Monday, November 20, 2006

Citizen Soldiers?

Representitive Charles Rangel wants to bring back the draft. I say good idea.

The "All-Volunteer Force" is a mercenary force...let's not mince words here. Some people certainly enlist in the military because they feel that it is there civic duty, but most do it in large part for the money (or future career/money prospects). If we did away with very hefty enlistment and re-enlistment bonuses, we would have no military. And even with bonuses that can exceed $100,000 tax-free in the first five years (enlistment bonus, re-enlistment bonus and specialty pay bonuses), we still need to contract out a huge proportion of logistical and support functions (and many combat functions) to "real" mercenaries.

There are problems with employing a mercenary military. The foremost, in my mind, is the divide that builds between people who make decisions to employ the military and people who serve in the military. The military, as Clauswitz said, is politics by other means. And it is dirty work. It is always a tempting option to have someone else do your dirty work, but when the question boils down to "do you, personally, want to engage in this dirty work," then the military tends to be much more judiciously utilized. There are lots of people out there in America who "support the war," or at the very least "support the troops" (I still haven't figured out what that amounts to). But there are not many people who support it or them enough to go take part themselves. There are plenty of excuses--but let me disabuse you of at least one: if you are less than 60 years old, male or female, the Arkansas national guard will let you enlist and will ship you off to Iraq within months to help guard convoys. I actually know one person (Rowe Stayton of Lakewood, Colorado) who was 55 when he decided that ne needed to "do his part" and enlist. But you have a job, or a family, you say? Mr. Stayton had both--actually, he was an attorney with his own successful firm, but he enlisted and spent 12 months in Iraq as a military policeman. Stayton joined as a Sergeant in the Army because that was where the need was greatest, even though he had previously served 11 years as a Major and F-15 pilot in the US Air Force. While I question his stance and decision, I do not question his entitlement to legitimately claim that he supports the war and the troops. But a mercenary military allows a large segment of the American population to declare that they support the war, or that they support the troops, all while comfortable in the knowledge that someone else will to the actual dirty work.

States that employ a mercenary military make far less judicious decisions about when and how to employ that military. History bears this out. There is a long history of discourse in the Western Tradition (I can't comment on this same tradition elsewhere out of ignorance) about the importance of the citizen soldier. The Romans (at least during portions of the Republic) undestood the importance of a citizen soldier to the fabric of society. Greeks before them undesrtood the same. Citizen-Militias were the founding backbone of America. Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" (The classic book, not the movie) dealt effectively with the importance of the citizen soldier in the fabric of society. A draft--when done properly, without loopholes for the wealthy, priviledged, or connected--creates a strong society with citizen soldiers.

This is not merely an issue for states. Tribes and tribal conflict is perhaps the epitome of the citizen soldier. The citizen soldier is a critical structural institution. It's easy to say that "this war is worth while," or to cite causus belli. But is it worth you putting your life on the line, or the life of your sons or granddaughters? A draft helps ensure that military action passes the latter test. Here is the critical structural distinction: when the military action in question is legitimately an action in self-defense (even if proactive self-defense), then the answer is almost invariably YES. If the action is offensive, aggressive, exploitative, or a product of hierarchy, then the answer is almost invariably NO. The calculus is entirely different when you are considering employing a mercenary military.

So, while I understand that most readers don't support the war in Iraq, and don't have any interest in joining the military (and I wholeheartedly agree), I do think that a well-constructed draft is a good idea. This is not merely an issue for America, or for large overgrown hierarchies in general. It is a general maxim of societal constrution, a maxim of decentralization, rhizome, sustainability. Citizen Soldiers are more likely to engage in defensive, not offensive wars. They are not a foolproof end to war, but when combined with other elements of decentralization and localization they bring us to the broader concept of a rhizome military that is structurally incapable of engaging in offensive warfare. The ultimate, structural goal is to ensure that the decision makers are personally willing to engage in the dirty work. Put Jenna Bush behind an M-60 on top of a Hummer transiting Route Tampa from Kuwait to Baghdad and see how long we "stay the course."


Erik D said...

Jeff, glad you're back and in fine form (congrats on your light rail!).

You're probably aware of Foucault's reformulation of Clausewitz's aphorism, that Politics is War by other means. I find this more compelling even than Clausewitz' insightful phrasing, since it places the violence of the state as the foundation for a possible politics of the state.

Regardless, accepting either formulation necessarily means that any attempt to restructure the process by which either politics are conducted, or the violence of the state maintained, must be seen as a sort of recursive enterprise, in which War2 (Politics) attempts to modify the action and structure of War1 (Military) (or vice versa).

If "Violence is the health of the state", and the state is therein identified with 'politics,' then the specific means to pursue violence (military and police forces) must be upheld by the politicians.

I agree with both Clausewitz and Foucault in identifying both politics and armies with the state, and perhaps therefore simply can't imagine any process being allowed to progress to the point where either one of the two are undermined.

The idea of Jenna B driving a hummer is horrifying - she'd probably be drunk.


Bob Harrison said...

Jeff, I agree that our “volunteer military” is essentially mercenary for the reasons you state. It is one of the very few economic escape routes in this society for lower middle class and poor youth.
In a non-oppressive, decentralized, rhizome organized society; a draft would be neither necessary nor tolerated. Being themselves the decision makers, members of such a society would volunteer when they felt military action was necessary. They would not tolerate the oppressive action of forcing the unwilling to fight for them.
As we don’t have a government “ by the people”, the decision makers would use a draft to further militarize this society and enhance their hierarchal system. As it is their decision, the elite would create escape routes for their personal families and friends.
You say that historically “citizen soldiers” worked well for certain societies. Conscription also worked well for the British Empire, Stalin, Mao, and Hitler. I’m afraid our society is similar to the latter.
To decrease the likelihood of illegitimate wars, it is necessary to destroy the percieved legitimacy of hierarchy and empire. I do not believe supporting a draft will enhance this goal.

Anonymous said...

Such a dramatic description of the US military ... "mercenary". Despite the negative connotations intended in using such terminology, the US military is "mercenary" in the same way plumbers, shoe salesmen, computer programmers, and McDonald’s employees are "mercenary". The generic definition of the word is: "working or acting merely for money or other reward" or even more vaguely: "any hireling". In a strictly military context, the word more accurately implies: "hired to serve in a foreign army, guerrilla organization, etc" which is inaccurate when applied to the US military (though this could be disputed at high theoretic levels).

Though I don't have strong feelings either way on re-activating the draft, it would seem to make sense to avoid activating the draft while we have a sufficient all-volunteer army. Those volunteering for military service tend to be more passionate and willing to do their job to the best of their ability as opposed to forcefully enlisting a large pool of bitter citizens who focus more on finding new ways to screw up simple tasks out of spite than actually being a soldier. People who decide themselves to be soldiers will be better soldiers the same way people who decide themsevles to be cardiologists will be better cardiologists than those who have no interest in, and actually despise, cardiology.

Besides, the largest problem with the volunteer military you highlighted would not be solved with a draft. Look at Vietnam, when the "people who make decisions to employ the military" continued to opt to employ the military despite widespread negative views of the conflict. It wasn't exactly put to a vote among the pool of potential draftees and then decided upon based on their feedback.

-Smitty Broham

Frank Black said...

As an impressionable lad experiencing a moment of philosophical crisis in his life, an incident occured in Iran than brought my patriotism to the surface. When our embassy workers were taken hostage, I felt violated. Sure, I'd later come to find that we'd meddled in Iran's internal affairs for many years, but that was of no importance at that time. At that time all that mattered was soothing my need for revenge. I left college and enlisted. I was surrounded by others who felt as I felt. Would I have appreciated being thrust into such an intense and grave situation with those who didn't wish to serve? Not likely. Such a person would have been a traitor to me.

In the end, my eyes were opened to the incessant meddling of the U.S. government into the affairs of soverign nations for decades. It ended my military career and my respect for our government and authority in general.

In a perfect world, the draft is necessary and helpful. I'd like to think that in a time when our borders were threatened there would be no need for a draft since everyone would be falling over themselves to help. In today's world, I have no idea what the draft would do. One of my co-workers (also a disgruntled veteran) applied to work on the draft board when the most recent military insanity began to brew. He was rejected. Who is put on the draft board? Who makes the decisions that let the Dan Quayles and his ilk serve in the National Guard rather than on the front lines? It is the military equivalent of electronic voting. As Stalin said, "Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything." Same thing for the draft board.

I'd love to see the draft if it meant sending government official's kids into the war their parents started. But I fear it would only send more innocent Americans into harms way. Perhaps that would cause a shift in support for the war, but how many would die and in how many more nations would we be embroiled before it ended? Another unforeseen consequence of reinstating the draft is the fact that it is championed by Democrats. I have no love for either Democrats or Republicans, but the thought of the neo-cons riding back into power due to the support of mothers and fathers wishing to spare their children's lives in an unjust war is more than I can bear. The draft is the tool of a just and honorable society. We are sorely lacking in both qualities.

Theo_musher said...

Jeff, what do you think of mandatory military service as opposed to a draft?

Its seems to me a draft is for when war has already been declared(Even though we don't declare war anymore) but mandatory military service, like they have in most European countries, might prevent us from deciding to go to war. That seems to be the effect in Europe.

Disillusioned kid said...


An interesting post. I'm curious how you see Israel - which has mandatory service, but not a draft as far as I'm aware - fitting in. They have stuck the course in the West Bank (and to a large extent Gaza) for almost forty-years inspite of near universal participation in the military.

Jeff Vail said...


I think that "mandatory military service," specifically the example of most Western European nations (with the exception of the UK as far as I know) is a good example of the effect that I'm talking about. Since WWII, Western European leaders have taken a very (relatively) pacifist bent. Mandatory military service is one of their attempts to do exactly this--to ensure that pacifism is the default recourse by giving a broad section of society exposure to military policies. I think that a distinction between mandatory miltiary service and the draft is really only one of logistics--and (previous commentors) don't get me wrong...either is something that can be done quite badly. But a well structured conscript army (with the political goal of guiding the society's military decision making) has historically been very effective. The examples given above where the general concept has failed has also been under circumstances where only the poor or marginalized were drafted (the artistocracy's participation as officers was always voluntary).

As for the debate about an all volunteer force being a more capable military force: true. And as long as the military is determined to only act when truly necessary, a conscript force IS a force of volunteers. How many disgruntled draftees do you hear about from World War II? How often do you hear that the army of conscripts that fought for the US during WWII was sub-par because they were conscrpits? It is this political check that is critical. But here is where the mandatory military service model may be more effective--a shorter and broader experience to provide training to many during times of peace without gross inconvenience to a few long-term peacetime draftees, but a large pool to draw from when truly necessary.

Jason Godesky said...

You're absolutely right about the role of violence in tribes, and I think that's an important point that Ted Heistman over at Free Range Organic Human has been stressing. But what about someone like me, who doesn't support this war, thinks the phrase "Support the troops" is meaningless double-talk, and above all, hates this dysfunctional culture and is actively doing everything in his power to get out of it as much as possible?

Just how much trouble would I be in if I walked into the draft board and told them that I want to be Hermann Arminius when I grow up?

jomama said...

Any psycho insisting at gunpoint that I go off to fight and kill those I don't know for a cause I don't support deserves to be shot.

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