Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Slaves of Duty

Richard Cohen has a worthwhile piece up in today's Washington Post.
"I was on active duty as a reservist, not for very long but long enough for the Army to have lost all its mystery. I found the Army to be no better and no worse than other large institutions. Some of its leaders were fools, and some soldiers were thieves, and everyone wasted money like there was no tomorrow. This is the truth and everyone once knew it.

No more. The military of today is removed from society in general. It is a majority white and, according to a Heritage Foundation study, disproportionately Southern. This is a military conscripted by culture and class - induced, not coerced, indoctrinated in all the proper cliches about serving one's country, honored and romanticized by those of us who would not, for a moment, think of doing the same."

Like this or hate it, this is why a republic needs to have some way to connect its citizens with its Army. The only practical way this has ever been accomplished is through universal conscription. Yes, it's involuntary servitude. Yes, it's often cheated on and often unfair. Yes, it makes things more complicated for the professionals within the Army.

But Cohen makes some good points here. For all the "garsh, what a great Army we have now those cranky draftees are gone!" rhetoric (to which I would merely observe; really? Where are the heavyweight enemies this great Army has dispatched? The Panamanian Defense Force? The Republican Guard (I guarentee nobody calls those fuckers "elite" anymore)? The Somalian militias?) the only real difference I can see between the mass army of WW2, Korea, and Vietnam and the VolAr of Grenada and beyond is that the latter is "virtually worshipped for its admirable qualities while its less admirable ones are hardly mentioned or known."

The Founders and Framers were quite explicit in their antipathy towards a standing Army. In their opinion, an opinion formed not from airy philosophy but from having been in the impact area of Great Britain's last "little war" with France, a standing professional force made that sort of cabinet war, the same sort of cabinet wars we've been fighting in southwest and central Asia for the past eight years, much more likely.

And why is this a problem?

Because in a republic the law is supposed to be king. We're a "government of laws, not of men", remember?

But in wartime the civil law is nullified. The day of battle is a legal dies non in the common law; the only law that applies is the Law of War, and that law takes no notice of things like personal liberties or property rights beyond what is required to fulfill the minimal requirements of civilian safety. And as the great wars of the 20th Century showed, these requirements are disregarded as often as not; ask any civilian resident of Coventry, Dresden, or Hiroshima.

So when the military is worshipped and ignored, when the business of killing and dying is offshored like an automobile plant, when every President becomes a War President, and every day becomes just another day in the War on (Insert Name Here)...what becomes of the law?

What does this mean for the long term health of the Republic?


  1. Conscription is a very serious restriction of freedom (I call it underpaid sexually discriminating unfree labour with partial withdrawal of human right - and nobody so far was able to disprove any component).

    It is justifiable in wars of necessity and in crisis years with the danger of such a war. Yet, even then the current crop of conscription is overly discriminating (why should only part of the population suffer while others are even allowed to increase their fortune?).

    A conscription is not necessary to keep a proper connection between a nation and its military - especially not if the current rather small forces would conscript only a small share of the eligible men as it happened in Germany since the 90's.

    The culprit is rather the romantication, which is simply mislead. A military force is a bureaucracy that has hopefully not been tested in action for decades and is accordingly terribly red taped and wasteful.

    The only forms of combat that resemble combat as people think of it yields casualty rates of several per cent per day in a full scale war. There's nothing good about life in combat units in wartime below the rank of LTC.

    The harsh reality and incredible damage done in wars need to be understood. The 'romantic' and warmonger people need to be beaten up with facts about the real world, until they retreat and tolerate that the society treats armed forces as what they should be; a protection against aggression against ourselves and our sovereignty. Nothing else.

    The problem is no disconnect. The problem is immaturity and lack of intellectualism in a society.

  2. Just another note; I know only about two and a half real anti-war_of_choice blogs among more than a hundred MilBlogs.

  3. "The problem is no disconnect. The problem is immaturity and lack of intellectualism in a society.""

    Not sure what you mean by this, Sven. The problem is "no disconnect"? That the problem ISN'T a disconnect between the military and the rest of the U.S. public? Or that the problem is because there isnt a disconnect?

    I'll agree that we have a real problem with the whole issue of immaturity - wanna-be hard boys in the press, the public, and the gorvernment getting all stiff over war porn and whooping up the services. I don't know if that's a question of a "lack of intellectualism" perse; I doubt the average Belgian yob or Bavarian pub brawler is much more intellectual than an American frat boy, but two world wars and a hell of a lot of killing seem to have knocked the understanding of the "harsh reality and incredible damage" that war does to people, places, and societies into the first two that the third doesn't get. I think that's a question of experience, not intellect.

    And I'm not surprised that the number of warbloggers vastly outnumber the number of sites that question the worth of aggressive wars. The internet is for porn, including war porn, and it's a hell of a lot more fun to whoop up enthusiasm for slotting wrapheads and getting all turgid over blowing shit up than talking about sensible strategy and tactics.

    But I'm not getting how you're advising us to close this conceptual gap between the average Joe & Molly - including the average Joe and Molly Congressperson - and our military. Grow up? Get smarter? Good luck with that. Nations have been composed of juvenile idiots since Hammurabi's day, at least. There needs to be some more structural way to close the gap.

  4. What is the problem with a universal conscription service where military is only minority option? is this not what Germany has today? My understanding is that there are social programs that youths can enroll in for their service (2 years instead of 1 in the military). Does this work? And if so, could it work here?

  5. "the problem ISN'T a disconnect between the military"

    "I doubt the average Belgian yob or Bavarian pub brawler is much more intellectual than an American frat boy"

    No, but the average Belgian or Bavarian respects the insights that real intellectuals have and keep alive. I think that's the difference.
    "Intellectual elitist" (or however translated) is not derogatory in Central Europe.

    People like O'Reilly, Hannity, O'Hanlon exist in Germany as well, but they are marginalized and don't become millionaires with a national audience here. Our Palin equivalent was a short episode of no relevance beyond her own party (she served as strawman for some in her party for deposing the party leader, that was all relevance she ever got).

    A "bomb, bomb, Iran" song would have ruined EVERY career over here. ZERO tolerance.

  6. The civil service went wrong (it replaced real jobs in health care) and was really meant as an alternative for conscious objectors. It became a simple way of chicken out, of staying at home and have a 40 hour/week job in your community instead of a remote job far away from mommy's food.

    The last German conscripts entered service on 2011-01-01 and less than a fifth of the young men of 2010 did their 6-month military service at all.
    It became a farce because there was almost no need for such short-trained workforce any more - certainly none that would draw future quality leaders into the Bundeswehr or qualify a real reserve pool.

    Conscription becomes a farce at a certain ratio between population (18 year olds) and force size (enlisted personnel).

    I proposed a voluntary system for the addition of quantitative (reserve) strength to the Bundeswehr long ago:

    This almost-militia would create regional light infantry battalion battle groups that could also serve to link forces with civil society (if that's really that important as some people assert. I'm not convinced at all.)

  7. Sven: agreed on the problematic status of public intellectuals in the U.S. Not so sure that the average European is quite as intellectual as you suggest. I suspect that the big difference is a century of war that the U.S. escaped. War and soldiering as entertainment and enthusiasm seems to have been largely knocked out of the character of a hell of a lot of European countries and Europeans, for good reasons. Americans, not so much. So there needs to be something more concrete to keep the American frat boys in line than suggesting that Glenn Beck is a fucktard. Glenn Beck (Rush Limbaugh, Hannity, Palin, McCain, etc.) ARE fucktards. But they benefit from NOT following the examples of the nefarious European demagogues. Telling Americans to have zero tolerance for fucktards isn't helpful. There needs to be a more solid way of punishing the public - immediately, soundly - for electing and supporting the fucktards.

    That's why I disagree that the disconnect is not a problem, or at least most of the problem. As I pointed out in the original post, the people who founded the country thought it was a problem, and certainly most of our cabinet wars have occurred in times of small, volunteer armies isolated from most of the rest of the country; Mexico in 1845, the imperials wars in Cuba and the PI in the late 19th and early 20th Century, the banana wars of the Twenties and Thirties, and now these little wars of the post-Eighties period.

    Republics which offer their leaders painless opportunities for foreign war will usually get foreign war, unless those politicians are exceptionally thoughtful. Especially if the citizenry has a loud and vocal element helping to beat the war drums.

    So while you're right in your observations, none of your observations help deal with the problem.

  8. bg: Agree with Sven that creating a "civil service" option wouldn't get Americans heads back in the military policy game. It'd just be a way for the kids who didn't want to hump a ruck to get over.

    And we already HAVE Sven's landwehr, it's called the National Guard and Reserve, and the misuse of that supposed strategic reserve is one of the undertold stories of these damn cabinet wars. Most guys in the so-called reserve components are de facto regulars now. You can't hold down a real civilian job when you get uprooted every 2-4 years and deployed for a year and a half. Most of the "traditional" Guardsmen I served with got out back in '06-'08, after the reality of the unending deployment cycle became obvious.

  9. Conscription would furthermore not help in the short run.
    It takes a decade to build up a sizeable trained reserve manpower pool with it, and it takes four decades before the first new former conscripts become the generation that actually has power.

    Even a conscription NOW would not end the reign of the chickenhawks for another generation - and most of the present chickenhawks are from a generation that actually knew the draft!

  10. Sven: The crucial difference is that most of the chickenhawks ARE chickenhawks - like their Dear Leaders, Bush and Cheney - they found "important things" to do other than spend two or three years policing the area and GIing the barracks.

    And as for the delayed benefits of conscription...well, there has to be a time and place to start if there IS any benefit...

    I'll admit to being kind of stumped here. Conscription isn't my idea of a good way to field an army (except, as you mention, in real cases of la patrie en danger. But we've seen the effect of reducing the U.S. Army to what amounts to a nobleman's fighting tail. The only way I can think of to get the U.S. public back to where they have some skin in the game is to get them back into military service en masse.

    I'm more than willing to hear other ideas, but so far all I've heard you say is "conscription won't work and the problem is you have to get smarter and stop romanticizing war". Good ideas, and as likely to work as telling people that driving Hummers to work is a bad idea. Bumping the price of gas up to $5.00 a gallon is a more sure solution. Let's hear something practical.

  11. Hehe, I have an idea that would silence all warmongers and chickenhawks. I can guarantee that it would 100% prevent a war of choice, though.

    The problem is that it's so radical I don't even post it on the blog.

    I can explain it in e-mail, drop me a line if you're curious.

  12. Chief,

    Aren't the people who have no interest in joining the volunteer military the same people who would oppose conscription, which is to say, most of the country? In other words, the factors that skew military demographics are the same factors that make conscription a political impossibility.

  13. Unlikely. Only young people are eligible. The old people are less likely against conscription (unless their son is still young enough).

    There are also the women - half the nation - which would typically not be drafted.

  14. Chief,

    "The only way I can think of to get the U.S. public back to where they have some skin in the game is to get them back into military service en masse.....I'm more than willing to hear other ideas "

    The same way we always have, people vote with their wallets. What is the down side of instituting a war tax when a set number of troops are deployed overseas in "contingency operations". I am all for an amendment to the constitution that states that 365 days after deploying a set number of troops, that a war tax will be enacted to pay for the efforts and spread the pain (as well as make a politician think twice about the political cost of war).

  15. Sven,

    "There are also the women - half the nation - which would typically not be drafted."

    Why not? Maybe true in Germany, not sure, but in the US Military, woman are in high demand.

  16. You guys have already covered all of my talking points on the draft vs. AVF but I do have another bone to pick.

    "The Founders and Framers were quite explicit in their antipathy towards a standing Army. In their opinion, an opinion formed not from airy philosophy but from having been in the impact area of Great Britain's last "little war" with France, a standing professional force made that sort of cabinet war, the same sort of cabinet wars we've been fighting in southwest and central Asia for the past eight years, much more likely."

    Chief, as you probably already know, what we in the US call the "French and Indian" war was considerably more than a "little war." It could rightfully called World War I, with major action in Europe, North America, Southern Asia, and Africa. Yes this war had a relatively silly official cause, but most wars do.

    As you'll also recall, large parts of Founding Father's antipathy to a large standing army were:
    1) You've got to put the soldiers somewhere and in the American experience at the time that meant having to bunk British soldiers in their own houses.
    2) As you've correctly pointed out, there is also the temptation to use these troops in "cabinet wars" that can spin out of control very quickly.
    3) The temptation to use the troops on your own citizens. We were very fortunate that George Washington had different ambitions for the country because he could easily have started a Cromwell-style campaign to take over the country at the end of the Revolutionary War if he had been so inclined.

    The big problem with today's army is that the entire military and civilian leadership of the country is living in Fantasyland (aka Washington DC) and is very puzzled when their grand designs don't survive contact with reality. The second biggest problem is that they tend to retreat further into fantasy when this happens.

    As our current set of leader fantasies make our leaders lives even harder they will consider even more preposterous ideas to be facts and this causes me to be a little concerned about the possibility of the use of military force against our own citizens inside our own country. At least 5-10% of the population could be considered terrorists if you stretch the definition just a little. And that alone could justify a large expansion in the Special Forces budget to hunt them down and neutralize them.

    On a side note, here's a perceptive report from Politico on how the Republicans keeping their commitments to their own campaign promises:

    We all knew it would happen, we just didn't expect it to happen quite so quickly or so brazenly.

  17. Last comment and then I'm done for a while.

    As somebody will no doubt point out, our leaders spin these fantasies in public and the general population never argues with them so we deserve the leadership we've got. But that doesn't mean that it won't end badly...

  18. "Why not? Maybe true in Germany, not sure, but in the US Military, woman are in high demand."

    I already answered that.
    It would double the age group.
    You do not need millions of active conscripts at all - many of them would waste their time in useless jobs because jobs had to be found.

    Leaders will cope with the huge age group by keeping the service short, thus reducing the overall impact considerably. The armed services are unlikely to train the recruits properly- they will give them a short training to make some use of them in at least a few months of their service. Armed forces think more in terms of deployable, combat-ready troops than in terms of available reservists in the next years.

    Finally, the system will also cope with the huge age group by raising the entry level (fitness, health, possibly intelligence).
    You will end up having only partial military service in your nation - again.

    Conscription is fitting if a nation needs a huge force. The numbers simply don't fit well if the military chose a rather quality-centric approach.

  19. Sven,

    The total size of the active duty force is 1.5 million. There's about another 1.5 million in the reserve and guard. The US graduates about 2 million men from high school each year. If you include those who don't graduate from HS, then that number rises to over 3 million. If you include women the total number is almost 6 million.

    You can figure out the numbers yourself as to how many would get conscripted under various scenarios (ie. 1 year obligation vs 2 year obligation, 50% of the force conscripted vs. some other percentage, etc.).

    Regardless, conscription isn't going to happen. The people don't want it and they surely don't want it for their kids either.

  20. Andy: the people also want free money and "Hoarders" on the Discovery Channel 24/7. What the people "want" and what is good for their Republic are often two completely different things. We're not talking about that here - we're talking about ideas to help drive a stake in these damn cabinet wars that the VolAr helps enable. While I agree that the draft is politically dead, the point of this post is that it shouldn't be; that having a small standing army is, just as the Founders and Framers thought it would be, a temptation to unscrupulous members of the governing classes to make war on the QT. So just as I challenged Sven - you don't agree that a draft will help, tell me what you think WOULD help. Right now the U.S. public is as useless in the public forum when the subject of war come up as a tampon is in a typhoon. What can and should we do then, to bring their heads around? Right now I am liking bg's suggestion (see below).

    bg: I like your idea. IF you can't drag them in by the neck, grab 'em by the wallet. I'm not sure how you could make this work, but I sure like the sound of it. The hell with a year - make it 90 days. If you can't resolve the problem in three months then it's not an "intervention", it's a war, and we should pay for it. To up the ante, make it a progressive tax, with the heaviest burden falling on those making more than 100K/yr. Mmmm. I LIKE it!

    Pluto: No argument re: the global scope of the Seven Years' War - it was relatively large as an Eighteen Century cabinet war went. But the causes and conduct were much the same, and I've read that a number of historians consider it a sort of coda to the War of Austrian Succession. To the Americans of the day it must have seemed especially infuriating to have suffered so much damage and spent so much time and effort only to see so much of their profit horse-traded away by the European powers. And, of course, all the ill-effect of being a vassal of a powerful empire.

    No wonder they wanted to stay out of European quarrels!

  21. Chief,

    There are a lot of things that "shouldn't be." I'm sorry to be cynical but in reply I'll just make a couple of quick, straightforward points:

    1. I'm increasingly of the mind that the people will get the government and the outcomes they deserve.

    2. There's no evidence a draft would have prevented these wars or would make them unpopular. Vietnam went on for how long? And the casualties in Vietnam were how many orders of magnitude larger? And all with a conscript force?

    3. You bring up the point of the founding fathers. Yeah, they didn't like the idea of a standing Army. I think they would like the idea of a standing Army composed of conscripts even less.

    4. I don't have much use for wishful thinking anymore and hoping to re-institute the draft is just that. So is a war tax. I say that as a great supporter of a war tax, but it's not going to happen for the same reasons a draft isn't going to happen. Besides, I don't think that a large military will be around much longer because the deficit and debt is reaching a tipping point in my opinion.

  22. The UK doesnt actualy have a standing army.
    Every Year, the House of Commons passes a resolution allowing the formation of a military force, for one year, and sets upper boundaries for the number of Officers, NCO's and privates.
    Every year.
    Its just a formality that happens.
    Thats always been the case.

    What RC says is (in some parts) true, the armed forces are inefficient and dream up more and more ways to be less efficient.

    But the same applies to every other arm of government.

    I've seen audit reports from government funded hospitals wave through Meeting Rooms with £10k chairs and a £200k table.
    Did you know they make 120" plasma screen televisions? They do. I know of a special care baby ward that has one.

    I know of a local council that called out the breakdown service to change a flat tyre, at a cost of £140 a visit. It sacked a member of staff for changing his own tyre!!!

    If, conscription could solve the Armed forces problem, it would have to be replicated across government as a whole.
    But I dont believe it will.
    There will always be workshy malingerers, theives and incompetants.

    If you conscript a whole bunch of young men, you jsut give them more targets to prey on, and more cover to hide in.

    As it is, I disagree with the idea that conscription would solve anything.

    RC is old enough to be conscripted, as were his current friends, yet he knows no one else who served, even as lightly as he did.

    He says we dont know anyone who's died, or even been injured, he's right, I dont, but I live in one of the British Armies best recruiting area. I know of a few school friends who joined up, I sometimes see a young ish bloke with a missing leg and wonder.
    But surely this is a factor of the light casualities, not any sort of apartheid.

    The UK has suffered a little over 300 deaths in 10 years, We suffered more than a day in the first world war.

    The draft didnt stop the Vietnam war, why on earth would it have stopped Iraq?
    Fundings a Red Herring, War Is Cheap.

    Its easy to say the Politicians cant challenge Generals, but firstly, its their job too, if they cant do it, they should step down and get a real job, and secondly, what General WANTS to be in Afghanistan?
    Have I just missed the generals who want to occupy FATA and Iran?

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