In considering the Web Of War, Eisenhower’s Military-Congressional-Industrial Complex, one does have to take in the law of unintended consequences. Nothing illustrates this more than the lack the Draft in our modern military. The all volunteer military has been a great success, it has given the nation a thoroughly professional military. It has supplied top-notch service members that are the envy of every nation. Unfortunately it has its down sides, and one of the most pernicious ones has to be the disconnect between our trigger-pullers and the vast majority of the citizens of the United States.
A little history is in order. From the Civil War all the way to Vietnam the United States has had a form of compulsory military service. The draft, as it became known, has always had problems. The Civil War exemptions for the wealthy in both the North and South had many grumbling about a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight. In the Copperhead stronghold of New York City there were even riots. Still, the Draft had great success in the next big wars of 1898 (Spanish American War), 1917 (the Great War), and 1941(WWII.) The two “police actions” of Korea and Vietnam ended the support for the draft.
More than anything else it was Vietnam that ended the Selective Service. The rampant unfairness of the draft, who got called, and who got a free pass, lead to middle class revolt.
From the wreckage of Vietnam, a new military was born. It was not easy, and it turned out to be pricy. To attract recruits, and to keep them in uniform, the military had to rebuild itself from scratch. Pay was increased. Micky Mouse regulations were reduced. A whole infrastructure centered around personnel support was constructed. While the military life was still very stressful, the support for the families and the active duty members improved markedly.
The down-side of this new military is that it became insular. Its members became self-selecting, a breed apart. Fewer and fewer average citizens had family member in the military. Those families that did have military servicemembers became concentrated into smaller and smaller geographic pockets. As for the elites, the wealthy, the business class, the chattering class, the political class, and others, almost none of them had any connection with the military. You can see the fall off in the Bush family. Bush Sr. Was WWII fighter pilot who served honorably. His son, Bush Jr. barely served in a “Champaign Unit” of the Texas Air National Guard. Neither of Bush Jr.’s daughters have served in any branch of the military.
The Bushes are not alone, Barack Obama has zero military service, as does most of his Republican opposition. It has become exceedingly rare for any of the political elite to have been in the military or to have family members in the military; those who do are odd birds indeed. This is not a healthy state of affairs, this disconnect between our civilian leadership and the military.
But it is the disconnect between the public at large and the military that is the most troublesome. Far too few citizens have any personal skin in the game. This allows the general citizenry not to worry too much about our military activities. It gives far too much latitude to the political elites to engage in questionable military actions. As long as the elites can avoid activating the draft, they have carte blanch to engage in the most hare-brained of conflicts. Bush’s jolly little war in the land of the two rivers may never have happened if the Selective Reserve, the Draft, had been part of the process.
There is a reason our recent wars of choice have been exercises in air power with minimal boots on the ground. Both Republicans and Democrats attempt to find technological fixes to get around the issue of people on the ground; and the casualties those people incur. It is also the reason the same active duty members and reserve forces keep getting rotated into conflicts zones again and again. There are grunts who have served multiple tours of duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan. There are grunts being sent out to conflicts zones drugged out with anti-depressives and anti-psychotics just to fill out the ranks. All this so policy wonks do not have to fire up the Selective Service. All this so average US citizens remain ignorant of the real cost of our four wars of choice.
This is not an argument for a re-instatement of the Draft. The nation is too far gone in corruption and self-indulgence for that to be answer. The rich, the powerful, the well connected will find their opt-outs. Scions of great men and women will still get their easy tours. The days when a connected son of promise gets anywhere near danger are gone. The days when the connected are in any way inconvenienced by national service are also gone. Elites like Obama gab all day about sacrifice, having never actually performed any real sacrifice their entire careers. Very few of the charmed circle have ever had to perform the type of sacrifice military members do every waking day.
While we respect the military as a nation, it is no longer really connected to most of us in any meaningful way. How to reestablish that connection is the question. The general public has to have skin in the game, it is the only real check on the mindless interventionism that infests our political class. I wish I had an idea how to remake that connection, how to get the general public reconnected, en mass, to the military. I wish I had idea of how to reestablish the check to elite power that an engaged public can be. The end of the Draft has ended that check; how we reestablish a check on empire building is one of the most important political acts we need to undertake.