Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Postscript on Conscription, a Clausewitzian Perspective
This is a postscript of a series of threads I did on conscription from a Clausewitzian perspective. Part I, Part II and Part III generated a good deal of well-thought out and presented comment and my view of this subject has developed over the course of this month. Simply the process of writing down one's half-formed ideas and seeing them in print is perhaps the first basic step to a dialectic, but being able to have them commented on, sifted through and expanded upon is something that the contributors to this blog are consistently able to do. So many other blogs dealing with national security issues simply become echo chambers of the prevalent group think, which is a danger for any forum such as this. The conclusions mentioned in this postscript follow on from those listed in Part III, that is I have not significantly changed anything from that post. If anything those points have become only a bit more refined, as in the case of "Plattsburg". Which means that anyone reading only this postscript will not have the full picture, but rather one would need to look at all three parts and the commentary to follow the evolution of the discussion and how I got to where I am now. To begin, let us return to the original definition of conscription used, that being "compulsory enlistment of citizens or residents of a political body for national service". This is NOT limited to military service, but could be used to deal with a variety of crises that a political community could face: in which as part of a larger solution mass mobilization would be seen. To achieve mass mobilization, a certain amount of moral and material cohesion within the political community is necessary. An amount of indirect coercion may be unavoidable, but should actual force become a means there is a great danger that the whole endeavor could lead to decline of moral and material cohesion within the group. On the other hand, history has shown us that conscription as in the case of Prussia in 1813 and the US in 1917 working within the context of an obvious national emergency can be used to actually increase the material cohesion of the state. Following this, I would say that pre-modern moral cohesion becomes progressively weaker in relationship to modern moral cohesion through the process of mass mobilization directed by the state via material cohesion. Conscription divides the youth from their parents and grandparents as well as their local communities. Old pre-modern cohesive bonds are weakened and those associated with ideologies that is modern moral cohesion are strengthened. We thus see a strong connection between modern moral cohesion and material cohesion associated with the state. There is also a definite shift from values to interests, since while it is values (including traditions and prejudices) that more hold a community together, it is shared interests that more hold a society together. At this point, I need to step back and highlight a certain basic Clausewitzian assumption. Strategic theory is based on political communities, all the various concepts, be it "strategy", "political purpose", "ends, means and purpose", "military aim", "operations", let alone "war", "victory" and "defeat", all refer to political collectives. Only in one specific form of "tactics" as in tactics of the individual soldier, do any of these basic concepts refer to the individual as such. There is an unavoidable tension, even to the level of incoherence in using strategic theory to organize or describe "strategies" to achieve individual, that is essentially individual materialist, goals. This due to the logic of the community being something quite different from that of narrow/self-centered individual interest. In fact we cannot even define self-interest outside the community, since "justice" is what holds communities together, self-interest in the collective sense can thus be defined as when justice allows for the claims of the individual to be in line with the values/interests of the group. Those who fundamentally argue that conscription is "a waste of the individual's time" or claim to have "other priorities" (I'm thinking of Cheney's excuse during the Vietnam War) miss the whole point. It is not about the individual, that is narrow, self-centered, "what's in it for me?", interests or opportunities at all, but service to the group, as a member of the political community in question. This perspective in turn requires "a language", a specific set of concepts with distinct meanings able to communicate within the group or between like-minded groups. We now start to see that a conversation which started about conscription actually sheds important light on more basic political questions and helps explain the nature of the changes we have seen in the US since at least 2000, but probably going back to the 1970s. To shed some additional light on that, let us consider what the US governments response was regarding 9/11. A great wave of patriotic feeling was allowed to dissipate, the population was told to "go shopping", while the government would deal with what was projected as an existential threat. Also, contrary to past practice, no additional taxes to pay for the war were levied. As government expanded in the form of the Department of Homeland Security and other contributions to the expanding war on terror "industry" revenues were slashed. Furthermore, a conscript force was the last thing the government seemingly wanted. That would have created additional material cohesion within the population with additional expectations as to what government could achieve for not so much individuals, but the political community as a whole. The dominate ideology operating in the US today is Right wing Liberalism which does not even recognize the existence of a viable political community, but rather sees society as a pack of lone wolves (among masses of sheep) responding to opportunities as they present themselves. It would seem that is the way that US government officials see their positions as well. Finally, the effect of this on the ethos of our military is striking. We seem to be developing a military caste formed along family lines but with a diminishing sense of identity to the US political community as a whole. As implied in the Orwell article I presented, such a force is ideally suited as an imperial constabulary, but not the armed force of a republic.