Saturday, November 5, 2011

With Their Shields or On Them

I'm sitting in front of the computer whilst the kiddos indulge in some truly reprehensible Saturday morning TV - a ritual as old as MY childhood, at least - and came across this Krugman column that ends with a comment that I thought went right to the heart of the discussions we had over at GFT about what I considered the unfortunate narrowing of the social arc of military service in the U.S. circa 2011:
"If people can’t comprehend what it means to work for larger goals than their own interest, if they actually consider any deviation from self-service somehow a sign of phoniness, we, as a nation, are lost."
The Krugman essay is in reference to the apparent difference between "conservatives" - who seem willing to shove any sort of public-figure misbehavior down the memory hole so long as the offending politician continues to vote for their regressive policies - and liberals, who immediately defenestrate their own "leaders" if the personal lives of those leaders vary from the public positions.But in the course of his post Krugman brings up someone I had forgotten; Ed Luttwak, who wrote back in 1995 that any hope the U.S. (and other Western societies) had of returning to a widespread national service was doomed by the replacement-level birth rates of their peoples. Luttwak's "post-heroic" societies had developed such an attachment to their children "...(b)ecause most couples have only one or two children, the loss of any in warfare becomes intolerable, and conscription becomes unthinkable..."(and)"...child-centered Americans (and Europeans and Japanese) will be forced to rely in the future on allies, mercenaries, and maybe robots to fight on their behalf."So; here I am, looking at my own precious offspring (one inert on the couch, the other somewhere in the back of the house - I can hear her chatting to herself there, anyway...) and wondering - would I give them up if my country demanded it not for existential defense, but for some abtruse foreign policy objective? Would I be "convincible" that burying my son or daughter for some transient geopolitical advantage in part of my country's imperial corona was worth the end of my own personal immortality?And I honestly don't know the answer.

But it certainly raises some difficult questions for me.


  1. Chief-

    When the Selective Service Atct was passed in 1940, my Nonna had 1 son (my Dad) and 4 sons-in-law eligible for the draft. At the time, my sister was the only offspring of these 5 couples. Nonna was convinced that she had to deliver a "plan" to the local Draft Board to ensure that the correct men from our family were drafted. She selected 3 of the five to serve. This was actually based upon a variety of factors set by her. My Dad could serve because he had been married 6 years and had a "strong wife", but not Uncle Joe, as his wife was only 19 and they had only been married a year. Also, Joe was about 5' 6", and too small to "wrest;e with one of those big Germans. And thus the logic was developed. She had her eldest son take notes, and, unbeknownst to the men involved, she then called upon our neighbor, Mr Dyer, who was on the local Draft Board to tell him who he could draft and why! Mr Dyer, assured Nonna that the Draft Board would give her carefully developed "plan" great weight in selecting who from the local area would be called to serve. Later, her got hold of my Dad, told him of Nonna coming to him and letting Dad know that there was nothing the Board could do but follow procedure. Dad was only mildly surprised that Nonna actually presented the "plan" to Dyer.

    As it turned out, the two that were to stay home were drafted. Joe served in the European Theater and returned a highly decorated infantryman. I guess he stuck to fighting short Germans. Tony, the other to stay home spend 4 years in the Coast Guard escorting convoyed across the North Atlantic. My Dad, who she had selected to served was found to have a significant heart murmur and was the only one to not be drafted.

    But at least Nonna had a plan, and it's family legend.

  2. I'll give you some help in resolving your dilemma, Chief.

    In WW2, they got my father and five uncles. Two uncles were wounded; my father was 100% disabled.

    In Vietnam, they got me. More than once. And then I stayed with 'em against the advice of all of those WW2 vets.

    I have one child. My child has never served and is already past the prime window for service.

    I would fight to the death to prevent my child from ever serving in the military of a nation with a stated policy of further enriching people who've already gotten rich by impoverishing their fellow citizens. I would not want my child to serve in the military of a nation that discriminates against people based on race, gender or sexual orientation. I would not want my child to serve in the military of a nation that claims to be secular, but which also demands fealty to a religion of political candidates. I would not want my child to serve in the military of a nation that refuses to provide even basic medical care to its citizens. I would not want my child to serve in the military of a nation that views the invasion of any other nation on the flimsiest of pretexts as proper and perfectly legal. Finally, I would not want my child to serve in the military of a nation that is considered a bully and is despised by much of the world.

    That help any?

  3. I've also faced this dilemma, Chief, and have come to the same conclusion as you. If the cause was a war of survival I'd have to send the kids off to war regardless of the potential cost.

    But the current set of wars are all under the title of "unnecessary wog bashing" so the country is far better off having my kids as well-adjusted citizens capable of paying taxes and positively influencing policy.

  4. Publius:

    Elegantly stated. If there was something worthwhile being defended, there would be no question. Sadly, there isn't. While I once felt that service should be without question, the Bush years and his "Go shopping" comment made me think otherwise.

  5. I have four siblings. The five of us have produced in all 14 offspring, most are currently of prime age to join the military. None have nor will. Their parents are against it, and I and an ex brother-in-law who are the only ones with military service, would counsel against it for the reasons Publius mentions above.

    It's not about patriotism any more, rather about interest, all down the line from top to bottom. And in whose interest is it to "serve"?

  6. Phil Carter's got an Opinion piece up in the WastPost on essentially this subject . . .

  7. With three kids of my own (and definitely no more on the way), this is something I've thought about a lot. My answer is that it's ultimately not up to me. The best I can do is prepare my kids to make an informed decision and do my part, politically, to ensure military force is used responsibly.

  8. "the apparent difference between "conservatives" - who seem willing to shove any sort of public-figure misbehavior down the memory hole so long as the offending politician continues to vote for their regressive policies - and liberals, who immediately defenestrate their own "leaders" if the personal lives of those leaders vary from the public positions."

    I'm sorry, but this is nonsense. There are two Democratic congressmen from my state alone, minimum, who would currently be toast if that were true.

    The GOP and Dems toss overboard only those who are disposable and only do so quickly when doing so is cost-free or the scandal invites a high degree of media ridicule. Otherwise they circle the wagons. There's no monopoly on civic virtue in either party.

    Actually, scratch that - there's very little virtue in either party.

  9. Like seydlitz and publius, I have quite a few nieces and nephews of, or nearing the age of service. And when asked, I counsel against joining -- for the very simple reason that our political elites are killing our youth for no good reason. Colleagues who know of my past work and ask me about their own kin's potential service get the same answer. The very obvious fact that the elites themselves refuse to sacrifice their own blood much less any of their treasure to the causes we are fighting is proof positive of my position.

    Most of the time, my opinion surprises and even shocks those who seek it.


  10. Seydlitz,

    Interesting op-ed by our old host. Here's one he wrote in 2006 along the same lines.

  11. Chief,
    right now i'm reading DIAMONDS book -the third chimpanzee. It's old but has some great insight.
    I recommend it concerning offspring.

  12. Jim,

    I haven't read that one, but I read Guns, Germs and Steel, which I thought was excellent.

  13. RP: "The very obvious fact that the elites themselves refuse to sacrifice their own blood much less any of their treasure to the causes we are fighting is proof positive of my position."

    In my experience, the vast majority supporting GWB's military adventures have not seen fit to sacrifice their own safety nor that of their offspring.

  14. Here's the thing, tho: I firmly believe that armed service is not just compatible but crucial for citizenship in a republic. If the armed services are NOT "the people in arms" then the risk of OAS-style praetorian treason goes up an order of magnitude. While I'm not going to say that our current professional armed services are a hotbed of sedition and potential condottiere-style disaffection, I would say that such difficulties are much more likely with this arrangement than with a more representative body of citizens serving.

    But...then you don't get to pick and choose. You have to serve where you're ordered, no matter whether it's Guadalcanal or Grenada. And I'm not sure - in fact, I know for a fact - that I have a very good answer for that.

    I'm not going to try and skew my kids' choice other than by my own example...but my example is in itself far from clear. I will tell my kids the truth; that for soldiers below field grade (and sometimes even then) armed conflict is the least-funnest thing you'll ever do, a toxic combination of insanely boring and bowel-looseningly terrifying.

    But...I served for 20 years, and am still modestly proud of that.

    So, as I said - I just don't have a very good answer to this problem.

    Zen: Nonsense. Eliot Spitzer got the heave-ho for stuff that Dave Vitter STILL boasts about.

    Trust me - I'll be the first one to agree that neither party a) has a monopoly on decency or b) does ANYthing for reasons other than pure venal expedience. But the difference is in the quality of the expedience. The GOP has its eyes on the prize - it wants power and will do what it has to do to get it. The Dems are fucking clueless, and kinda-sorta want to be seen as the "good guys" long after it has become obvious that there ARE no "good guys". The GOP has figured out that in a deathmatch you fight and kill EVERYTHING. The Dems are still trying to use the Queensbury Rules, so they get rolled Every Fucking Time.

    It'd be amusing if the GOP wasn't such a brainless hydra. As it is, it's just toxic for the Republic. I wish we weren't there, but we are, and the Dems should recognize that.

    IMO the sooner the current status-quo implodes, the better. There doesn't seem to me to be a way to "save" the current political arrangements. One or both of the national parties needs to collapse so the wreckage can be cleared away. Adn the rest of us?

    We're Just Still Fucked.

  15. Chief,

    I think Zen is right on this one. Krugman says:

    There’s a big difference between the left and the right in such matters, one that I don’t fully understand, although I’m trying. Here’s how it goes: if a liberal politician is caught behaving badly — enriching himself while preaching the need to help the poor, or just in general showing himself less than admirable by having an affair, visiting call girls, whatever — his career is over.

    Barney Frank hired a gay prostitute and then gave him a job. Rep. Frank doesn't seem to be doing too badly these days among liberals. Chappaquiddick never seemed to damage Ted Kennedy's political fortunes. Gary Condit survived his affair, despite the woman's murder, though he was defeated in a primary the next election cycle. More recently Charles Rangel got a slap on the wrist for some serious corruption. Those are what I remember off the top of my head - research would probably reveal more.

    On the Republican side, Tom Delay resigned and was convicted. Ted Stevens, like Condit, remained in office but was defeated at the ballot box. Senator John Ensign resigned due to sex and fiscal scandals.

    Clearly reality is not as simply as Krugman would like us to believe. Democrats have survived scandal and Republicans have succumbed to it. However, I'm willing to be convinced one way or the other on the basis of actual evidence. If Krugman (or anyone else) believes there is a double-standard, then let's see some robust data and analysis comparing partisan scandals, not opinion given as fact.


    I've read and re-read your comment, thought about it quite a bit and I guess I must be missing something. Given what you've laid out, it would seem to me you've provided a standard of behavior our nation has never lived up to. Therefore, you seem to be suggesting you would not want your child to serve in the US military now or at any time throughout it's history. Is that correct?

  16. Andy: Frank is untouchable with the national party as a gay man as well as personally popular in his district. Kennedy became permanently disbarred from the Presidency that was widely thought to be his for the asking - I'd call that "damaged", though your mileage may vary. Another man has been convicted for the murder of Chandra Levy AFTER Condit was defeated. Rangel was guilty as hell, lost his chairmanship and was censured.

    Meanwhile DeLay is STILL a power in the GOP. He is described as "...traveling around the country and meeting with major donors, fundraisers, and political operatives, encouraging them to pay more attention to what the Left is accomplishing and how, and asking for their involvement with more outside organizations." Vitter hung tough, and so did Sanford of SC.

    And, more to the point I was making, was and is the difference between the parties when confronted with scandal or even the POSSIBILITY of scandal - or anything else, for that matter. In general the GOP stands by their man. In general the Dems run like sheep.

    If there's a "double-standard" here, it's in the relative effectiveness of the two parties at party politics. The GOP has it figured out; it's scorched earth time, take-no-prisoners. Your candidates are utterly batshit? Who cares! They're OUR batshit candidates. The Dems are a bunch of fucking nellies. Oh, dear, you say you're going to filibuster our judicial nominees? You meanies! Well, maybe we'll just leave the bench vacant, then...

    What a bunch of pathetic losers. Hate the GOP (and I do) but you gotta admire them for having the balls to be willing to get down and fight for what they believe in. The fucking Dems don't seem to believe in ANYthing anymore.

  17. Publius: I have to say that Andy's points are valid; our nations has been all of those things during the times in its existence when it really WAS threatened with extinction. Your standards are so high that I'm not sure that ANY nation would meet them.

    I'm all for not having my kids die in war. But are you - and I'm seriously asking now - saying that you would have been against them fighting in the Revolution or for the Union in the Civil War (just to cherry-pick the "just wars")?

    That's a pretty tough standard...

  18. I'll leave it to Publius to defend his position, since he can do so far better than I can. But the way I understood it was that it precisely was not timeless, rather his ideals and view fit within a specific historical context. This is understandable since each of us fit within a specific historical context as well, that's part of what being human is all about. America is what it is today and American ideals as seen by Americans would be different at different points in time although being recognizable over time in broad general terms. But . . .

    What we see today is so outside what has gone before, the hypocrisy so blatant, the selling out so obvious, mammon so much the focus, bigotry so shameless, cynicism so rampant, that I for one have difficulty recognizing my own country.

  19. For me, it has been painful to listen to the current crop of "ChickenHawks", not just in public office, but so many of my neighbors, promote our misguided adventures while steering their offspring away from military service because they have "more important gifts to offer". Thus, while I have not discouraged anyone from military service, I have ceased being a vocal advocate of it. First, it avoids the anger I feel when someone states that it "isn't their calling", or "If I were needed I would be told" - typical responses from those who supported the current wars or claimed to be "patriots". Thus, I have reduced the number of situations in which I want to say, "Go F--- yourself", and I don't wish to say that, even to some who deserve it. Second, I honestly feel, for the first time in my life, that the troops, regardless of how pure their own motives may be, have been exploited, particularly by the Bush administration (used as backdrops for political speeches, for example) and continue to be exploited, simply because that has become the standard. I cannot, without severe reservation, encourage military service knowing that this exploitation is the norm. If someone seriously wishes to join up, I will assist, but I am in no way willing to be the "tie breaker".

  20. seydlitz, Al: Are we really THAT much more cynically exploited than the guys opening China for the Helping Hand Rescue Mission and Trading Cooperative circa 1900? Or wog-bashing in Honduras, Nicaragua, and Haiti in the Teens, Twenties and Thirties? Or in the PI in the 1890s and the ragtime years? Or, for that matter, in Mexico and California in the 1840s?

    I mean, I loves me some America. But we haven't been angels all the time, or even most of the time, throughout our history. Better than many? Sure. But it's hard to look at stuff like the annexation of Hawaii, say, and feel like our jolly tars and noble lads were exactly doing the Lord's Work there.

    And yet...we are STILL at least the noble ruin of a republic. And if we, and those like us, refuse to serve because we loathe the things the despicable among our political leaders gull and bully us into doing...what will that leave the Republic?

    Andy and I may argue about who sucks more, the asses or the 'phants...but at least in principle there IS something to argue about. But if we leave military service to those who have the least stake in the good of the nation (and the current military, especially the line doggies, are disproportionately lower-middle-to-lower-class-urban-and-rural-Southern)...what prospect does that give the Republic for the future?

  21. ...the hypocrisy so blatant, the selling out so obvious, mammon so much the focus, bigotry so shameless, cynicism so rampant, that I for one have difficulty recognizing my own country."

    Worse than the U.S. in 1900? Really? With John D. Rockefeller and his fellow plutocrats damning the public, economic panics, national guardsmen shooting strikers, Red scares, Jim Crow, colonial wars in the PI and China..?

    I dunno, seydlitz. I'd say that as bad as things are today, they look terrible to us because we grew up in the economically prosperous, politically consensual, and socially more egalitarian Sixties and Seventies. Not trying to put a nice face on our times, but I'll bet if you showed them to an American circa 1901 he'd recognize them...

  22. Chief,

    Maybe Dems are harder on their own than the GoP. That's not my personal impression, but I don't really know. I also don't really care but it would be interesting to see an actual analysis and not just claims backed up by anecdote. On such questions Krugman's assertions should not be taken at face value.


    Historical context makes a lot more sense. I assume when you say this:

    What we see today is so outside what has gone before, the hypocrisy so blatant, the selling out so obvious, mammon so much the focus, bigotry so shameless, cynicism so rampant, that I for one have difficulty recognizing my own country.

    you are talking about your own historical context and not the entire span of American history.

    My experience comes from a more recent context - an entirely post-Cold-War context where our leaders view the use of military force differently than before.


    I agree about the chickenhawks. Actually I agree with your whole comment. This is something I go back and forth on though.

  23. @Andy and FD Chief: Fair questions and/or rejoinders, dudes. As a preface to my response—which will be very brief—I'll just say that I often wonder about my own particular choices. And I'll also say that now I'm a senior citizen, I think there's something amiss with any human who doesn't look back and wonder about some of life's choices. Life is a continuum, with personal growth being just about the best we can hope for. Frankly, I've little patience with those who are complacent enough to be satisfied with everything they've done in life.

    Seydlitz did a superb job in answering you for me. Here's the thing, guys. Of course this nation's had a lot of warts over the years. But the single driving force in our history was this good old cake and eat it, too, phenomenon. Yes, this nation was founded by rich folk and, yes, the deck was always stacked, and sure, the rich kept getting richer. However, the lot of the po' folk improved right along the way. This nation, the U.S., invented the middle class.

    We also got rid of slavery, helped rid the world of colonialism, and also did our thing with Fascism, Nazism and Communism along the way. When I think of my military service, although through the lens of history, I realize I might have done it differently in an alternative universe, I also don't feel particularly bad about spending a number of years aligned against the Soviet Union and its pernicious brand of Communism. Sorry, guys, but rag-tag terrorists don't match that.

    Of course, we as a nation have never been perfect. But we've always been kind of on this upward trajectory, ever fighting the imperfect nature of man, but actually thinking that we might really achieve a "Great Society."

    Until the 80s and the ascendance of Ronnie Raygun and the winner-take-all philosophy of the movement he birthed. The movement that's now consuming our nation. Sorry, guys, but service to the nation meant a lot more 30-40-50, 100 years ago than it does now. The nation was much different. It had promise. People could actually say things like "the last great hope of mankind" without smirking.

  24. Andy: "This is something I go back and forth on though."

    Rest assured, my friend, I do too. And it is due to that vacillation that it has been a while since I have been able to heartily endorse military service to those who are not already committed. I won't rain on their parade, but I am reluctant to be a charlatan. The combination of the ChickenHawks, and GWB & Co using crowds of troops in uniform for a backdrop to purely political presentations makes my blood run cold. The ChickenHawk in Chief using the image of the troops to promote a political agenda that he and his minions do not have the courage to personally join, nor send their offspring to join. You, you wife and every other uniformed person deserves better. Cloaking themsleves in the righteousness of your images in the background galls me more than sending you off to a bone headed war.

    And, when the legions of ChickenHawks, who have willfully refused to spend a day in uniform referred to GWB as "Our Commander-in-Chief", the exploitation of those who serve honorably reaches heights never before known.

    I grieve for my country and for my fellow service members.

  25. And a philosophical/rhetorical point:

    Would I be "convincible" that burying my son or daughter for some transient geopolitical advantage in part of my country's imperial corona was worth the end of my own personal immortality?

    Perhaps it is not the best guide for our actions to consider the construct of personal immortality (which is an impossibility, anyway)
    when gauging the correctness of our actions.

    Can we look at things in a more rational and disinterested and less impassioned way? Might that not be more productive?

  26. Chief:

    The time of "the people in arms" is long past. (Indeed if it ever existed, Washington only consistently won after his army became essentially professional, similarly in France.)

    Today, capital intensive war demands highly trained professionals.

    If you want to keep your republic, I suggest that you investigate the techniques used to keep public prosecutors and tax auditors "honest". Those are the things that will keep the officer class in line.

    Feel better now?

  27. Chief, I have two cubs in. One is Naval intel and is unlikely to physically be harmed. The other is a 1st Lt, combat arms, USA and he is deployed currently.

    To say my feelings about this are mixed is an understatement. I am very proud of both them. All signals are that they are both doing a very good job. I am simply proud that they are serving. That is what we citizens are supposed to do. Right? On the other hand, I agree with your (and Ranger Jim's) sentiments concerning the nature of and motivations behind our current "PWOT". When I dare to contemplate the worst that could happen, I am angered that they could be killed while young and vital for nothing. Yet, someone has to set an example even if the leaders (and a good swath of the followers) are insane and unappreciative. Maybe the example should be to NOT serve for the insane and selfish, but then everyone would look like the insane and selfish. How would you sort the wheat from the chaff?

    No easy answer. No easy course of action.


  28. Andy: Krugman is partisan, yes, but on this subject I've been following politics a long time, and the most consistent trend in partisan politics since the Nixon's reelection has been the fanatical solidarity of the Right as expressed in the Goldwater/Reagan/Gingrich/Delay/fill-in-the-blank GOP. The result has been to drift the nation to the Right to an almost unrecognizable degree.

    So when Publius talks (and Al aggres) that "the nation was different" I will agree, to the limited extent that between 1945 and about 1975 that we had a more equitable society and were moving towards a U.S. where even more of us got to participate in the national conversation.

    And I also agree that the nation has been moving in reverse since then. And that this has been hardest on the people who already had it hard. And that has had an effect on my belief in the "promise" of this country.

    But it does not affect my beliefs on the nature of democracy and military service.

    Contra Andy, the leaders of this country have ALWAYS viewed military force as just one more tool in the toolbox. It pried the continent from the natives, the southwest away from Mexico, Hawaii away from the Hawaiians, the PI (for a space) from the Filipinos. It was useful in breaking strikes, and in suppressing desperate Americans who wanted some hope in bad times, as when they used it against the "Bonus Army".

    For a short time - for the same period, between 1945 and 1972 - the "leaders" of this country had to be a little careful about where they swung this military chain around. Kill to many Joe Draftees and John and Mary Lunchpail might vote you out of office, as they did Truman over Korea or Johnson over Vietnam.

    But you notice that we did the Dom Rep just fine, and Lebanon in the Fifties. And since the Reagan days we've been just happy little global coppers. That's not a bug, it's a feature; Manifest Destiny writ large.

    So, again - I see this as an almost insoluble problem given what seems to be my country's insatiable need to fiddle-fuck in imperial-like ventures overseas. And yet...even if Ael's strictures were true (which...c'mon, Ael...are you honestly saying that the U.S. Army of 1945, or 1953, or 1966 couldn't fight modern (not sure WTF "capital-intensive war" is; maybe the sort fought for Goldwyn-Sachs against Lehman Brothers?) war? Seems to me that they did at least as well or better than these "highly trained professionals" you speak of. Unless the Republican Guard was secretly the 2nd Panzer and 73 Easting was somewhere near Celles...) it seems to me that there are more important things to a democracy than having shiny neato war stuff and spiffy professional armies to fight them.

    I want my kids to understand that a huge part of a citizens responsibility - I don't think that "duty" is too strong a term - is to fight to defend their home, their family, friends, and nation. And, if called on, to do just that or at least to train and stand prepared to do it.

    And yet, as you have all pointed out...the current crop of "leaders" and their policies have so debased the notion of "defending America" that I fear that those lives would be thrown away in pursuit of some transient - or worse, deluded - policy advantage.

    But I don't see how I can have one without the other.

    Without changing the mores and manners of my nation...and we seem to have gone all the way back to 1890 already - I have more fear of worse than hopes of better.

    I wish I could be more hopeful.

  29. Lisa: I'd like to pretend to be some sort of Stoic who looks upon his progeny as a sort of smaller but independent republics and whose thoughts and actions are not influenced by the familial ties.

    I can't.

    Those little people are the only ones who will be there to sacrifice to dis manibus - the gods of the shades - for me when I am gone. If there is anything I have built that will live on after me, it is most intimately represented in these little people. If my actions are "correct" then it is as much because I want to teach them the ideal of right action as much for my own honor.

    And as such I cannot be impartial about my actions where they are concerned. I will - and I would despise any parent who would not - go to the verge not just of incorrectness but of actual felony in defense and support of those little people.

    I can't excuse it; it's a parent-kiddo thing and as such defies all logic and decency. And explains a lot of the more dire chapters of human history. But there it is.

  30. avedis: Agreed.

    In Rick Atkinson's book "An Army At Dawn" he writes about the early hours of the landings in North Africa, when the Vichy forces were still fighting back.

    A correspondent was watching several GIs take cover in a roadside ditch under Vichy MG fire; after the Vichy gun was suppressed he got up and wondered why the guys didn't, only to find that they'd been electrocuted in the ditch by a live power line, cut by the gunfire, that had fallen on them.

    That image has stuck with me.

    I mean, here they were - soldiers in the Great Crusade, first wave in the tide that was to carry all the way into Germany and defeat as bad a cause as even Man has fought for. And they went home in a bag having fought no one and done nothing except been killed in a ridiculously inane way in some meaningless part of North Africa mere hours before the people who killed them gave up faster than one of Saddam's conscripts surrendering to an attack helicopter.

    Did they die in a "good" war, no different than the most heroic Audie Murphy-type mowing down dozens of Krauts? But did it matter to their parents, their children, their lovers? Wasn;t that a consummately silly way to cash out - no more "noble" than a guy run over by a bus going to a dogfight?

    So - knowing that a huge proportion of combat deaths and wounds happen in ridiculous, pointless accidents or incidents that do nothing but end up in a dead or maimed son or daughter - it's even harder for me to think that my own kids, recipients of hundreds of lullabies, thousands of diapers, millions of hugs and stories and tickle-fights, tears, laughs, scolds, and joys, could end up zipped up in a plastic sack in some incredibly pointless, fucked-up ambush in some utterly worthless War of Jenkin's Ear ginned up by some wag-the-dog sunofabitch to boost his reelection hopes by a couple of points...

    But...but...just as with your kids, if they choose to risk all that, for their beliefs in patriotism and can I say no? How could I stand in their way?

    And yet how can I NOT want to?

  31. Chief:

    The US Army of 1945 was a professional army. The army of 1965, I'm not so sure. I recall rumors of severe problems in Vietnam caused by an institutional inability to learn because bodies were changing over so fast.

    What I mean by capital intensive war is war dominated by large expensive machines. These machines need technicians to operate and maintain. Gaining the skills (and developing the relevant organizational reflexes) takes a lot of time. A draftee isn't in long enough (and not necessarily motivated enough) to learn the needed skills.

    Hence, draft armies tend to have professional cores. In general, the better the army, the larger the core.

  32. Ael-

    I can only address the Army, and in particular, Aviation.

    Yes, the technology today does need skilled techs, a significant proportion of whom are civilian contractors, as compared to the troops we were supported by in Viet Nam. A higher proportion of components are now "remove, replace and evacuate to higher level maintenance (contractor)" rather than being serviced by a Soldier locally. We have fixed wing aircraft that are 100% contractor maintained.

    I worked with draftee aviation maintenance soldiers in VN that were every bit as good and motivated as enlistees, and our shop personnel were outstanding. The draft delivered us, for example, a Cal Tech BSEE with a year at Litton Industries to work in our Aviation Electronics Shop. He could do depot level work blindfolded. Other highly trained and experienced draftees were in reasonable numbers throughout our unit. Further, "draft motivated" enlistees with proven skills in technical areas enlisted for three years to select their desired MOS.

    The notion that the draft delivers dolts who cannot be trained up fast enough to be of value is bull crap. It not only delivered some fine people, but it motivated other very skilled people to enlist to exercise a bit of choice in their ultimate MOS.

    The personnel problems in VN in the latter years of the war were management, not draft induced.

  33. Ael: And the other side of the coin that Al addresses is the ground combat-arms side, and that's where my experience is, and I can tell you that a school-house trained 11B is perfectly capable of functioning as a combat infantryman with 13 weeks of BCT and another six months in a line unit. My redlegs ran an Army-standard FDC with BCT/AIT and two days a month/two weeks a year. The idea that somehow war in the 21st Century is Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" is just silly. Combat equipment is designed to be as simple, easy-to-learn and rugged as possible - otherwise somebody would bash your skull in with a stone axe whilst you were standing around trying to read a text message. And U.S. soldiers - whether "professional" or draftees - come from pretty much the same personnel pool - except, as Al points out, a draft is MUCH more likely to give you better educated, sharper privates.

    The story that we need a "professional core" has always, ALWAYS struck me as...the sort of thing the "professional core" would like us to believe, along with the sort of chickenhawk/foreign interventionist politician that wants a shiny pretty to distract the groundlings from the fact that when we DON'T have a mass Army we tend to end up farkling about in butt-fuck Egypt meddling in the local's business...

  34. Dear Chief,

    Your sentiments are noble, and I respect them. Having seen many an offspring that was not quite cut in the template of the parent, I will offer that what lives on is your spirit in the hearts of those whom you have touched, and of course, any physical artifact left behind, such as your fine writing.

    Forgive me, for I am the product of a mother who fully believed I was a separate and independent entity, and a Soviet-mentality father content with a kibbutzim school idea, so not too much sentimentality surrounding the concept of hurtling through immortality there.

  35. Chief, I should add that, as a parent, there is another very real concern beyond physical injury or death that has to be weighed. That is war's impact on the psyche. Will my son come home mentally and morally together or will the experience of war - especially one that seems to longer have a purpose and hence has the potential for greater existential angst (WHY!!!) - in some serious way warp his mentality; perhaps to his very soul? I know his mother and I have certainly given this aspect a lot of thought (and prayers).


  36. should be " longer have a purpose...."


  37. Ael: "The US Army of 1945 was a professional army."

    Not in the sense being discussed. Probably 90% of the EM's, NCO's and officers had not been in five years ago, and anticipated (correctly) that they'd be out in another year. I don't know what the median time in service was in 1945, but it'd be somewhere in the 2-4 year range.

    Experienced, yes, but not professional.