Friday, November 11, 2011

A Question to Ponder for Veteran's Day: Should We Bring Back the Wartime Draft?

That old anti-warhorse former Senator George McGovern thinks we should.

Is an all-volunteer professional military democratic? Is it wise, especially for a democracy, to have a largely separate military caste to fight all of its wars? Would political leaders be quite so enthusiastic about military action, especially unilateral military action, if they knew that they would have to resort to the draft? Is it right to effectively outsource our military responsibilities to a very small portion of the population and expect them to bear all the costs? What is the responsibility of a larger society that benefits from military action toward those who must actually do that action? Is it right to expect that small professional military to do multiple tours of duty just to spare us the draft? Is it healthy for a democracy to augment troop numbers with "government contractors" i.e. mercenaries?

This goes to a fundamental question at the heart of the ideological warfare tearing apart this country: what are the responsibilities and duties of citizenship? Is being a citizen the same as being a "customer" or a "member?" There are those very ancient Greek concepts of citizenship where all citizens of the polis were responsible, individually and collectively, for the maintenance and defense of their city-state. Does any of that ancient understanding of citizenship have any relevance today? What are the obligations of citizens if we transition away from equality toward a more stratified shareholder state?


it's margaret said...

When I think of supporting the military war machine, I shudder. Service to country should not be thought of solely as military service. I would totally support the draft --but only if it included women, only if there were no exceptions of any kind, and it was not exclusive to serving in the armed forces....

Counterlight said...

I should come clean in all of this. I came of age during the waning of the Vietnam War. When the draft was repealed in 1973, I and my parents breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Today, I'm way past any draft age, so none of this affects me quite as directly as it does my students, and a lot of my much younger neighbors.

My questions certainly betray a lot of implicit sympathies, but they are not rhetorical. On the one hand, I'm very reluctant to lay burdens on others that I can't bear myself. On the other hand, there are those issues of citizenship.

I remember thinking as I watched the September 11th attacks that my life would change dramatically, that the country was entering into some kind of wartime and that everyone would be mobilized for national duty in one way or another. I was too old then for military service, but I tried to imagine other ways that I might be called into national service.

In fact, nothing changed. My life proceeded as it would have, attacks or not. I heard from the President that we should all go about our business and go shopping.

johnieb said...

Firstly, thanks for something to chew on (other than this morning's bagel).

I must question your premise that a draft involves the country more than the present set up; there were numerous loopholes for the privileged during the Vietnam War: note the last two Presidents before this one. Vietnam was fought by the working class and the lower middle class. See James Fallows "What Did You Do in the Class War, Daddy?" for a discussion. LBJ was able to increase draft totals to 40,000 per month and deploy 400K troops to Vietnam by the end of 1967 with no significant political opposition. Nixon was able to continue the effort for his entire first term despite public outcry.

Nonetheless, I, too, am repulsed by the unequal share of the burden almost as much as by the burden itself. Rumsfeld demonstrated that our government doesn't have to be ready to fight a wqar to start one, so military readiness, or its lack, doesn't seem to make our leaders less foolishly aggressive.

A more universal service (everybody does something, from teaching to road repair to infantry) has theoretical appeal, but in reality there will still be enormous separation between combat service and any other.

I would like to see a much easier path to alternate service on moral grounds in case of a military draft. Why not give the poor some privilege to abuse the system?

PS: please do not thank me for my "service"; it was involuntary servitude in a deeply immoral and harmful cause. Thank you.

Counterlight said...

Indeed, it is true that during the Vietnam War, the privileged largely avoided the draft while the working class got swept up. Look at a couple of previous Presidents who managed to avoid the draft, one because of crony connections.

Robert Brenchley said...

Serving a political/military/industrial machine isn't necessarily service to the country. We need to look behind the ideological claptrap; does the country gain from slaughtering its young men? If not, why do we allow the politicians to get away with it?

Counterlight said...

A crucial question: Does military or any kind of duty serve the country or only those who own and run it?

Unknown said...

I'm with it's Margaret. There should be service, but it should not only be for the war machine that has become our military's way of life.