In the world of our media “elites”, the biggest problem facing our union is that we aren’t all pulling in the same (i.e. the Democrats’) direction.

Is it a problem – the idea that our democracy be accountable to the fact that we don’t all agree on the best way forward?  That everyone hasn’t gotten behind the media “elites'” pet “socialist-lite” dream, like the big episode of “West Wing” they seem to believe our civic life is?

I’m not sold.

But one think I am sold on is that most of the media’s proposed solutions to this “problem” are worse than the problem they’d solve.

We had a curiously synchonous pair of cases in point last week, when two liberal commetators – Mark Shields and Dana Milbank – called for a return of the draft.

Blind As A Liberal:  Let’s dispense with Shields first.

He notes the nobility of service – and how usual it used to be to find the children of the ruling elites serving in the military:

Americans are disconnected from each other and nowhere is this disconnect more alarming and more obvious than between those in the U.S. military and their civilian contemporaries. In spite of all the “Support Our Troops” bumper stickers on SUVs and the unvarying mantra of how “proud” all our public officials, irrespective of party, are of “our brave men and women in uniform,” the American upper class is happy to have all fighting and, yes, all dying done not by its own, precious children but instead by the sons and daughters of waitresses, secretaries and firefightersLyndon Johnson was the last president to have a son — or in his case, two sons-in-law — serve, both in wartime. Franklin Roosevelt had four sons. All went to war. Elliott Roosevelt enlisted in the Army Air Corps and flew 300 combat missions. Jimmy Roosevelt joined the Marine Corps, and in combat in the Pacific, earned both the Navy Cross and the Silver Star. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Franklin Roosevelt Jr.’s bravery saving the lives of crew members when under heavy enemy fire was rewarded with a Silver Star. And Navy Lt. John Roosevelt earned a Bronze Star during World War II.

All very true.

Of course, in 2008 the children of both of the candidates on one ticket were serving in the military.   John McCain and Sarah Palin both had children on active duty.  I don’t recall Shields going especially out of his way to note that particular virtue about either of them during that race.   

It’s a selective virtue, I guess…

Motivation:  Of course, the draft is the last thing the military wants – because outside of a few very narrowly-defined circumstances, draftee militaries aren’t as effective as volunteer militaries.

Those circumstances, of course, are “when your homeland is in immediate, grave peril”.  History is full of examples of draftee militaries that fought brilliantly in defending their homes; Israel’s “national service” military, sure but also the USSR (albeit at gruesome cost), even the Germans, who held off the Allied onslaught much longer than might have been.  The world is also full of draftee militaries that present their would-be opponents with harsh deterrents to aggression; Switzerland, South Korea, Finland, even Cold (heh) War-era Norway.   Because while not everyone intrinsicaly wants to be a soldier, pretty much nobody wants their home to be conquered by the Nazis, the North Koreans, the Soviets or the Syrians.

History also presents us examples of draftee armies that grossly underperformed outside those circumstances; it’s a simple fact of human nature that soldiers who don’t volunteer to fight, and have no real skin in the game fight-wise, are a lot mess motivated to risk life and limb than people who signed up for the job.   We’ve talked about this in the past.

So the military – least of all the Army – wants nothing to do with a draft.

Other Motivations:  But it’s not about fighting wars for the likes of Milbank.  To him (and Fields, whose commentary is similar to Milbank’s; too similar), it’s about the good ol’ days:

As I make my rounds each day in the capital, chronicling our leaders’ plentiful foibles, failings, screw-ups, inanities, outrages and overall dysfunction, I’m often asked if there’s anything that could clean up the mess.

Anyone who asks Dana Milbank for solutions to this nation’s problems should have their drivers’ license revoked.  But I digress.

My usual answer is a shrug and an admission that there’s no silver bullet. There are many possibilities — campaign spending limits, term limits, nonpartisan primaries, nonpartisan redistricting, a third party — but most aren’t politically or legally feasible, might not make much of a difference or, as with Harry Reid’s rewriting of Senate rules, have the potential to make things even worse.

But one change, over time, could reverse the problems that have built up over the past few decades: We should mandate military service for all Americans, men and women alike, when they turn 18. The idea is radical, unlikely and impractical — but it just might work.

And why is that?

A Congressional Quarterly count of the current Congress finds that just 86 of the 435 members of the House are veterans, as are only 17 of 100 senators, which puts the overall rate at 19 percent. This is the lowest percentage of veterans in Congress since World War II, down from a high of 77 percent in 1977-78, according to the American Legion.

There might be a point in there.  But after a brief digression, we’ll see that it’s not Milbank’s.

…And Statistics:  Just as a brief aside, here’s one of the best illustrations of an element of basic logic that liberals – even “elites” like Milbank – routinely bastardize:

With that in m ind, Milbank continues (with emphasis added by yours truly):

It’s no coincidence that this same period has seen the gradual collapse of our ability to govern ourselves: a loss of control over the nation’s debt, legislative stalemate and a disabling partisanship. It’s no coincidence, either, that Americans’ approval of Congress has dropped to just 9 percent, the lowest since Gallup began asking the question 39 years ago.

If it’s a logical war Milbank wants to fight, he should go to LegalZoom and pick up some “Articles of Surrender” – because both of those cases are dictionary definitions of “coincidence”.

The World War 2 generation in Congress were fairly similar across parties, not because most of them had served in the military, but because they had survived two existential threats to America and its way of life; the war and the Depression.  They had faced down the Dust Bowl, the Nazis and the Japanese – all before age 30.  They didn’t serve in the military to learn leadership; they served because the country, and our civilization, was under mortal threat.

After beating existential threats, civil debate is a piker.

Put another way; if military service guarantees smooth, civil government, the Pentagon bureaucracy should have no strident factionalism, and high productivity.   Right?

Changing Times:  Today, we face no external, existential, human threat.  Our greatest enemy is ourselves – and not in a way that you can (or at least should) sic the military on.  The military threats we have are overseas, small, asymmetric, and best dealt with by people who want the job; the volunteers we currently have.

If you create an immense conscript military where there is no threat, all you do is turn the military into a social program.

Which is, of course, what Milbank and Shields are after, although they don’t say it in as many words.  In their world, the military would be less a vehicle for fighting wars, and more a tool for social engineering; a giant make-work and indoctrination program.

Absent arealexistential threat – and “not being bipartisan” isn’t it – that’s really the only option there is.

8 thoughts on “Conscripted

  1. Memories of the Vietnam era inform these columnists. They want a draft with “no exceptions”, because they imagine that’s how it was in WW2. Amazing how people think pop-culture ideas about the past must be the way it really was, at least when they conform to their ideology. In WW2 exemptions from service were given for many reason (minor dependents, public safety jobs like cops and firefighters, workers in vital industries, like coal miners). The best online, concise source I’ve found that describes how the WW2-era draft really functioned is here:
    It’s got citations, but they are not in MLA or APA style.

  2. PM is correct. During the Vietnam war and several years after, there were probably thousands of incidents where draftees or people that enlisted rather than be drafted, pulled all sorts of “Corporal Klinger” type acts to get discharged. For instance, admission of using drugs or claiming that you were gay, almost guaranteed one and it didn’t seem to matter to the offenders that they were most frequently dishonorable or medical discharges. Further illustrations could be observed in combat. Some soldiers literally pointed their weapons toward the enemy, turned their heads and closed their eyes or just held the weapon up over a barricade so that was the least part of their body exposed to enemy fire and pulled the trigger until the mag was empty, then reloaded and repeated the procedure. While I served a brief stint as a door gunner on a rescue chopper, I encountered several fellow gunners that were scared to shoot their M-60s, even for test fires.

  3. “If you create an immense conscript military where there is no threat, all you do is turn the military into a social program.”

    And maybe when real threats do arrive you can provide an institution against which the NewNewNew… Left can rally and rail against, just like they did in the 60’s and 70’s.

  4. Shields enlisted in the Marines in 1960, he says because he thought he was going to be drafted and didn’t want to serve in the Army. That still makes him a volunteer (a good thing), but not a draftee. He did his 2 yrs. in peacetime and then was discharged. The high-tech nature of todays military requires a longer commitment than 2yrs.

    Milbank: “We should mandate military service for all Americans, men and women alike, when they turn 18.”

    Milbank was born in 1968, my question is why he didn’t volunteer in 1986? Maybe he was too busy prepping for Yale.

  5. Isn’t drafting a form of “involuntary servitude”? Why is it that the Democrats are not only the party of Jim Crow, but they’re also against the 13th Amendment? I know the courts haven’t ruled with me on this, but let’s be serious here.

  6. bikebubba; you have a great point. Black Vietnam era veterans that I served with and have met since, by and large saw the draft as a racist program. I seem to recall reading at least two studies that compared the percentages of white to minorities, specifically southern black men drafted and concluded that a disproportionate number of them were drafted.

  7. I’d oppose the “draft”, especially as it existed in the sixties and seventies, under all circumstances.

    I used to get into slam-bang arguments with big-L libertarians on the case – more “small-government constitutional” than “libertarian” – for a Swiss/Israeli/Finnish-style National Service system. The case to me was simple; if we agree that if one’s country upholds human liberty, and defending the country and that liberty is one of very few legitimate jobs government has, and that government is of, by and for The People, then why would it NOT be The People’s responsibility to defend it with a sort of Swiss-style national militia?

    Especially given that that sort of military is incredibly conservative about foreign entanglements?

    It was a donnybrook.

  8. The conscription levy, which we know as the draft of civilians into the military, is an idea only used in times of massive external threat. Registration of military age males, which we call selective service, is for emergency purposes only.

    And as a 21 year NCO in the Army, I have a hard enough time herding the privates who volunteer to serve-I shudder at the thought of going back to the days when folks were forced to serve against their will.

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