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.

Monday, January 20, 2014

MythBusters - Part II

To be realistic, we have to accept the fact that without a major existential threat requiring general mobilization, the AVF is a done deal.  For this reason, I wouldn’t normally spend a minute or two analyzing the “Conscription vs AVF” issue.  However, there are some unsupportable claims about the AVF that I have problems with, and while refuting them will not change anything, I prefer we face the truth, warts and all.  

Here are my thoughts about the end of the Draft in the US.  First off, my first 13 of 35 total years of military service (with a couple of years of drilling reserve mixed in) were “draft years”.  I lived and worked through the full spectrum of draft environment, transition and AVF.  Second, I’m going to offer some specifics solely from the Army, as that’s the Branch of Service in which the final 29 of those 35 years was spent, was the service that accessed the bulk of conscripts and with which I am most familiar. 

I will begin with a brief socio-political introduction, and then offer my views from a technocratic standpoint.

Unfortunately, for analytical purposes, it’s difficult to determine whether the end of the Draft was the result of “national service” itself being unpopular, or the Draft being a proxy for the Viet Nam War, a costly and unpopular venture.  Richard Nixon et. al. did a good job of confusing the two in the public discourse.  During the 20th Century, there is no hard and fast correlation between acceptance of conscription and war itself.  However, it would appear that when a given war has particularly low popular support, any form of involuntary military service becomes a target for public outrage, with Viet Nam being the example of conscription’s death knell.  But similarly, remember the cries of outrage at a “de facto draft” to describe the various “Stop Loss” and IRR mobilization initiatives as the Iraq War became less and less “popular” and recruiting and retention more difficult.

But back to 1973.  Once the military received their marching orders, it was basically a case of “Yes Sir, Yes Sir, Three Bags Full.” We were given a lawful order and we were sworn to obey it.  The AVF, by definition, was to be a success, at least in terms of recruiting and retention. And the challenges of maintaining a large, Cold War force were many.  But without any significant conflict that posed an existential threat, the DOD was free to define “success” as it saw fit.   If you recall, the Army was "combat ready” (at least in the voices at the highest levels) for quite a while, until the moment they defined it otherwise: “In 1977, a few months after Carter’s inauguration, Lieutenant General Harold Moore, the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, told senators on the Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Manpower and Personnel, “Today we have a combat-ready active force of which the nation can be justifiably proud.”   Yes, folks, Hal Moore of book and movie fame.    Very soon, however, it was to be called a “Hollow Army” by the CSA.  Come on!  The "official story" changes to meet policy pressures, but the Services have a nice, sexy warning in the war on shrinking budgets - "Beware another Hollow Army".

Now on to the serious stuff:

Does the AVF provide a “better” military or “better” service members than the conscript motivated military?  It does, indeed, provide a “different” military, but I have never seen competent research on the subject of “better”.  For example, it’s difficult to compare the AVF to the military of 1960 – 1973, for some significant reasons:

1) Active Duty end strength has been on a significant general decline from 1970 until today.  There are some 55% FEWER uniformed billets to fill in the Army, Air Force and Navy today than in 1970, and 23% fewer Marine billets.
2) Many tasks have been shifted from the Uniformed Services to civilians (to include contractors), in a major part, to compensate for, or create reduced uniformed end strength (See 1 above).  These include not just drudge work, but significantly skilled maintenance and logistics tasks.  Thus, the very scope and nature of tasks performed by uniformed personnel has changed.
3) The relative available labor pool has increased as a result of increased opportunities for women in the military.
4) Technology has significantly replaced “brain power”, often reducing the level of human skill required across an entire spectrum of tasks.
5) Weapon system accuracy and lethality has advanced greatly.

So, let’s see how the AVF is “better”.  For this part of “MythBusters”, let’s address the claim that the AVF provides a  “smarter” or “better educated” force than the “Draft Motivated, Conscript Supplemented Force” (DMCSF) described in Part I.  I will address “performance” in another thread. 

One indicator tossed out is number of accessions with high school diplomas as well as  “some college”.  Even if accurate data was readily available from the 1960-73 period on this variable, “some college” in 1960 –1973 represents a totally different achievement than post 1973.  Why?  Because “open admissions” at universities and community colleges were not a universally available option before about 1970, when the community college boom really began to gain traction.  In short, you had to be “college material” to acquire “some college” during the Draft years.  No longer so.  Mere attendance in the absence of entrance criteria does not provide a measurable academic ability or achievement metric.  Further confounding the use of “some college” as an indicator of personnel quality is the post “open admissions” phenomenon of the need for over 25% of all college freshmen (>40% at community colleges) to take remedial course work in English, Reading and Math.  Yet these students can take courses in History, Art and some Vocational subjects while trying to remediate their basic academic shortcomings.  Thus, there is a fair population of “some college” who have been found to not have mastered high school level basics.  In short, “some college” is a very questionable metric.

Interestingly, about 55% of the general population has at least “some college”, while USAREC reports RA and USAR accessions with “some college” ranging from 8.3 to 13.7% over the last 10 years.  So even if one ascribes some form of a quality metric to “some college”, the Army AVF accessions population possesses about ¼ of this “quality” as does the general population.

If you look at accession results for 2012, you find that educational level achieved is not necessarily an indicator of "smarts".  Here are the High School Diploma Graduate (HSDG) and AFQT CAT 1 – IIIA  rates for active component enlistees.  Pretty hard to say a diploma predicts much:

Army:   HSDG = 100%    CAT I-IIIA = 64%
Navy:   HSDG =    99%   CAT I-IIIA = 90%
USMC:  HSDG = 100%    CAT I-IIIA = 75%
USAF:   HSDG =   99%    CAT I-IIIA = 98%

Reserve component stats show similar figures, except that the Air NG and Air Reserve are at a 79% CAT I-IIIA level.  You don’t have to be as talented to make drills in the Air Force Reserve?  The data does support that, as Mike, seydlitz and I have known for years, the Corps is smarter than the Army.

The AVF is drawing on those mental categories because they represent the population that has asked to join, and the services have had to take, to meet accessions goals.  Comparisons to the mental categories of the Viet Nam DMCSF are seriously difficult to make, as by direction of Robert MacNamara in 1966, a minimum of 100,000 low mental category accessions had to be made annually, regardless of the quality of the volunteer and conscript manpower pool available.  In short, the MacNamara force was “dumbed down” intentionally.

Thus, I would offer that any claim of a “smarter” or “better educated Force” as a direct result of ending conscription or initiating an AVF is difficult to support.

Of course, one could say, “Look at the amazing technology today’s young troops are able to operate” as an indirect indicator of "smarts".  Troops in all periods of American history operated equipment that was state of the art at that point in time.  The only technology they can operate is that which exists, so any assumption of whether a 1968 troop would be less able to operate 2013 technology is patent foolishness.  I would also ask, which takes greater mental acumen, shooting a couple of back azimuths to determine one’s location, or reading the screen of a GPS?  The GPS may be faster and more accurate, but that speed and accuracy is a product of the device, not the operator.  I am more impressed with Chief’s ability to calculate target data with paper and pencil than SGT Snuffy’s ability to type that data into a GPS assisted computer.  A data entry clerk is still a data entry clerk, no matter how exotic the computer may be.  Today’s Army is probably more lethal and capable due in a greater part to advances in technology than as a result of the operators of that technology.  I have no doubt that a 1969 draftee could get location data from a GPS as readily and accurately as a modern “warrior”.  What we don’t know is how readily a current troopie can shoot a couple of back azimuths to triangulate his position.  We are drawing these AVF recruits from the same population that cannot figure change in their heads at a cash register, not because they might be dumb, but because they are technology dependent. 

As to the skill shown in maintaining this wondrous technology, well, take a look at what is done to trouble shoot most of these systems – plug in a technologically advanced diagnostic device, read the results and follow the instructions.  Complex equipment in my field of expertise, Aviation, has been moving more and more to “maintenance” that is the removal and replacement of plug n play modules that are evacuated to civilian repair facilities.  I have no argument with that, as it makes the maintenance process faster than using oscilloscopes and signal injectors, but it does not require any grand knowledge on the part of the troops to do this, just a pair of mating electrical connectors and a responsive contract  logistics system to keep up with demand. 

One could also offer that since a fair portion of the “drudge work” has been civilianized, essential tasks (simple stuff like feeding the troops) that could have employed lower mental category or skill level  individuals, is simply done by people in civvies, who are not tallied in the force statistics of the AVF as they were in the Viet Nam DMCSF.  “Creative Accounting” in action?

Lastly, has the AVF allowed the Services to be more selective in accessions?  Sometimes, kind of, but not consistently.   The 30 years of the AVF is peppered with reductions in standards to meet accession objectives, just as was done when the pool of “better” candidates in the general population, adjusted for war industry needs, ran dry during WWII.  No such reduction in qualifications was needed during the Korean War, as access to the general population provided sufficient volunteers and supplement conscripts to maintain standards.  The lower mental category accessions of the MacNamara Viet Nam era were not of "need", a result of “Project 100,000, to meet some bizarre social idea of Mac.  Following the difficult days of Iraq (2005 - ), virtually every Army entrance standard (mental, physical, “moral” and age) had to be loosened to meet a mere 80,000 AC and 24,000 USAR goal, not to mention the massive recruiting budgets and enlistment bonus enticements.   Yet in the 2005 and onward case, there were still massive numbers of qualified candidates in the general population who just weren’t interested in signing up.  Similarly, the Army has had to loosen RC commissioning qualifications for quite some time to try to meet (unsuccessfully , so far) officer strength objectives.

In short, on the human resources side of the coin, I would offer that there is no conclusive data that supports a “better troops” notion as a result of the AVF versus conscription, other than possibly higher PT standards.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Clausewitzian View of the Current Conscription Debate in the US - Part III

Conscription has a long history in the US and is mostly associated today with military mobilization during World War II or during the Vietnam War when its abolition became a useful political issue for Richard Nixon as Al has pointed out in his thread. My intention here is to provide the example of conscription as developed during 1917-18 for America's participation in the First World War. The reason for this is that the debate at that time brought in many of the same arguments as we have seen in Parts I and II of this topic.
The inspiration for the set of posts was a series of articles/blog posts on whether bringing back conscription/the draft in the US is a good idea. Here's Dana Milbank arguing in favor:
Because so few serving in politics have worn their country’s uniform, they have collectively forgotten how to put country before party and self-interest. They have forgotten a “cause greater than self,” and they have lost the knowledge of how to make compromises for the good of the country. Without a history of sacrifice and service, they’ve turned politics into war.
Robert Scales was not impressed with Milbank's argument at all for practical military reasons:
The perversion of the draft laws was tragic for those of us who had to lead these men in combat. The most difficult task in war is to fight close to the enemy. It takes extraordinary strength, endurance, skill and an intuitive sense of a soldier’s surroundings. Yet in my father’s war, thanks to a corrupt draft, infantry came from the lowest mental categories and were universally smaller and weaker than soldiers drafted for non-combat specialties. Thus it should surprise no one that better trained and acculturated German soldiers had a field day killing Americans with great skill in the hedgerows of Normandy. The same can be said for my Vietnam generation where the ranks of infantry units were too often filled with young men who hated the fact that they lost the lottery. They were too poor or too disadvantaged for their parents to get them deferred or into the National Guard.
Milibank's argument comes down essentially to conscription as a means of instilling material cohesion and an acceptance of the status quo, what I refer to in a 1917 context as "Plattsburg". The fit here is snug. I would add that Plattsburg merged rather seamlessly with what was referred to in the 1920s as "Americanism" or "Fordism".
Scales on the other hand assumes that the "fog" of modern moral and material cohesion that are Milibank's goal dissipates quickly once the shooting starts and middle class parents rush to get their kids in preferred positions of little danger. This could remind some of the attitude of an anti-reformist Prussian officer of 1813, exclaiming upon seeing a group of new conscripts, "And what am I to do with this rabble?" Personally I find much more to it than that. Besides viewing the army as the small professional elite of highly skilled and adaptable soldiers, it is essentially the argument that the US lacks the degree of moral cohesion necessary for national service in war, let alone for strategy which is by definition about collectives . . .
For conscription to work, the individual has to be willing to put one's own interests second, or even last, to those of the family/community/society, which of course is counter to the whole ethos of the age, which is all about maximizing individual advantage/profit. According to this pessimistic view, the majority of the citizenry in this country is simply a mass shapeless group of self-focused individuals maximizing their own aims to the exclusion of everyone else, what I would refer to as Right-wing Liberalism.
"Conservatives" would find my label perplexing, since they prefer to place all the guilt for this decline of national spirit on the "Leftists" supposedly winning the culture wars of the 1960s. They find this argument appealing, but they are confused regarding the distinct between the various types of cohesion, and forget what our recent history has done at the same time to material cohesion. Trust in state institutions is at an all time low and for good reason. There is a wide-spread view that the state works to the betterment of the few, the 1%, rather than of the people, which is obviously highly corrosive to material cohesion.
Scales's is perhaps a sound argument, but the example he gives in Normandy is of one conscript force fighting against another. The World Wars are unthinkable in fact without conscription, since as presented in Parts I and II it was the mobilization of the people through pre- and modern moral cohesion supplanted by ever growing material cohesion of the state which allowed for war to be waged on such a scale. Personally I find Scales to be a thoughtful commentator at times, who utilizes Clausewitzian strategic theory effectively as far as he goes. The problem is that he never seems to get beyond the operational and never questions whether the political purpose in Iraq for instance was attainable by military means.
Sometimes films provide us with an expression which reflects the types of social cohesion I am referring to all present together, that is pre-modern and modern moral cohesion and the sliding scale of material cohesion.
Why consider the First World War in this case? First, it was a "war of choice" decided upon by an arrogant and ambitious executive who had bi-partisan support along with a following of murky industrial/corporate/financial interests. Second, it ushered in the beginning of close government and corporate collusion which has reached its most extreme forms today. Third, it required an extensive and sustained modern propaganda campaign to "sell". Fourth, it was, unlike Korea and Vietnam, not part of a larger struggle which provided the war in question with a necessary context. It is highly improbable that either Korea or Vietnam would have attracted decisive US commitment outside the context of the Cold War. Fifth, given the time, we see a much clearer distinction between pre-modern and modern moral cohesion and material cohesion working separately and together, the moral cohesion actually providing the basis for the expansion of material cohesion at the time of the war and especially after. Sixth, and linked to the fifth, the link of conscription to the rise of material cohesion has become something of a national myth, usually left unstated. Finally, the war was a political failure in terms of its original policy purpose, but at the same time produced wide ranging negative effects which lingered on, at the least. So we see very interesting parallels in terms of our own current political relations.
While the mechanics of conscription were more or less a success during 1917-18, the political result in the end was a failure due to Woodrow Wilson's inability to manage US participation into a compromise peace. What saved the country from an even worse result was the relatively short duration of hostilities, this of course ignoring any of the direct aftermath. The country was able to leave the mess behind.
On the other hand the (unintended) "sociological" affects of the war and mobilization (including specifically conscription) are seen by many historians today as being fundamental to US development for the rest of the 20th Century. Powerful centralization of government and business institutions, emergence of a class of professional and effective managers, the establishment of a true national market and mass consumer culture were all greatly influenced or even kick-started by this shared experience. As with the Civil War and World War II twenty years later, the First World was fiscal revolution in terms of government revenues and spending. This also began the expansion of the Federal Reserve System's power. Some have even described it as the birth of "American Nationalism" since prior to this regional affinity or ethnicity were key determiners of political identity, that is modern moral cohesion . . . an ideology in turn interacting with increasing material cohesion of the state and society.
Also modern notions of American exceptionalism date from this time. Americans would only truly support the war, John Dewey (one of the great Progressive intellectuals of the time) wrote, when the Allied effort was at a higher moral level, "for our terms of democracy and civilization". The war was not so much about defending the country, but of not only consolidating Americanism at home but in spreading it abroad. It is important to remember that Wilson and his supporters saw Wilson as the standard bearer of not only Liberalism as seen by the Progressives, but of the Left in general. His hope of gaining the followers on the Left were dashed by the call of the Petrograd Soviet in May 1917 for an international Socialist conference in neutral Stockholm to end the war. Wilson who was now supporting a military solution, refused to issue the American socialist delegation passports. American labor leaders were sent to Britain and France to shore up support for "the knock-out blow", hopelessly compromising what support Wilson may have received from the Socialists. US distrust of the Russian socialists and seeing them as competitors in international support thus predates the Bolshevik revolution, and included even the Provisional Government. While the radical socialists supported revolution, so did Wilson in his attempts to ferment revolt in Germany. We see here once again the preference for violence as a political instrument so favored by US policy makers in our own time as well, but at the same time their blindness regarding the possible negative consequences . . .
Turning now to the actual history of conscription in the US during World War I, the debate regarding Universal Military Training or UMT dated from 1914. Initially it was simply seen as a way to provide men for the nation's armed forces in an emergency. Quickly though it became a political and even reform issue with UMT seen as a way of "Americanizing" large numbers of foreign born immigrants, or quelling class unrest and inspiring the nation's manhood with the concept of "service". Service was a big word in 1917. By some of the reformers, France was seen as the example to follow as they had used this institution of conscription to weld the various classes together in total support of the nation. We see here the same argument by the French radicals of 1793, that is "the army as the school of the nation". This from the Progressives who were willing to follow Woodrow Wilson into war.
The conservatives and monied interests supported UMT as well, but for different reasons. Instead of "school of the nation", it was "regimentation of the mind", promoting an acceptance of US society as it existed, the necessity of subordination of the individual to the group and proper deference to authority, the perfect antidote to the "plague" of trade unionism and unwarranted demands of those who did not understand their place in the overall system. Let's refer to this perspective as "Plattsburg" after the first Ivy League military training camp established. Here we see a striking similarity with the view of the Prussian reaction after 1815 in terms of supporting the status quo.
Initially conscription seemed all just planning. Many of those politicians who supported US entry into the war thought the US would simply supply the Allies with weapons, munitions and foodstuffs. There would be no need to ship a large army to France and there did not exist the available shipping in any case. Army General Tasker Bliss recommended that the Army be prepared at home for two full years before being sent to France. In the Spring of 1917, the war of course was not expected to last that long. By Wall Street, it was all seen as a great commercial enterprise with a massive expansion of the economy as well as new areas of production open due to the confiscation of German industrial patents (the US chemical industry essentially started during this period). US exports to Latin America and elsewhere would displace not only German, but Allied competition . . . What a splendid war it was going to be! A cakewalk even!
Political events in Russia and military events in Italy as well as on the Western Front changed the situation. The Allies were now calling for large numbers of US troops, although expecting to incorporate them into British and French formations rather then have a separate US field army. To these military concerns we have the ambition of Woodrow Wilson who needed to have a large representation of US military strength to enable him to act effectively during the planned peace negotiations. Amalgamation was a possibility, but here enters the ambition of a second American, the commander of the AEF in France, General John J. Pershing. For Pershing it was not simply that amalgamation would have left him a general without an army, but that he distrusted the British and French to use the US troops properly. His basic strategy was a massive head-on assault of the main German force on the Western Front, a great battle of annihilation; the individual infantryman with his rifle being the decisive element of battle not massed artillery which represented "attrition warfare" rather than the decisive "war of movement".
There was also initially the question of whether conscription would be necessary at all. Would there not be an ample number of volunteers? Theodore Roosevelt had presented himself as America's first volunteer and planned to lead at first a division and later an entire corps of US volunteers. Preference would be given to volunteers from Ivy League schools and TR even planned to have a regiment consisting solely of German-Americans and another of African-Americans, although officered by whites. The prospect of this must have horrified Wilson since the image of TR as warrior chieftain would have been exploited ruthlessly by the GOP. In the final draft legislation, volunteers were allowed into the Regular Army and Navy as well as National Guard, but not the new "National Army of the United States" which would be manned through conscription, the new administrative organization named the Selective Service System. Conscription would eventually provide 77% of the four million who served, half of that number making it to France before the Armistice.
The first step was registration of all able-bodied men between the ages of 21 and 30, but how to do it? Get the men to register themselves by means of a massive public relations campaign . . .
Governors, mayors, chambers of commerce, and state councils of defense joined in concerted patriotic incantation to urge young men to registration places on June 5. Wilson himself struck the keynote of this gigantic propaganda exercise when he proclaimed, somewhat disingenuously, that the draft was not really a draft at all, but a 'selection from a nation which has volunteered in mass'. But just to be sure that this mass volunteering went smoothly, the president requested 'every man, whether he is himself to be registered or not, to see to it that the name of every male person of the designated ages is written on these lists of honor.' David M. Kennedy, Over Here, p 150
Lots of small local organizations made up the movement supporting the war. These represent a wide-range of pre-modern moral cohesion nodes working together for an ideological goal, that this towards modern moral cohesion. The fact that the goal, a far off foreign war, is against many of the values of pre-modern moral cohesion is ignored, obscured, overwhelmed by the passion of the moment. It is this passion that moral cohesion generates. Consider the obvious assumption that the "elders", those men over 30 who are not personally subject to the draft will nevertheless exert influence on the younger men to "do their bit", a clear assumption regarding pre-modern moral cohesion. We also see here a very eventful exercise in extensive government propaganda mixing the themes of fear, hatred and patriotism but also with a the concern that too much emotion by the masses might be difficult to control, that is graduated material cohesion entering the mix. The June 5th registration was a success with almost 10 million men reporting with each man assessed as simply eligible or exempt. On July 20, 1917 Secretary of War Newton Baker pulled the first draft number from a huge glass bowl. Throughout the rest of that day additional numbers were pulled and telegraphed to draft boards across the country. The first draftees arrived in their training camps by September. Deferment was by occupation or having dependents, but many men felt pressured not to apply for an exemption since that would imply their unwillingness to serve. Over the course of the war conscription became more thorough and extended, the draft ages being expanded to 18 to 45 in August 1918 and various categories of those eligible for service introduced. The first IQ tests became part of the screening as well.
September 1918 saw the last big conscription push to get the estimated 13 million men under the age of 21 and over 30 registered who had suddenly become liable for call up. Thirty thousand Four-minute men gave speeches, newspapers ran large reminders, preachers gave sermons. There was coercion as well. By mid-1918 the Justice Department had instituted "slacker raids" to net any man who had not registered for the draft. These became increasingly violent with time with the last ones consisting of armed soldiers and sailors. In New Jersey alone, 13,000 men were found to have avoided registration in a series of raids. All told it is estimated that 337,000 men avoided the draft, with half receiving some sort of punishment.
Inequalities existed of course and the attitudes and prejudices of the local draft board represented the same as those present in the community at large. The increasing demands for manpower pressured local draft boards to take another look at exemptions and inevitably some were revoked.
The system was already showing signs of strain on the home front by the early Fall of 1918 and had Pershing's demand of 100 divisions by June of 1919 become a reality, we can assume that coercion would have replaced volunteerism to a large extent. As far as the military effectiveness, conscription is a mixed bag:
Pershing had wanted his men to have six months of training in the States, two months in France, and one month in a quiet sector before being exposed to battle. That standard had been roughly maintained until the accelerated troop shipments began in mid-1918. Then the rush to France sucked men ever faster through the camps, across the sea, and into the line. The average doughboy at the Meuse-Argonne had seen perhaps four months of training in camp. Many had seen but a few weeks. Some had been cycled so swiftly from induction center to the war zone that they had never handled a rifle and had to be given a quick ten-day course of instruction upon arrival in France. Over Here, pp 198-99
Conclusions from all three posts/threads:
First, what I refer to as Clausewitz's theory of political development adequately describes the development of modern conscription during the period of 1793 to the present. The various attitudes in the Prussian case of 1812-15 adequately applying to the case of the US in 1917-18 as well. The comparison of Prussia in 1815 and the US in 1917 to the US of today is more a question of contrasts.
Second, to be effective, conscription relies on specific political conditions within the community/society in question. Adequate amounts of moral cohesion and a minimal amount of material cohesion (at the onset) being required. The purpose behind the mobilization needs to be self evident to all. Propaganda only goes so far and its effects only last so long before people start doubting the official narrative. The resort to force by the state to impose conscription would only hasten the collapse of public support. The obvious state of emergency is not limited to a defensive war, but could include other types of national emergencies as well, such as economic collapse, pandemics or environmental catastrophe. In effect we are talking about great challenges facing a political community where mobilized collective action is seen as a necessary response.
Third, following the second above, states/political communities in dissolution would not be able to implement conscription effectively. Wide-spread cynicism and corruption would condemn any effort almost at the onset. A society that considered itself nothing but a group of atomized individuals all striving for personal gain and "fulfillment" would not lend itself to conscription. The state would then be required to drop the whole project or resort to force which would dissolve what material cohesion remained.
Fourth, since conscription requires a self-evident threat/danger/need as well as requiring time for its effects to be evident, it is best established before the actual crisis occurs. Prussia/Germany had an effective conscription system after 1814 due to the fact that the people recognized its need. The history of 1793-1815 was all that was necessary for this. This developed over generations and became "traditional" in terms of social action. The high level of pre-modern cohesion in the communities was transferred to the local reserve units which reflected the local population exactly, while the ideology of nationalism provided the united, "German" identity to the extent that the country was able to hold together under great pressure. This gave Germany, but not only Germany, the ability to mobilize millions quickly after August 1914. Had the US instituted conscription at the onset of the crisis, that is in 1914, this would have given the country an extra two and half years to more effectively mobilize and train their conscript army.
Fifth, while Plattsburg is linked in terms of politics to the Prussian reaction after 1815, the Progressives who supported Wilson's war are linked in the same way to the original Prussian reformers of 1813 and were also overwhelmed by the reaction which followed. As 1813 marks the highwater mark of Prussian reformism, 1914 marks the highwater mark of US Progressivism. It is interesting to consider that the actual break between Plattsburg and the Progressives (what passes for the Left in US politics) only occurred during the Vietnam War. Here we see two different and opposing modes of modern moral cohesion while both sides operated under the same material cohesion assumptions (the institutions "worked" or were "reformable"). That is the anti-war movement during the Vietnam war actually reflected a high level of both moral and material cohesion. It was rather imo about whether authority should be questioned (a very basic political question) as well as support for a costly war, which seemed to be increasingly unwinable.
Sixth, and very much related to political relations, we can organize political parties along pre-modern/modern moral and material cohesion lines. Conservatives are actually easy to recognize. They represent the complexus of pre-modern moral cohesive values present in a society, the values and traditions of the community over those of abstract entities or ideology. Progressives (whether left, right or center) represent modern moral cohesion, the ideologies of progress focused on the individual achieving self-realization within the group, society as organic, growing, prospering, or the opposite. In both cases the focus is on values. In terms of material cohesion, we have the two separate flavors of US Liberalism . . . Right-wing Liberalism (think of Ayn Rand); and Leftist Liberalism, also know as "socialist" (although it is obviously not), and whatever else all bunched into one. These are the two options in terms of material cohesion, which are held together solely by interest. It's all about the glorification of the individual, all power to the individual, the corporation as an individual, society as an endless sequence of self-enhancing opportunities. It has nothing to do with community or society as the conservatives or progressives would conceive them, since neither actually exist, outside of some vague scam to fool the suckers. For Right-wing Liberals, individuals who are unable to game their own opportunities into material success are "losers" and justly deserve their fate. For Leftist Liberals they are "victims" who deserve individual compensation. Both extremes believe that the Market provides the answers and collective action in terms of government are misguided. What government support exists goes to deserving "corporate partners" (more for the Right) or "victimized individuals" (more for the Left). With such a perspective we see how the initial spur to the Enlightenment and its focus on the individual reaches full development (or decay). Such a radical form of material cohesion instead of leading to higher levels of capacity for the society, actually leads to its dissolution and theoretically eventual collapse.
So where does this leave us? As mentioned above the situation in the US post 9/11 is one of contrasts not comparisons with what happened in the past. Given the dynamics of not only conscription, but government mobilization and of moral and material cohesion one would have expected a very different sequence of US government actions than what actually occurred. According to the US government's version of events, Al Qaida, a non-state terrorist entity acting alone orquestrated the most effective and lethal terrorist attack in history, catching US government defenses effectively with their pants down and bringing down not only the twin towers, but accomplishing an attack on the Pentagon and an additional failed attack as well. Given the obvious organizational capability of this entity, the level of the threat, a strong military response was justified, or so it seemed at the time (I was one of those arguing for exactly this in October 2001). It seemed that Al Qaida had strong support/influence in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and elsewhere. Afghanistan was obviously the first target since that was where bin Laden was. Had the president called for volunteers to fill say 10 new light infantry divisions for service in the Middle East and Central Asia, what would have been the response?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

MythBusters - Part I

OK, seydlitz started the “Clausewitzian” (strategic) discussion of the Draft, and I said I had some technocratic force structure thoughts to add on the subject of conscription in the US.  The more I pondered and made notes, the more I realized that, like seydlitz’s treatise, mine would have to be multi-part, and would be best handled as individual threads, to allow focused comment.  The various parts to follow were not necessarily developed in that order, but rather, have evolved from my first thoughts as I tackled the deeply imbedded myths, misconceptions and false assumptions about the Draft vs the AVF.

In American culture, Viet Nam demonized the Draft.  The negative “halo effect” of the “immorality” of  a highly unpopular war, generalized that “immorality” to all aspects of military service and accession means.   Most notably demonized was the Draft, which was doubly immoral for involuntarily conscripting our youth to die in immoral political pursuits.  This demonization was aided and abetted by politicians all the way to Richard Nixon, who was more than willing to be an “End the Draft” candidate.  Thus, all kinds of inaccurate condemnations of the Draft and how it misfunctioned went unchallenged, as the Draft was the Devil Incarnate and “guilty until proven innocent”, even among some key members of the Armed Forces who were happy to allow the Draft to divert attention from strategic and operational incompetency.

I am only going to address the “mechanics” of the draft, not the myths about draftees or certain ethnic groups serving and dying in greater proportion.  I think one will find that the “mechanics” were quite sound, and actually could and did deliver the appropriate “quality” and “quantity” of enlisted personnel into all the Armed Forces, either directly or indirectly.  Whether this sound and effective delivery system was politically acceptable is another story.

So here were go with MythBusters – Part I

Let’s start with looking how the draft worked in the US after Korea, and more specifically the 1958 to 1973 Draft, with which I had first hand experience.

How did the general male population “respond” to the draft?

Basically, at that time, every able-bodied, mentally qualified American youth faced the “risk” of service, unless granted a deferment for school attendance, marital status, dependents, critical civilian occupation, religious grounds or criminal record.   Consequently, if in the fully eligible pool, one could choose to:

1) Sweat it out and not know whether the “risk” was real until making it through to about age 25.  If you are selected, you simply take what you get.  If not selected, then carry on.
1.b) A variation on 1, is where, upon receiving an induction notice, you scramble trying to find a more desirable enlistment option from the Air Force, Navy or Marines, assuming you can find a recruiter willing to process an inductee for enlistment (a bit of a no-no) in the 10-15 days you had to pull this one off.  Not a high probability of success, but some did pull it off.
2) Postpone the “risk” by college deferment.  The reality of this was that when a college deferment expired, either by graduation or even more surely by dropping out, you tended to be next in line for conscription.
3) “Manage” the risk” by volunteering.  This could be enlistment in the Active or Reserve component, enrollment as a college student in an Officer Accession program (ROTC, Marine PLC, etc) or even “volunteering for the draft” through your local draft board.  Effectively, these options enabled the individual a fair amount of choice over the timing and duration of their service, the branch of service, as well as some control over the occupational field and a choice of enlisted or officer service.
4) Face the “risk” of prosecution or virtual exile for resisting and or evading the Draft.

The realities and myths of the each of the Services tended to skew how people executed choice number 3.  There is little doubt that the Army could not offer the “prestige” of the Corps, the “advanced training” of the Air Force or the “adventure” of the Navy.  Not only was the Army the primary “user” of the draft, but the idea abounded that the Army needed draftees because all the “better candidates got into the better Services”, further diminished the view of the quality of the population in the Army.  I can tell you, both anecdotally from personal experience, as well as from the actual standards and functioning of the accessions system back then, a fair number of Navy “deck apes” (those sailors who chip paint, swab decks, mend canvas and create ornamental rope work) were far from “better candidates” in any sense of the word other than being able to handle mindless, arduous tasks necessary to the function of the ship.

Thus, the Air Force, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard tended to get “first shot” at the available “volunteering” manpower, and could claim to be enforcing “higher standards” for enlistment, even though not always doing so, other than for the lowest skill level jobs.  Little hoopla was made of the Army employing virtually the same standards for equivalent higher skill MOSes.

How did the Services employ the workings of the draft?

Military accessions basically fell into three general motive categories:

1. Real volunteers, who would have served whether or not conscription was in play.
2. Draft motivated volunteers, who were exercising the “Manage the Risk” approach given above.
3. Actual conscripts, who simply acquiesced to the draft.

Keep in mind that the Services had mental and physical standards for accessions, be they draftees or “volunteers”, and not just in general, but of varying stringency for various MOS billets to be filled.  A radio repairman, hospital corpsman or intel specialist had to meet the same qualifications regardless of method of accession.  If anything, conscripts tended to be “overqualified” rather than “underqualified”.

From the viewpoint of the Military Services, the draft gave them guaranteed accession rates with the ability to manage the “quality” of the people being accessed.  All the Services could choose from qualified applicants in “motive groups 1 & 2” to get the numbers of personnel of the appropriate mental and physical qualities to fill the MOS vacancies anticipated, and then, if necessary, access to the remaining general draft eligible population to meet those needs not filled by “volunteers”.  The draft eligible population still had sufficient numbers of men with the range of mental and physical qualities to properly staff the various MOS billets. 

As said above, the Army was simply the victim of a lesser image, and thus tended to need some conscripts.  The Army simply provided the Induction Centers with their conscript personnel needs in both “quality” and “quantity”, and the pool of available personnel was culled via Pre-Induction physicals and testing to meet those personnel needs.  In fact, in 1964, to make the system even more responsive, the Selective Service System began performing Pre-Induction physical and mental testing shortly after each male registered for the draft, rather than 60-90 days before anticipated induction age of 21-22.  This allowed the “pack to be culled” to meet physical and mental category needs a couple of years before the induction process, not during it, saving everyone, to include draft aged males, time and effort.  It also provided higher mental category men an incentive to look at various enlistment options well in advance to exercise the “Manage the Risk” option, as high mental category could generally get you a choice of a better “volunteer” billet, but did not necessarily ensure a high mental category billet if drafted.

In summary, the Post Korea Draft provided the Services, both directly and indirectly, with their manpower needs in both “quality” and “quantity”.  Even when the demographics were a bit skewed by men “gaming the system” through deferments, the Draft continued to meet the Services’ valid enlisted accession needs without lowering standards.  From a technocratic standpoint, the Draft’s mission was delivering properly qualified troops.  Demographics were a political issue.  As said in the beginning, let’s leave the politics for another day.  Force structure needs are objective, politics are subjective.

P.S.  Note that I did not address other "positive" post induction personnel management benefits of conscription.  Having "overqualified" conscripts had several pluses.  For example, once in the Army, higher quality conscripts were often offered opportunities, either enlisted or OCS in return for a voluntary lengthening of service obligation.  Thus, an excess of initial accession "quality troops" could and was used to address more than just "Pvt Snuffy" requirements.

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Clausewitzian View of the Current Conscription Debate in the US - Part II

In order to understand Carl von Clausewitz's views of conscription we need to start with the debacle of 1806 when Napoleon defeated the Prussian Army and imposed a punishing peace on Prussia. Not only was the kingdom significantly reduced in size and population, but the army was limited to 42,000 officers and men with no auxiliaries. While the Prussian general staff under Gerhard von Scharnhorst was able to get around these limits by by constantly training new levees and discharging current ones, the end result was that Prussia became a satellite of France. This was something unacceptable to the young reformers around Scharnhorst. Paret, once again sums this up nicely:
If Scharnhorst and his closest associates at the core of the reform movement determined early on to fight for universal conscription, it was not to solve a shortage of trained men but for the sake of their conception of reform as such. They believed that Prussia could reestablish herself, which required defeating the French, only by breaking down the former isolation of the army in society and by making war the business of the everyone. Beyond that, they wanted corporative society and autocratic government replaced by a more open system of mutual obligation between monarch, administration, army, and citizen in the service of the twin ideals of the nation and the ethically autonomous individual. A comprehensive program of reform followed from these wishes: an army of conscripts of all classes could not be treated in the traditional manner. Discipline, military justice, access to officer rank, to some extent even tactical doctrine would have to be modernized, and length of service would have to be considerably shortened - because those changes, desirable in themselves, became essential if the sons of the educated and well-to-do were to serve in the ranks. As in France, the army would become the school of the nation. By fulfilling a duty common to all in a supra-local and -regional institution, men would learn to be patriots. Such an army, the reformers hoped, would change from an inert instrument in the hand of its commander to a vital force that might even put pressure on the leadership if it was overly cautious or relapsed into purely dynastic policies. It is not accidental that every member of Scharnhorst's group, from Gneisenau and Boyen to Grolman and Clausewitz, was preoccupied during these years with the possibilities of insurrection. Peter Paret, Understanding War, pp 68-69
Why insurrection? The power of pre-modern moral cohesion . . . After describing the power of the new moral cohesion harnessed by ideology and the material cohesion of the French state, Clausewitz continues with what was the reaction:
A reaction, however awoke in due time. In Spain, the war became of itself an affair of the people. In Austria, in the year 1809, the government made extraordinary efforts, by means of reserves and Landwehr, which came nearer to the end in view, and surpassed anything this state hitherto conceived possible. In Russia, in 1812, the example of Spain and Austria was taken as a model. The enormous dimensions of that empire, on the one hand, allowed the preparations, although too long deferred, still to produce an effect; and, on the other hand, intensified the effect produced. The result was brilliant. In Germany, it was Prussia who pulled herself together first, made the war a national cause, and without either money or credit, with a population reduced by one-half, took the field with an army twice as strong as that of 1806. On War, Book VIII, Chapter 3B
The reaction in Spain was of course the guerrilla campaign that was waged against the French occupation. While the enlightened members of Spanish society mostly supported the newly crowned king of Spain, Napoleon's brother Joseph, the peasantry to a significant extent supported by their local clergy revolted against the usurper. The same thing happened in Austrian Tyrol and of course in Russia after Napoleon's invasion of June 1812. The depredations of the "godless" French and their "anti-christ" leader were too much for the pre-modern moral cohesion of these affected groups to tolerate and they reacted.
It is also important here to understand that we see a fundamental change in the way "little war" is comprehended from this point forward. Prior to this, "little war" or Kleinkrieg or Guerrilla was seen by militaries as essentially small unit actions, that is as opposed to Grosskrieg which was action by large formations. The military saw both as being conducted exclusively by conventional troops. With the resistance in Spain, the irregular fighter or Partisan enters the field as an acceptable, even decisive means of warfare. Clausewitz and the other reformers saw the Partisan (Clausewitz used the term Parteigänger for Partisan and Parteigängerkrieg for Partisan Warfare) as the one means available for Prussia to throw off the French yoke. Small groups of motivated citizens supported by small detachments of regular troops would operate opportunistically behind enemy lines. In such a situation, the nation supplants the state as the active agent. War is declared and waged by the people in a merciless struggle for political survival, since the enemy intends to redefine what the citizen's political identity in fact is. Partisan warfare is thus a mixture of strategic defense and tactical offense. Since the defense is the stronger form with a negative aim, the goal is simply to force the attacker to give up his aim though exhaustion. Both pre-modern moral cohesion (the peasantry and communities) and modern cohesion (nationalism as a political ideology of the urban intelligentsia) have their place in the overall struggle. The former allows for the insurgency and the latter provides the moral quality of the new army to be formed to fight Napoleon on equal terms in conventional combat.
So what about conscription specifically? For the insurgency, every citizen becomes a combatant or supporting player. As Carl Schmitt in his Theory of the Partisan describes the Landsturm edict of April 1813:
Every citizen, according to the Royal Prussian edict of April 1813, is obligated to resist the invading emey with weapons of every type. Axes, pitchforks, scythes, and hammers are (in §43) expressly recommended. Every Prussian is obligated to refuse to obey any enemy directive, and to injure the enemy with all available means. Also, if the enemy attempts to restore public order, no one should obey, because in doing so one would make the enemy's military operations easier. It is expressly stated that 'intemperate, unrestrained mobs' are less dangerous than the situation whereby the enemy is free to make use of his troops. Reprisals and terror are recommended to protect the partisans and to menace the enemy. In short, this document is a Magna Carta for partisan warfare. In three places - in the introduction and in §8 and §52 - the Spanish and their guerrilla war are mentioned expressly as the 'model and example' to follow. The struggle is justified as self-defense, which 'sanctifies all means' (§7) including the unleashing of total disorder. Carl Schmitt, Theory of the Partisan, p 43
Why quote Carl Schmitt? Because he's the only one I have found who has really commented on it. Check out the link directly above.
At this point I think it necessary to point out the difference between a Partisan and Brigand. A partisan is an irregular soldier that fights for a cause and has a close affinity with physical proximity in which he operates. Brigandage, on the other hand, organized violence conducted by criminal bands as simply criminality on a large scale, has nothing to do with military operations, although brigands are engaged as fighters. Whatever scraps they pick up due to the war is their own account, provided they accept the costs of their "mistakes". Their depredations can be seen as supporting the overall effort in as far as their actions hamper enemy operations. Anti-brigand operations in quiet sectors would be recommended.
The Landsturm edict - calling up every man from 15 to 60 with no exceptions - was to put it mildly highly controversial and resisted by the various traditional institutions of East Prussia where it was in effect. The townspeople rejected to losing their exemption from military service, the nobility were horrified at the thought of peasant mobs roaming the countryside and of course the Prussian officials thought their normal duties far more important than serving as common soldiers in the ranks. Gneisenau was challenged to a duel by a disgruntled Prussian administrator and Clausewitz wrote in a letter defending conscription that "ten tax assessors" were less needed on the home front to supply the army with its needs "than one shoemaker". It is important to note here as well that officer commissions were to be open to middle class candidates as well, not just the nobility. In the case of the Landwehr this commissioning would include any man provided he was elected by the conscripts in his company/battalion.
What was the practical effect of actions of the reformers during this period? There was no actual mass insurrection since the French were out of East Prussia by April 1813. In all 30,000 men responded to the call and volunteered for military service, this in addition to the majority who consisted of soldiers and former soldiers who had been successively trained prior to and after 1806. Various instances of partisan warfare did break out in Prussian lands still occupied by the French and several officers who had made names for themselves as partisan commanders were retained in the Prussian Army after 1815. Still, it was only after 1813 that the new form of conscription was actually instituted. Peter Paret summarizes the situation nicely:
These reactions suggest that the reformers overestimated the strength of patriotism in Prussia, or, more likely, that they claimed more for it than it could preform. They acted as spokesmen of attitudes that did not yet possess wide currency but were only emerging in Prussian society, often in response to their own propaganda and policies. The months that so often have been labelled a period of national rising against the French found Scharnhorst and his associates, as in earlier years, fighting for their own conception of state and society amidst an antagonistic nobility, an unsympathetic bourgeoisie, and a passive, largely uncomprehending population in the towns and country. They could never have achieved as much as they did if they had not found supporters and sympathizers in all classes, and if the king had not reluctantly cooperated with them for a time; but the degree of antagonism and misunderstanding they encountered on all sides insured that they would fail in their social and political goals. Peter Paret, Clausewitz and the State, p 236-7
While the social and political goals were more the nature of seeds planted for the future, the military goals bore fruit during the campaign of the spring of 1813. Prussia was able to bloody Napoleon at both Grossgörchen and Bautzen, the reformers leading from the front to inspire their new army. Clausewitz was still wearing the uniform of a Czarist officer since the King had refused to allow him to return to Prussian service. At Grossgörchen, Grolman, Blücher and Scharnhorst were all wounded, with Scharnhorst later dying as a result of the infected wound. Clausewitz narrowly escaped capture or death at Grossgörchen when his cohort found itself surrounded by French infantry, but was able to fight his way out. As a result of these actions, Austria entered the coalition against France of Prussia, Russia and Britain. The battle of Leipzig followed in the autumn.
The Prussian conscription law went into effect in the summer of 1814, that is after Napoleon's defeat at Leipzig and his surrender. Defense of the country was a universal obligation and consisted of three different institutions: the line army, the Landwehr and the Landsturm. All men were liable for three years of active military service between between 20 and 25. The Landwehr consisted of all former soldiers up to the age of 39 and all those who had not been called to the colors due to lack of need. The Landsturm, a paper organization in peacetime, consisted of all men between 17 and 20 and 39 and 50. There was one exception, young men with certain educational qualifications who could provide for their own uniforms and equipment need only serve for one year and then after honorable service had the option of applying for a reserve commission. This was essentially the same law that was in effect in 1914, although I doubt that anyone in 1814 could have imagined the masses of trained soldiers that conscription would supply to Europe's army one hundred years in the future.
The reformers had succeeded in changing the Prussian army from a shambles after 1806 into perhaps the most modern military force in Europe by 1815. New tactics, military doctrine, officer selection, training and promotion policies bore quick fruit whereas the institutional changes, the general staff, conscription and the Landwehr were to develop significantly over the next 100 years. What had originated as a reflection of new political realities as seen by Scharnhorst, Clausewitz and the other reformers was to become the actual agent of the changes in attitudes the reforms were supposed to reflect. In this instance theory (the notion of nationalism as an ideology capable of inducing modern moral cohesion) instituted the means for this notion to actually become widespread throughout Prussia and later Germany.
In conclusion it is interesting to note that with the reaction led by Prussian conservatives after 1815, most of the reformists were sidelined. With Scharnhorst dead they had lost not only their leader but their most inspiring and influential champion. The attitude of both the Prussian liberals and conservatives changed regarding conscription as well, with the liberals increasingly seeing it as not so much the school of the nation, as the symbol of state coercion and the conservatives increasingly seeing it not as a threat of rebellion but as an instrument to maintain their status and the structures of state domination that maintained it.
Finally, the concept of the partisan as irregular soldier with great political potential was to return again in 1870 as well as later influence a Russian political thinker known under the name of Lenin.

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Clausewitzian View of the Current Conscription Debate in the US - Part I

Conscription is defined as "compulsory enlistment of citizens or residents of a political body for national service". It dates back to the Babylonian Empire but the modern variant traces back to revolutionary France of the 1790s, and thus has a significant political element regardless of the political system employing it. Most modern wars have required some sort of conscription by one side or both in order to procure the necessary manpower to wage the war in question.
In this essay I would like to first present the state of conscription in Europe prior 1793, followed by French mobilization to form the Grand Armee. Clausewitz's view on conscription as well as Prussian reforms will follow. Finally I will present some recent examples in the current debate in the US regarding the reimplementation of conscription. I think this will show that Clausewitz's views are pertinent to the discussion and even explain the motives/thinking of some of the current proponents. This is due to the fact in my view that regarding conscription we are dealing with basic political questions, that in the US context are long overdue in airing.
France under the monarchy relied on a professional army as did the majority of the states on Europe in the 18th Century. The French Royal Army also had a large number of foreigners serving (approximately 25% in 1789). The militia was meant to serve as a trained reserve for the regular army providing additional recruits as necessary, that is what could not be supplied by the free market. France under the monarchy was a state with many graduations of privilege and those at the bottom, the poor, were those most likely to be inducted into the militia and serve in the army. In 1791 the militia was abolished to popular acclaim across France.
In Britain, the militia was seen by the conservatives as useless and a waste of funds, while for the Whigs it was seen as a useful means to counter the political influence of the standing forces. Counties faced the prospect of riots whenever lists of those to do service with the local militia were publicly read and militia insurance societies prospered by paying the insured the sum needed to procure a substitute should his name be called. Patriotism was one thing, military service was another.
Conscription in the German states had a varied history prior to the 1790s. While there had been some support for militia among rulers, many found it an unnecessary risk to arm a large number of their citizenry when a reliable standing army was more in their interest. Conscription policies in the fragmented Germany of the time ranged from the absolute but limited form of conscription in Prussia to no militia at all in the German lands to the west not under French domination. Perhaps the greatest obstacle to the establishment of conscription in the German lands was the unwillingness of the populace to serve. There was simply little interest in military service among the broad mass of the German people at the time, to the point that Peter Paret in his excellent essay on the topic concludes:
It was not alone the technical difficulties and the political and social risks attendant on militias, nor mercantilist theories, nor their drive towards absolutism that led the German princes to develop long-serving professional armies as their favored military instrument, but also the unwillingness of their subjects to take up arms. By the eighteenth century the militia had become a discredited concept in the German states, leading only the most shadowy of existences beside the mercenaries and the forcibly enrolled peasants who made up the armed power of the state. Peter Paret, Understanding War, p 43
With Revolutionary France under pressure, conscription quickly became a necessity. The Constitution of 1793 proclaimed the army not the instrument of a monarch, but the very embodiment of national will, representing and comprising the nation as a whole. Along with the vote every Frenchman was also obligated to military service. This is the first instance where "the army as the school of the nation" is mentioned and that by the radical left. Between 1800 and 1815 over two million Frenchmen were conscripted, while only 52,000 volunteered. After a time, those with means were again allowed to provide a substitute of course, and there was the National Guard for internal policing, membership in which favored the middle class. There was also resistance/desertion as Clausewitz knew having seen shackled French conscripts being led through the streets during his time as a prisoner of war.
Still the French experience during the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars is a turning point in not only the history of citizen/state relations, but in state cohesion as well as military affairs. Popular participation (if not wholely enthusiastic) in warfare had helped to create a new dynamic. This would probably not have been apparent to say a French administrator in a medium-sized French town as he experienced some of the daily details, but the cumulative effect, as experienced say by a Prussian officer having been on the receiving end of what this had ushered forth would see it all quite differently:
By this participation of the people in war, instead of a cabinet and an army, a whole nation with its natural weight entered the scale. Henceforward, the means available - the efforts which might be called forth - had no longer any definite limits; the energy with which the war itself could be conducted had no longer any counterpoise, and and consequently the danger for the adversary had risen to the extreme. If the whole war of the Revolution ran its course without all this making itself felt in its full force and becoming quite evident; if the generals of the Revolution did not advance irresistibly up the final aim and lay in ruins the monarchies of Europe; if German armies now and again had the opportunity of resisting with success and checking the torrent of victory - the cause really lay in that technical imperfection with which the French had to contend, which showed itself first among the common soldiers, then in the generals, lastly, at the time of the Directory, in the government itself. After everything had been perfected by the hand of Bonaparte, this military power, based on the strength of the whole nation, marched shattering over Europe with such confidence and certainty that wherever it only encountered the old-fashioned armies the result was never even for a moment doubtful. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Book VIII Chapter 3B (Jolles translation)
From this quote we can see that this new dynamic required three interrelated elements: First an ideologically inspired population, a mass of citizenry willing to serve what they saw as the common interests of the state to the point of offering their lives in their attainment. Second, a functioning administrative apparatus to control the entire enterprise along with the ability to implement reforms and corrections. Third and finally, the military genius who recognizes the new possibilities and is able to exploit them to the fullest.
Let's expand a bit on this first element. Attempt to initiate our string of ideal types . . . Fundamentally we are talking about an "ideologically inspired population", that is a moral cohesion of the modern world, what Clausewitz saw as corresponding to the conditions of early 19th Century Europe, rather than earlier forms of moral cohesion which we'll label as "tribalism" or simply what holds a pre-modern community together. In the earlier paper linked at the beginning of this paragraph, I made the distinction between two types of moral cohesion and a single type of material cohesion. There is the moral cohesion of the pre-modern political community (remember when dealing with ideal types we attempt to extenuate existing conditions/circumstances theoretically assuming that they could either expand or contract without assuming that there is no mixture in reality with other ideal types). A strategic theorist must continuously push the boundaries, given the fluid nature of our domestic political relations. More on that later.
So the existing pre-modern moral cohesion of the community (religion, tradition, guild associations, clan affinities, "tribalism") form the basis of political relations. It is these existing political relations that have to confront the second type of moral cohesion, or not. The second type of moral cohesion is that specifically associated with modern ideologies, and further what Jacques Ellul refers to as the Technological Society. In terms of conscription, the main distinction between the two is that modern moral cohesion allows for mass mobilization, the mobilization of the nation in service of the state, which is not possible to anything like the same degree with pre-modern moral cohesion, since the various elements of pre-modern cohesion, religion, family, tradition, and the rest tend to dilute and dissipate support of the nation/state.
The basic distinction between moral and material cohesion, although there is naturally a good bit of overlap, is that while the former satisfies values, the latter satisfies interest.
Material cohesion consists of institutions, constitutions, codes of rational law, various administrative apparatuses that allow political communities to harness resources and create power. It is important here to keep in mind that we are no talking about "material" things at all. Not buildings, weapons, factories or ships, but rather motivations, habits and belief systems that orientate and spur social action, that is human activity oriented towards other people.
I will end part I here with the mass mobilization of revolutionary France. Clausewitz's view will follow in part II and finally part III will delve into the current US debate . . . it's going to be fun.