Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Necessary and urgent, but political poison: Why the United States needs to restore the draft

On September 11th of this year, a 52 year old woman Army Sergeant was killed in action in Afghanistan. Her name was Meredith Howard. She hailed from Waukesha, WI, and she was the oldest U.S. war casualty in at least half a century. Details at: http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=494632

This raises a question that ought to be burning up the talk shows, but isn't:

What was a 52 year old woman doing in a combat situation in the first place? Why was the powerful United States resorting to what Nazi Germany had to resort to in the last days of World War II – calling up people you’d think ought to be too old to fight and throwing them into mortal combat?

Unfortunately, the answer is no mystery. The Bush war in Iraq has so drained our limited troops everywhere that we are recycling soldiers into combat in Afghanistan and Iraq – some for their third tours of war duty – who were past combat age, at least by commonsense standards, decades ago.

There is something completely immoral and possibly criminal about the nincompoops in the White House and the Pentagon starting a war we can’t finish, and then insisting that we “stay the course” using exhausted, often demoralized and overaged troops to do the fighting and dying for them.


Donald Rumsfeld’s glib retort to a soldier who legitimately complained of inadequate equipment and support, “You go to war with the army you’ve got,” might briefly have made sense when we needed a quick reaction to the destruction of the World Trade Center – at least until we could have raised a much larger army. But it makes no sense whatsoever long term.

It would have won the approval of the majority of Americans if a President who was a real leader, riding the surge of patriotism that arose on 9/11, called for an immediate reinstitution of the military draft. This would have given us the army we needed to complete the job that should have been done in Afghanistan – including capturing or killing Osama Bin Ladin.

Whether you believe (as I do) that we had no business going into Iraq (as opposed to Afghanistan) or you’re foursquare behind the war there, it’s clear that Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush and their followers plunged into Iraq with the abandon of a drunk diving headfirst off a high board into a dry swimming pool.


The Bush rationale for entering Iraq has changed many times – from the original claim that Saddam Hussein possessed and/or was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction, to the ridiculous claim that Saddam Hussein was somehow linked to Alchaida, to the latest ridiculous rationale that we are somehow transforming the world for the better by attempting to bring democracy to Iraq.

Clearly, even if this new rationale made any sense, there was no need to dash immediately off to war with the army we had. What difference would it have made if we had first raised a larger army and gone in, say, six months or a year (or even two years) later to chase Saddam Hussein into a rabbit hole? My goodness gracious Mr. Secretary, we might even have restored civil order in Iraq at the same time.

But of course, the White House and the Pentagon had no intention of raising a significantly larger army. To do so would have meant spending money and instituting a draft. You have to assume they thought this would incur too high a political price. The evident object was to ruffle as few American feathers as possible while we blew Saddam Hussein off his perch. Sacrifices? No. Tax cuts, at least for the very wealthy? Certainly. Tax increases to actually pay for our war effort? Don't be ridiculous. Weakness? Lots of it, but they kept it quiet in Washington.


The “evildoers” of the world have smelled the weakness that these Bush policies have created. And this has enabled them to grow from cartoon despots exploiting only their own people to serious threats against America's security and that of the planet.

Soon after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, North Korea detected the stench of decaying American power, threw out the international monitors at its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, and got into the nuclear bomb business. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/kim/nukes/nukes.html
Even worse, as I sat down to write this article, news came over the wires that North Korea is now threatening to test a nuclear weapon. http://news.yahoo.com/fc/world/north_korea

Iran is next in the nuclear conga line. The fact that its radical Moslem President Ahmadinejad can virtually thumb his nose at the United States, leaving us with no alternative save to send Condi Rice out blustering on the talk show circuit, indicates that our weakness is showing like a gaudy necktie. The world knows we have few funds and virtually no army to spare.

Even Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela, who at this time has no reason to go nuclear, was able to flip us the bird at the UN recently with his jibes that President Bush is the devil, jeering that, “I smell sulphur.” Pakistan already has the bomb. So does China. Who’s next in the parade of small nations who dare to pull our tail or poke us in the eye?


Instituting a draft (and restoring the taxes and tax rates that can pay for it) could have a powerfully positive impact on U.S. power around the world.

Aware that we could pour half a million or a million soldiers into their nations on very short notice, the North Koreas and Irans of the world would be a trifle less eager to tell us where to shove our concerns while they go about creating and building the next nuclear nightmare.

At the same time, adraft could also have a moderating affect on our government's stupid eagerness to march our kids off to wars that make no sense. Otherwise, members of Congress would have a hell of a time explaining to their constituents why so many neighborhood kids got called up and killed.

The draft helped end the war in Viet Nam because millions of young people (and it turns out, some of their parents) were outraged at having their lives placed on the line for virtually no reason at all. And ultimately, the kids were right. Despite dire predictions of a world falling like dominoes to Communism if we “cut and ran,” which we most certainly did, no dominoes fell after Viet Nam.

To the contrary, communist regimes either fell or were forced to reform least partially. The U.S. even manages to maintain good relations with Viet Nam, our former “enemy.” We're eager to trade with them now. Your most recently purchased sneakers may have been made by the daughter of a guy who was wearing sandals cut from tires and shooting at American soldiers only 37 years ago.


Every young person in the United States, male or female, in excellent physical condition or handicapped, ought to be subject to two years of national service. It ought to be as much of a patriotic duty – and an involuntary one – as paying taxes.

Obviously, somebody who can’t walk can’t be a combat soldier. Draft him or her regardless. That person can contribute to the national defense in a variety of other ways. You can’t walk? Sit there in your uniform and key quartermaster statistics into a computer. Or clean rifles. Or write training manuals. Or sort laundry.

You have plans to go to graduate school? Too bad – unless graduate school will give you a skill the army wants, such as surgeon. In that case, you can be deferred until you’ve got your medical degree, and then called up for service. Otherwise, you can go to graduate school after you finish your military service.


Even if the world suddenly turns so peaceful that no U.S. Government can make use of a standing Army of several millions, everyone ought to be required to go through basic militry training – or some rough equivalent for those who are disabled – and then required to spend the rest of their two years of national service doing something useful for the nation.

Teach school. Clean bedpans. Clear slums. Plant trees in national forests. Join a reinvigorated Peace Corps, or its domestic equivalent.

Since there should be no exceptions to the draft – none whatsoever – you can bet that most of the wars we enter will either be wars of necessity or wars that end pretty quickly and disgrace pretty quickly those who caused us to enter them unnecessarily. How long do you think we’d be fighting in Iraq if President Bush’s daughters Jenna and Barbara were on the front lines? Would Hillary Clinton still be supporting the war if Chelsea were toting a rifle in Baghdad?

Every Presidential candidate in the coming primaries and elections – candidates of both parties – ought to be asked, “Do you support the restoration of the draft, with a clear no-exceptions clause?

If they answer no, ask them how they intend to defend this nation with a handful of ageing soldiers and new potential nuclear fronts opening against us with the regularity of dandelions blooming in spring.

If they answer that they won’t support a draft but plan to stay the course in Iraq, ask them how they can fight a war with soldiers who will be in their 60s and even 70s by the end of their second Presidential term.

My guess is that no matter what you ask, no candidate in either major party will publicly support a draft before the elections. It’s what comes after the election – no matter who wins the Presidency – that will be interesting.


bjbarron said...

There are advantages and disadvantages to the draft. This is seen thru my own lens as an enlistee in 1968...note that there was a draft for all services at the time and I served with many draftees. It is a bit hard for me to understand the mindset of draftees as I enlisted the day after I graduated college.

The major disadvantage I see right this moment is that it would be used as a political football. Just the thought of our chattering political classes having yet another reason to go at each other is enough to set my teeth on edge.

The draft was abolished in 1973, and it would take an act of congress to re-instate it. Bush is against it. Even though the only bills to establish a draft have been put forward by Democrats, I would think that it would have a nearly impossible chance for passage at the present stage of the war.

I also note that studies conducted during WWII showed that 50-55 year olds did not crap out in the numbers feared in the early stages of that war. This was a surprise to everyone.

As an enlistee, I cannot say that I ever saw a draftee not doing his duty to the best of his ability...but we were pretty much all stoned anyway.

I also believe that we have plenty of soldiers although I would venture to say that 4 or 5 combat divisions sitting in Europe and Korea are a waste. Every time I see an "Americans Out" demonstration in those places I'm all for pulling the troops out. In other words, I believe we have enough troops, just that they could be scooted around better.

Rome started it’s long fall when citizens would not serve voluntarily.

Please understand from my perspective as an enlistee and veteran that I signed up voluntarily and never had any real complaint when they put my pink butt in harms way...even in that wasted shithole that was SEA. (Think of what kind of kid I was then - to enlist in '68) That was the whole freakin’ point to signing up. I have talked to hundreds of serving hot shots at I Corps and the 82nd Airborne (where I train intel units in the repair of their equipment), and every single one of them, while preferring maybe to lay in a hot-tub with a Margarita and a chippy, would go back without complaint. When you enlist, it's your privilege and duty. Of course those are units with esprit de corps.

So obviously, I don’t think we need the draft right now.

That said. I think it would be an absolutely outstanding idea to have everyone spend some time in the service, male and female. It doesn’t have to be a complete tour; it could be a year with summer updates for another 3 years. My problem with that is the high cost of training dilettantes who don’t want to be there, and the loss of experienced NCOs to training cadres from the places they should really be.

The draft is required when we need millions of combat troops as in the Civil War and Vietnam. I don’t think we are there yet. We did Iraq with what was in effect 3 combat divisions. We could have used more, yes. But three divisions got the job done. We have NEVER fought a war, including the big one, where we had enough troops to do the job.

Now, when a dirty nuke goes off in the harbor, all bets are off. I also believe that there are only two choices in our dealings with the Islamofascists…ignore them or destroy them. Negotiation is not an option with these millennial types. As ignoring them didn’t work, they need to get their own house in order so we don’t need to destroy them. It’s their play.

That would be a big job and require a draft.

Nathan said...

Putting it mildly, we're not on the same page politically. However, I think you're onto something here. Aside from just enjoying your writing ("nuclear conga line"? Priceless...) I think a draft would be an excellent idea. I think your "no exceptions" clause would not fly with the military brass though. Sure, make those unfit for military service perform some other civic duty, just as citizens throughout time have for their countries. But it would change the face of the military, and undermine hundreds of years of tradition, to have handicapped individuals wearing uniforms. Even the office clerks in the Marines have to run a PT test every 6 months.

So yes, institute a draft. Just do it like Germany and give the draftees the option of national service of another kind, and only if they can't measure up to current military standards.

Another plus? This would give everyone a much clearer idea what it means to be a citizen, and might clarify a lot of the debate surrounding illegal immigration.