Truly bad ideas never really die. They merely go into hibernation until the useful idiots can be found to flog them again. So it is with the idea of universal military service.
Somehow a discussion at the Aspen Leadership Institute involving retired General Stanley McChrystal resulted in General McChrystal advocating a return to a draft:
"I think we ought to have a draft. I think if a nation goes to war, it shouldn't be solely be represented by a professional force, because it gets to be unrepresentative of the population," McChrystal said at a late-night event June 29 at the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival. "I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk. You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game."
General McChrystal is a smart guy, indeed he’s smart enough to know just how dumb this idea is. I think he has reasons for it that deal more with institutional prerogatives and trying to make sure that the military stays large and doesn’t have to fight a again short of an Armageddon. That may or may not be a good idea, I would argue that type of thinking makes Armageddon more, not less, likely but that is a discussion for another day.
Since then the CATO Institute has managed a very dishonest and pretzel shaped defense of conscription from an alleged libertarian standpoint:
This kind of talk makes libertarians instinctually recoil, but they shouldn’t. If you live in a country that is a prosperous democracy, don’t you owe at least a little bit of a debt of gratitude to those who came before to build it?
It is often said that libertarianism is an ideology of avarice and egocentrism. That to be a libertarian is to be only considered with oneself, and to have no sympathy for others. I know very well that that’s not true. But if libertarianism gets this bad rap, it might be in part because it too often lacks a certain feeling of gratitude. Gratitude for all the freedoms that we do have, despite those that we don’t have.
Milton Friedman supported President Reagan’s military buildup not because he suddenly became enamored with government spending or the military-industrial complex, but because he recognized that the greatest threat to freedom in the world in the 1980s was the Soviet Union, and its greatest ally was American strength. Our governments are very often enemies of freedom, but freedom also has enemies from without. It is a stubborn, sad fact of human life on this Earth that for any country that is free, that freedom was built by ancestors and is ultimately secured by force of arms.
And in turn, we owe these ancestors to serve their memory and to serve our future generations by protecting and expanding this freedom. And this sort of citizenship, which is the right one, could have a requirement of military service.
During George Bush’s re-election campaign, the Kerry-Edwards camp constantly floated a rumor that if Bush was re-elected he would reinstitute a draft to provide cannon fodder for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of my early posts on RedState addressed this issue. Don Gomez (Small Wars Journal Why Bringing Back the Draft Makes No Sense) does a lot better job than I did.
Bottom Line: Not only is conscription unnecessary but the costs associated with placing a couple of million eighteen year olds on the public dole each year for no greater reason that to show that you can far exceeds the imaginary benefits of conscription.
But it takes Dana Milbank, the Washington Post’s one-man Fifth Column, to bring the stupid to any argument (Save America: Restore the draft):
At this time of Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for the U.S. military — not just for the usual reason that it protects us from our foes but also because it has the potential to save us from ourselves.
As I make my rounds each day in the capital, chronicling our leaders’ plentiful foibles, failings, screw-ups, inanities, outrages and overall dysfunction, I’m often asked if there’s anything that could clean up the mess.
But one change, over time, could reverse the problems that have built up over the past few decades: We should mandate military service for all Americans, men and women alike, when they turn 18. The idea is radical, unlikely and impractical — but it just might work.
Milbank makes the following arguments:
- That because Clinton, Bush, and Obama did not serve in combat, and George Bush dodged the draft and used influence to avoid danger all the while flying the most dangerous fighter we’ve manufactured since the F4U Corsair “this same period has seen the gradual collapse of our ability to govern ourselves: a loss of control over the nation’s debt, legislative stalemate and a disabling partisanship.”
From the time William Howard Taft took the oath of office in 1909 until FDR checked out in the presence of a woman not his wife in 1945 no veteran served as president. The only veterans who would come close to being described as a draftee are Lincoln and McKinley. The only one who served at an age close to that being bandied about as the age of conscription, eighteen, was George H. W. Bush who was a commissioned officer and dive bomber pilot at age 19. The "collapse of our ability to govern ourselves" is really nothing more than Milbank's reaction to setbacks suffered to policies he supports. It has nothing to do with a veteran in the Oval Office as is apparent when he resorts to excluding Guardsmen and Reservists from the category of veteran.
- Switzerland has conscription and freakin loves it. They also keep automatic rifles at home… okay, he doesn’t make that argument.
Lots of countries do lots of things. Just because they do doesn’t mean they are worth emulating. Switzerland’s military has a history and if the Swiss want to maintain it that is their right. But to argue that the US and Switzerland are even remotely similar in population, history, or military obligations is just stupid. But this is Dana Milbank.
- Let’s have a draft and let those who don’t want to serve in combat teach school or herd unicorns or something else really useful.
The dishonesty of Milbank is exposed here along with the real agenda. Not everyone who enters the armed forces is going to be in a combat unit. I was fortunate to serve as an airborne infantryman. But I was also grateful when food, ammunition, fuel, mail, and medical care were available. So while on the one hand he derides George Bush for being a fighter pilot, he is willing to let working in daycare or cleaning the unicorn stables at the Obama White House substitute for combat experience and military training so long as the duty is coerced. By the way, the only avowed draft dodger on the list of American presidents is Bill Clinton. He wasn’t mentioned by Milbank.
The real issue here is to complete what communist philosopher Antonio Gramsci called “the long march through the institutions.” So long as the military is a volunteer organization it will attract a young man and woman who has a certain set of values: even though those values are placed under direct assault by the recognition of sexual perversion as a legitimate lifestyle.
- The benefits would be fabulous: “[O]vercoming growing social inequality without redistributing wealth; making future leaders, unlike today’s “chicken hawks,” disinclined to send troops into combat without good reason; putting young Americans to work and giving them job and technology skills; and, above all, giving these young Americans a shared sense of patriotism and service to the country.
I’m not sure I really know what social inequality is but if the massive World War II draft didn’t remedy it, no draft today is going to. One year in the military is not going to change your IQ, your family background, or any other demographic quality. It damned sure is not going to make it easier for a poor white kid to get an Ivy League scholarship in the face of the institutionalized racial discrimination that is Affirmative Action.
I would also point out that a military veteran president (two of them) and a Congress full of World War II vets led us into Vietnam. As Frederick the Great observed, “I had an ass that followed me on a dozen campaigns. He remained an ass.”
Military service doesn’t guarantee virtue (JFK) or leadership ability (Carter) or wisdom (John Kerry, John McCain). It is admirable and it does benefit some people but short of a war that would mean the destruction of the nation, it should remain as it has historically been in the United States: a voluntary endeavor by free men.