won’t be able to afford college.  My, that would be interesting, politically.  It won’t happen, though.  The political pressure to lower standards would be irresistible.

      As for enlistment bonuses, we are at war, asking people to sign up for a term of “active and reserve service” that may in practice be all active, and to risk their lives in combat.  Why does Moskos begrudge them some loot?  Isn’t he willing to sacrifice a little, and pay higher taxes, or have less govt. spending, in order to maintain our armed forces?

      We should also note that during the draft, the services had high bonuses for reenlistment, along with big pay raises.  People left as soon as their time was up.

      As for all them nasty foreigners who are going to risk their lives to become U.S. residents and citizens, people with the bad taste not to be white, most of them, well, I happen to think they’ll make fine USAmericans, and would restrict immigration by other means in order to get more of them into our services.

      There is also a financial argument for conscription.  Recruits in the all-volunteer force are three times more costly--in constant dollars--than draftees.

      Yes, Prof. “Make Sacrifices, You Civilians” begrudges paying soldiers a living wage. So now we’re going to cut the pay of new enlisted by two thirds, rather than only one half.  On what planet will this occur?

      When the Greenspan Commission was evaluating the draft, they pointed out that the draft is a tax, a tax-in-kind on the young, to get a larger military with smaller federal budget outlays.  Not very fair, and probably not economically efficient.

The erosion of the citizen soldier has made for a career force that’s top-heavy.

      And what does ‘top-heavy’ mean?  Too many senior officers and senior non-coms?  Well, see if you can find a copy of Stuart Loory’s Defeated: Inside America’s Military Machine, written just after Viet Nam ended.  It has a graphic showing the Army ranks in WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam.  The percentage of field grade officers and generals rose relative to enlisted throughout.  By the early 1970s, we had more generals than during Korea, and more field officers than during WWII, even though the number of enlisted was lower than in either conflict.  MUCH lower.  That happened when we had a long-term draft.

The Pentagon now owes its soldiers $654 billion in future retirement benefits that it cannot pay.

      By now, the intellectual dishonesty is breathtaking.  The forces are “top-heavy” with long-serving senior officers and non-coms, but only paragraphs ago he was arguing the long-term, senior non-coms were underpaid!  And who is it we owe retirement benefits to?  People who’ve served a long time, of course.  That is not, by definition, those who serve one term and leave the service.  The draftees wouldn’t get retirement benefits, but they’d get “generous financial aid for college and graduate school,” and the career soldiers would still get retirement.  That’s a recipe for spending more money, not less.

      By the way, the idea that the U.S. Government will default on pension benefits to career military is ridiculous.

      Above all, a compulsory national service program would give our youth--and future leaders--a shaping civic experience.  The revival of the citizen soldier can only be to the advantage of the armed services and the nation.

      Yeah, as I said, he wants the draft for its own sake, regardless of its effects on the military.

      Old riddle: ‘If you call its tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?’

      Correct answer: ‘Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.’

      And calling a nursing home aide moving bedpans to get college money a “citizen soldier” won’t make her one.

      Forget the rest of the bunk, the idea is social engineering of youth.  ‘Those damned kids today, no respect for their elders, we got shape them up.’  An old, sad, song.  But let’s take it seriously.  A soldier is someone prepared to work, fight, and die for his country at need.  If we drafted everyone, made the conscientious objectors serve longer in more dangerous jobs, and permanently denied the vote to those who didn’t serve honorably, and if we required every non-conscientious objector to train for combat, seriously, (see Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, where “everyone works, everyone fights”, and there are no permanent behind the lines jobs), then there might be an argument for a draft -- especially if we repeal the XXVIth Amendment, so the draftees can’t vote.  Instead, we have a situation where we’re going to talk about drafting an unknown proportion of people, and then not actually using most of them in real military jobs.  If they’re serving in the Peace Corps, and building houses, they aren’t soldiers, citizen or otherwise.

      As I said at the beginning, there isn’t going to be a draft, absent a huge shift in public opinion.  But a ‘draft’ of the type Moskos proposes will make our military worse, not better.



Post a Comment

<< Home