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Should there be a military draft?

Posted by John Reed on

Should there be a military draft? Absolutely.

Actually, I think a better question is whether anyone should be allowed into the military by any other means.

This article has changed some minds of people who were quite against the draft before they read it. Here is an email from one.

I was just reading your article on the draft and I have to say I did disagree at first but after reading it more thoroughly I was really thinking about and I would have to agree and I was discussing with some woman whose a reserve sergeant major in the army she went on about how she is still in as if she were superior to all and how you can't force people in the armed forces and it is not the obligation of every citizen to defend their nation, I did not even know what to say so I was just wondering on what you thought about it and what I should tell anyone who goes gaga over any one in uniform.

Hessel Pineda <>

The notion that you can’t force peole in the armed forces reveals a profound lack in history knowledge for a retired sergeant major. Napoleon Bonaparte invented the draft, conquered most of Europe with his conscript army. One of the reasons he eventually lost was his enemies copied his draft idea. We also won the Civil War, World War I, and World War II with armies that were almost entirely made up of draftees. I have heard sergeants described as the backbone of the Army. Without comment on that I will add that I never heard them described as the brains of the Army.

See if you can read the article and not change your mind.

Eager to kill?

The military is about killing or seriously wounding people in large numbers. That’s a necessary evil at best. It seems to me that volunteering for such activities is akin to volunteering to be the executioner at your state prison. Somebody’s gotta do it, but no one should be eager to do it. And if a person is eager to do it, that person is almost certainly ignorant of what it means to kill or maim others or risk being killed or maimed, or they are mentally defective.

Page 347 of the book In A Time of War says a West Point graduate of the class of 2002 went to West Point for his fifth reunion. The Class of 2002 entered West Point just before 9/11. When he saw the current cadets, who entered the place after 9/11, he said disapprovingly,

It is one thing to have to go to war. It is quite another to volunteer for it.

I agree.

If you think you want to kill, and risk being killed, read the book In a Time of War by Bill Murphy, Jr. In a Time of War gives you real killing by and of real people with real names and real personalities and real funerals attended by real moms and wives and siblings. In a Time of War is required reading for anyone considering joining the military, AND THEIR PARENTS.

You should also read my review of In a Time of War and Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling’s article on the draft.

Guys who love combat

The 6/15/09 Newsweek has an article about Army guys who love combat, or at least that’s how they put it. The story is worth reading for its lack of “warrior hero” bullshit, although it still has some. They quote General Barry McCaffrey explaining current military personnel wanting to deploy multiple times to Iraq or Afghanistan by saying,

Soldiers want to fight. That’s why they signed up.

That’s Hollywood bullshit aimed at civilians who were never in a combat zone. Like McCaffrey, who was four years ahead of me at West Point, I was in Vietnam. I preferred the forward areas—although not enough to extend my tour in Vietnam—for the same reason most guys did.

In the Army, it’s called being “far from the flag.” The flag is on a pole in front of headquarters. Inside headquarters are generals like Barry McCaffrey. Indeed, generals and admirals are also called “flag officers” because they get a flag with their rank on it held by a guy standing behind them at parades. [I held one once at West Point the day we put on a parade for Bob Hope who was getting the Thayer Award. He joked with the generals about using the West Point parade field to play golf. Little did he knew it actually contained a hidden golf course. When I was forced to take golf in PE at West Point, we did it on the parade field, not the officers golf course at West Point. But I digress. (I made other comments about McCaffrey at]

The reason soldiers like being in combat zones is they get farther away from the generals and the generals have less time to bother the troops with chicken shit in combat zones than they do in garrisons like those in Germany, Korea, or the U.S. I know this because we had guys in Vietnam who kept extending every six months. “Why,” some of us asked them.“There’s too much chicken shit in the states, sir. And, the women back in ‘the world’ are a pain in the ass. Here, you just do your job, get drunk, smoke some weed, and get laid.”

Lovely. I’ll bet moms all over America are running to sign their sons up to enlist in the Army after reading that Newsweek article. The rest of the article is about divorce, high school dropouts, guys whose moms threw them out of the house (thus their being in the Army), anti-social personalities, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, strong aversion to everyday chores like shopping or paying bills, and suicide.

Roughly speaking, many soldiers and Marines prefer combat zones so they can get away from the chicken shit, spit-and-polish, pompous-ass generals and colonels. They do not like “fighting” because their buddies get killed or wounded in fire fights. The book The Unforgiving Minute by a West Point class of 2000 Rhodes Scholar describes how his all rookie platoon was eager to “fight” on their early patrols. But one of their guys was killed by the first shot in the first patrol where they actually “fought.” After that, the platoon leader said the men were all very sober and silently watching very intently to protect each other from the next enemy attack. There was no further eagerness to “fight” once “fighting” became concrete rather than abstract.

In a typical Vietnam or later war deployment, you spend about 1% of your time dealing with enemy attacks—“fighting” as McCaffrey would have you believe we describe it—and 99% doing mundane things or relaxing with your buddies. A 21st century West Point grad serving in Iraq said she knew junior officers who golf regularly at Victory Base Complex and have cell phones. Her more remote base has an indoor swimming pool, Pizza Hut, Burger King, and Subway. I thought such chains should have had stores in Vietnam, but they never did. I think they did not want to be associated with the extremely unpopular war. We just had PXs, clubs, and mess halls run by the military. She also knows officers who frequently eat at authentic local international restaurants and have tanning salons and daily barbecues at their outdoor pool. We had such a restaurant called the Loon Foon at Long Binh. I do not begrudge any such comforts as long as they are not preventing accomplishing the mission. But do not try to tell me how hard it is in combat unless you want me to start asking questions like, “How far were you from the nearest swimming pool for U.S. personnel?” To the extent that “soldiers” like wars, it is the 99% they like, not the 1%.

Combat is extremely dangerous and the results depend far more on luck and decisions made by generals above you than skill or character or bravery. The same pattern is evident in the book We Were One about the 2004 Battle of Fallujah. After initial bravado, the watchword in that battle became, “No more dead Marines.” What that meant was instead of “fighting” by charging into the building every time they encountered a house occupied by the enemy, they just blew it away with a tank or rocket or satchel charge. Makes infinite sense to me. A soldier or marine who wants to “fight” is probably a combat virgin or an actor in a Hollywood movie. The word “fight” itself does not accurately depict what happens. Many other more accurate words have been used: fog of war, all hell broke loose, deafening noise, the copper smell of blood, men screaming for their mothers, body parts, brain chunks hitting you in the face, blinding dust and smoke. Combat is like being in a bad injury car accident. Does any of that sound like “fighting” to you? Does any of it sound like something you would rather do than grocery shop or pay bills? The prosecution rests.

My reasons in favor of the draft:

  • fairness regarding the distribution of in-person responsibility for national defense to all categories of Americans including age, economic status, education, regional, religious, and ethnic groups
  • better quality military personnel including non-criminals and people used to getting results in the business world
  • to increase our chances of winning the war through better military personnel
  • avoidance of persons attracted to military service for inappropriate reasons
  • to acquire persons with skills that are needed but which the military cannot teach
  • to ensure that the military is representative of the American people
  • to make every family more interested in whether we should go to war thereby reducing the number of our wars
  • to minimize bureaucratization of the military
  • to avoid our military personnel being dominated by one region, currently, the Southeast
  • to avoid our military being dominated by one religious group, currently, Christian fundamentalism
  • to avoid outsourcing our defense to a “day-labor” military of alien, would-be U.S. citizens
  • to make the U.S. less reluctant to use military force when necessary
  • lets the military leaders focus on winning the war rather than keeping recruitment and re-enlistment rates high
  • lack of a draft lets young men veto a Congressional declaration of war by “voting with their feet” not to volunteer, an intolerable transfer of responsibility and authority by the Congress
  • lack of a draft turns our military increasingly mercenary and intolerably expensive as more and more money is required to induce adequate numbers of enlistments and reenlistments
  • lack of a draft forces us to rely on mercenary security contractors who are far more expensive and may be less disciplined and less reliable in battle than U.S. military personnel subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and representing the American people rather than a for-profit corporation
  • lack of a draft forces such unfair, inappropriate policies as preventing volunteers from leaving when their enlistment is up, longer combat tours, promotions of unqualified personnel, forcing non-infantry to become infantry and non-Army military personnel to be assigned to the Army, extraordinarily strict discipline to stop increased AWOLs and desertions
  • to end our current all-volunteer system which is actually literally indentured servitude—an arrangement that was outlawed in all developed countries for good reason—and is unfair to young men and women because they lack the self-knowledge and knowledge of the military to enable them to make decisions wisely about committing extended portions of their lives to the military
  • to avoid relying on non-U.S. citizens to staff our military
  • to end the image (and too often, reality) of military personnel as addicts, dopes and incompetents

Can’t criticize the military

There appears to be an unwritten rule that no one can criticize the military in any way because the military are risking their lives and all that. The reaction to Senator John Kerry’s “botched joke” about your being sent to Iraq if you don’t keep up your studies showed how powerful the do-not-criticize-the-military rule can be. (What Kerry said was true during the early part of the Vietnam war. He is apparently an old fogie who has trouble remembering that things are not still the way they were when he was young.) As does Bill O’Reilly’s February, 2007 conniption over an NBC correspondent saying U.S. military personnel were mercenaries. Former 4-star general Wes Clark accurately noted that John McCain had no executive experience of any significance while in the Navy. He was criticized so severely for saying that, in spite of its correctness, that his political career apparently ended in a flash. He was not even invited to the Democrat 2008 convention after he said it.

Prohibition against criticizing the military is a dangerous rule. It implies the military is perfect or above criticism. It is not. Indeed, the acronym SNAFU (Situation Normal: All Fouled Up) was invented by military people to describe military situations. I was in the military for eight years. “All fouled up” is the normal situation in the military. Really. It’s a government bureaucracy that operates with Soviet-style central planning. Soviet-style central planning doesn’t work. Even the Russians don’t use it any more. But the U.S. military still does.

The general reluctance to criticize the military is partly why it is all fouled up. I will not add to that situation by sinning by silence when I should speak up. I hope others with knowledge of the military will follow my example and offer suggestions and constructive criticism that might result in a better military. “Supporting” the military by trying to make it better makes more sense to me than “supporting” it by adhering to a rule of exaggerated praise and no criticism. Both are fundamentally dishonest. And you cannot change it for the better unless you first admit it’s not already perfect.

A fuss

British children’s author Noel Streatfield said that,

Wars were fought by soldiers and sailors, who came on leave and were made a fuss of.

I request that you henceforth make less a fuss of us veterans and instead support us and our successor soldiers and sailors by exposing your children and grandchildren, via a draft, to that to which you exposed us: service in a combat zone.

Your fuss is phony—a manifestation of your rear-area guilt and guilt at letting other mothers’ sons do that which you did not want your son or grandson to do. Deal with your guilt without using us war veterans as props. Do not expect us to let you off the hook because you bought us a drink or put a magnet on your car or thanked us for our service.

Hearing cannons does not warrant canonization

Those of us who have heard cannons fired in anger do not deserve to be canonized as a result. As honest combat veterans say over and over when interviewed on TV, “We were just doing our jobs.” It is not false modesty. However remarkable the job may seem to civilians who never did it, it was quite common and mundane at the time to those who did. To ascribe some sort of powerful mystique or expertise to all of us who spent time in a combat zone is dumb and misplaced.

There is an undeniable nobility to American service persons “saddling up” and moving toward the sound of the guns, as they have since the Revolutionary War, but thoughts of patriotism and altruism are well in the back of your head at the time when you actually do it. At the time you do it, you are mainly doing it because it’s your job and that of the thousands of guys around you.

Others risk their lives without acquiring the mystique and awe of combat veterans—like police, firemen, Alaska crab fishermen. I read that the most dangerous job in terms of death rate is actually highway worker. If we are to show enormous deference to the opinions of combat vets, some of whom spent their entire time in Vietnam repairing trucks in Danang, how much more awe and deference must we show to king crab fishermen or guys who hold the “slow/stop” sign?

‘Common virtue’

U.S. Navy Admiral Nimitz said at the end of World War II of his men, especially the Marines on Iwo Jima, that, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.” But I think civilians make too much of such sentiments and put a slightly incorrect spin on it. Virtually every U.S. military person who ever served in a combat zone—those eligible for membership in the Veterans of Foreign Wars—risked their lives to one degree or another and thereby demonstrated a measure of valor.

Risking one’s life is uncommon, even unheard of, to a civilian or military person not in a war zone. But it is utterly normal, however strange that might seem, to those who are or were in a combat zone. On any given day in Vietnam, I probably laid eyes on thousands of other American servicemen. Was I risking my life to be there? Somewhat, but so were all those thousands of other guys.

Pay day rocket attacks

Every pay day around six AM the enemy would fire rockets at our base. Like soldiers in prior generations we made the usual GI jokes about setting your watch by the rockets. It was no big deal. They generally missed. We were not heroes. We were just doing our jobs—albeit in unusual circumstances by the standards of those back in the States. If you had been there, you would have made the same adjustment that we did. It was no big deal. Really.

The point is not that American service persons are all heroes, but rather that all Americans, as well as the citizens of most countries, adapt amazingly quickly to the extraordinary conditions of war. The most common experience in combat zones—long periods of boredom punctuated by occasional excitement—is not that big of a deal to the millions of Americans who have experienced it.

Listen to what combat zone veterans say to each other when they are talking about it. It bears no resemblance to the extravagant praise laid on the vets by draft-dodger citizens and politicians. And to the extent that what the non-vets say does not resemble what the vets say about combat service, the non-vets are full of crap. They don’t know what they are talking about.

I am disturbed and embarrassed by vets who silently accept and bask in the all-vets-are-heroes adoration of ignorant or guilt-ridden civilians. And I am concerned that excessive reverence for vets results in too few questions being asked about the wisdom of how we conduct our wars.

Over time, a draft gives every family at least one member with the accurate, proper perspective on military service and combat vets.

Draftees better soldiers

When I joined the Army, I expected what everybody else says: that draftees would not be as good soldiers as volunteers—because they didn’t want to be there. When I was in the Army from 1964 to 1972, we had both draftees and volunteers. Around the time I got out of the Army, they were in the process of moving to the all-volunteer services.

In fact, I found the opposite was true. That is, as a group, the draftees were much better soldiers than the volunteers. How could this be? The draftees were a cross section of U.S. society. At that time, the volunteers tended to represent the lower socioeconomic layers of society. I have never seen any scientific studies of this, but it was sufficiently evident when I was in the Army in the sixties and early seventies that I am confident that such a study would confirm my impressions.

The knock on draftees is that they are sullen and resentful about being forced into the military and do a lousy job as a result. In fact, I found no such thing. The sullen and resentful ones were the volunteers. They were sullen and resentful because they felt they had been scammed into enlisting with promises of adventure and war-movie glory. The reality of being in the military as a private is mind-numbing boredom, hurry up and wait, dysfunctional bureaucracy, ritual harassment by often-moronic or martinetish sergeants and officers, and so forth.

The draftees, on the other hand, did not feel they had been scammed. Nobody promised them anything or used any misrepresentations to get them to join. They just got a letter telling them to report for duty—which they did.

Here is a 2008 think tank report called informally “Army in Crisis” about the disturbing quality of the troops and officers: As one of my readers pointed out, it echoes many of my claims.

Two actual case histories

I went to two high schools. At one, a guy I’ll call George was the biggest social outcast in my class. If someone wanted to tease a girl, he might say, “I heard George is going to be your date for the prom.” His yearbook write-up probably showed absolutely no extracurricular activities and commended him for his “nice smile.” Your high school yearbook probably has a number of Georges. They probably enlisted in the military in disproportionate numbers.

George told me he spent his free time during high school sneaking through other people’s backyards in his neighborhood at night to train himself for the military. When he graduated, he joined the Marines—an all-volunteer outfit at the time. At times during its history, the Marines had to draft people.

On the other hand, my best friend in junior high was very popular and athletic—MVP of his high school’s various sports teams. Call him Jake. He got drafted into the Army.

When I was a platoon leader in the 82nd Airborne Division, I felt like I was surrounded by thousands of Georges. Jake did not volunteer for either the Army or the paratroopers. He served his country including a tour in Vietnam. He was awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, which is one of the few military decorations that I have great respect for. Many military decorations are worthy of far less respect than laymen afford them. See my article on that at

“Georges” volunteer for the military for all sorts of inappropriate reasons:

  • to overcome inferiority complexes
  • to prove their manhood
  • adventure (one of the Marines convicted of murdering an innocent Iraqi said he joined to have adventures he could later tell people about. The Navy’s recruiting slogan was once, “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.”)
  • to be able to brag that they had killed another man
  • to brag that they were combat veterans
  • to wear a uniform
  • to get medals for bravery
  • to put distance between themselves and the locale of bad or embarrassing past behavior
  • to stay out of jail (during Vietnam and before, judges would sometimes offer a convicted criminal the choice of enlisting in the military or going to jail—When I was a company commander, all of my cooks were parolees from the Leavenworth military prison.)
  • generous benefits like retirement after 20 years with half pay plus lifetime free medical care and PX and commissary privileges (undeniably a mercenary motivation, although not necessarily the only motivation)

Draftees are in the military for one very good reason:

  • they figure it is their duty

Napoleon—inventor of the draft

The greatest military leader in history was Napoleon. I believe we spent more time studying him at West Point than we did studying any other military leader. One of Napoleon’s great innovations that made him the greatest military leader was the draft or levée as it was called in France.

Criminal soldiers

The draft gave Napoleon a tremendous advantage over other armies of the time (early 1800s), all of whom were all-volunteer. He had better quality personnel and far more of them. Other armies relied on criminals, fugitives, and other bottom-of-the-barrel types, not unlike the French Foreign Legion’s long-time image, and other armies had far more trouble with desertion than did Napoleon.

Our current military is not that bad, but it is that small and we constantly hear about troubles caused by the military not having enough troops or having to lower standards to get enough. My 2/14/07 San Francisco Chronicle reported that the number of “moral waivers” granted to U.S. Army recruits was up to 8,129 in 2006. It had been 4,918 in 2003. It ought to be zero all the time.

My 4/22/08 Chronicle says the Army and Marines allowed even more convicted felons into the service in 2007 than in 2006.

Criminals promoted several months earlier?
A study in early May of 2008 said that convicted criminals actually got promoted to sergeant several months earlier on average than recruits who did not have criminal records. Press reports just left that statement hanging without any explanation. No doubt airhead slackers will claim it is proof of truth in the fictional movie The Dirty Dozen. Not likely. I have never seen any studies that convicted criminals get promoted faster in civilian life than non-criminals. More likely, it’s another variable like age. It probably takes longer to enlist if you are a convicted criminal. So by the time the criminals are investigated and allowed into the Army or Marines, they are probably six months or more older. It would therefore not be surprising that they are promoted sooner after they enlist than their younger peers. If you analyzed it by age and convictions, I expect you would find that the criminals are promoted later in terms of their age since birth than noncriminals, which may nevertheless be earlier in terms of time elapsed in the military than the non-criminals.

‘Moral waivers’

“Moral waivers” are required to get into the Army persons who have been convicted of crimes like aggravated assault, robbery, and vehicular homicide. Approximately 900 of the 2006 “moral waivers” were granted so that the U.S. Army could recruit convicted felons. 11.7% of all U.S. Army recruits in 2006 were convicted criminals who needed “moral waivers” to get in.

This is outrageous and is a direct result of the American people’s refusal to use a draft. The fact is that not enough non-criminals are willing to enlist. Since criminals are totally unacceptable as soldiers, we must reinstitute the draft to avoid having to use criminals.

Think about it. We take almost a thousand convicted felons off the streets each year, put the words “U.S. Army” above their left breast pocket and a full-color American flag patch on their right shoulder, hand them deadly weapons like machine guns and grenade launchers, and send them to a foreign country with a limited license to kill and otherwise order people around at gunpoint. We are responsible for their actions. They are representing us as a nation to the world—in particular to people whose hearts and minds we are supposed to be trying to win.

A recent West Point graduate who read a number of the articles at my military Web pages said that he was recently assigned to a basic training unit. He said the Army is scandalously ignoring disciplinary and other problems in order to keep the graduation rate high in basic training and to keep the retention rates high among soldiers approaching the end of their enlistment or officer commitment. He gave the example of a recruit giving him (platoon leader) the finger in front of the 50 other recruits in the platoon and the platoon leader being prevented from disciplining the soldier. He was told to “mentor” him instead.

“Mentor” my ass, colonel. You “mentor” the son of a bitch. And you lead him and his finger in combat. I’m leaving to be a civilian. (The West Point graduate who wrote to me said he will be getting out of the Army as soon as he is allowed to. Think about that. The Army places a higher priority on keeping a misfit buck private than a West Point graduate educated at infinitely greater taxpayer expense. Think also about the net effect on the quality of the U.S. Army of retaining Private Middle Finger and chasing away Captain Self Respect. Why do such a thing? Because the brass is hot on short-term enlisted retention rates and less so on long-term West Point graduate retention rates.)

I once had a soldier who was short (about to get out of the Army) speak disrespectfully to me in the privacy of my office with only my XO present. I promptly filed court marital charges against him. The soldier was black. So was the battalion commander who stopped the court martial. I was already getting out of the Army at the time, but many of my West Point classmates and others were on the fence and such lack of discipline pushed them over the edge to resign when they could.

Perversely, an all-volunteer Army is most screwed up in terms of lax discipline, criminals, drug use, and so forth during war time when it is even harder to get soldiers to enlist or reenlist. Such problems are not present or less present during peace time, but armies do not exist for peace time.

Cheating on Marine entrance exams
On 11/1/07, the Marines belatedly announced that they had discovered cheating on Marine entrance exams the previous April. Recruiters in Houston arranged for smart guys to take test pretending to be the dumb guys the Marines were trying to recruit. This happened at least 15 times. The worst recruiter offender was discharged from the Marines although the news story did not say whether the discharge was other than honorable. They also refused to name him or the other eight who received Marine Corps punishments. They also refused to release the names of the dummies who got into the Marine Corps fraudulently and are now active duty members of “the few, the proud.”

A Marine spokesman says he does not know why this happened. Gee, I’m over 1,000 miles away and I’ll bet I know. The number of recruits the Marines are supposed to get exceeds the number they can get legally so they got them illegally. What else could be the reason? Basically, they did what they were supposed to do except for getting caught. They got punished for getting caught, not for cheating. They won’t release their names because that would be real punishment and they really don’t want to punish them at all. The guys who are more likely to be truly punished are the ones who noticed that the signatures of the fake test takers did not match those of the dummies they were subbing for and blew the whistle.

In 2009, so many Houston area military recruiters committed suicide they started an investigation. Pressure to hit the Pentagon’s target numbers appeared to be the reason.

If we had a draft like the one in World War II that covered not only the Army but also the Navy and Marines, we would not have crap like this going on.

‘Not in my name’

If you liked Abu Ghraib and the miscellaneous murders and rapes that our military have been convicted of recently, which were generally not perpetrated by “moral waiver” recruits, I’m sure you’ll love what the convicts do in your name. “Moral waivers” add a new dimension to the war-protest slogan “Not in my name.” I do not want convicted criminals serving in a military that has the name and flag of my country on their shirt.

I got out of the military as soon as I could for many reasons, not least of which was the growing number of criminals and drug addicts in the Army as a result of Vietnam and the move to the all-volunteer Army. I get the impression that many, if not most, of my West Point classmates who got out were also motivated in large part by the deterioration in the quality of Army personnel in the early 1970s.

Basic training flunk out rate down 45%—through dangerously lowered standards

Between 2004 and 2008, the Army’s basic training flunk-out rate dropped 45%. There could be two reasons for that:

A. the quality of incoming soldiers has improved dramatically
B. the officers who run basic training schools were told they cannot longer flunk as many as they did in the past because the Army cannot recruit enough to replace the flunkies and maintain the number of soldiers they are supposed to in the Army

I cannot resolve the matter with evidence. Neither could Newsweek in the 6/30/08 article where I got these stats. But knowing the Army and logic, I vote for B. That article was about a soldier who should have been washed out for mental problems, but was not. Instead, he was sent to Iraq where he got killed, perhaps because of his mental problems. But the careerist brass scum who would not let the basic training cadre flunk him out met its numbers and that’s all that matters to careerists.

Desertions and desertion prosecutions up

According to a 4/8/07 New York Times story, the Army’s desertion rate is higher than it has been since Vietnam. Furthermore, the Army, which used to treat desertions as nuisance behavior with mild punishment is now prosecuting the deserters at a far greater rate. The rate of desertion prosecutions tripled between 2002 and 2006. In addition, prosecutions for being Absent Without Leave (AWOL) and similar lesser offenses than desertion have doubled in the same time period.

There is some indication that the lowering of recruiting standards is partly responsible for the increased desertion rate. One in ten of the deserters was one of the criminals, low IQ individuals, or high school dropouts allowed in because they were having trouble getting enough volunteers.

Here is the lead from a story on

Army Desertion Rate Jumps Sharply
Soldiers strained by six years at war are deserting their posts at the highest rate since 1980, with the number of Army deserters this year showing an 80 percent increase since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. Overall, 4,698 Soldiers deserted this year, compared to 3,301 last year…

I am not sure what’s agenda is, but this lead gives the deserters an excuse for deserting. That encourages more desertions and gives aid and comfort to the enemy by imputing anti-war motives to the deserters.

It also violates basic journalism principles. The only way can make such a determination is if they interviewed a statistically significant representative sample of the deserters—and if they were truthful rather than telling the interviewer what the interviewers wanted to hear.

Journalists are supposed to report the facts. The facts are that more soldiers deserted in 2007 than previously during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. cites no basis for their conclusion as to why they deserted. Accordingly, it appears to be speculation—either anti-war propaganda or woe-is-me whining like the GI habit of complaining about the mess hall food.


The reason for the increased prosecutions is to deter desertions, AWOLs and so forth. When I was a company commander in the Army during the Vietnam war, my AWOL rate quickly dropped below everyone else’s because I did two things: I punished them with Article 15s (sort of like a traffic ticket that included a substantial fine) and I had a weekly meeting with all my troops where I went over each AWOL’s excuses for being AWOL and why they were not acceptable. A typical reason was, “I went home to DC over the weekend and the guy who was supposed to drive me to the bus station to return didn’t show up.”

My response, “You’re in the Army now. You need to grow up. It’s your responsibility to get back on time, not your friend’s. If you are going to rely on a friend you’d better pick the friend more carefully.”

That particular soldier later was chosen to speak to an officer class on relations with black soldiers. My roommate was a student in the class and knew the guy was in my company, but did not tell the soldier he knew me. He asked the soldier to describe the best commander he ever had and the soldier named me and commented that this was true in spite of the fact that I was the only commander who ever gave him an article 15. He felt I was right to reject his AWOL excuse and had matured as a result of the punishment.

Discipline? OK; TOUGHER discipline? Questionable logic

So I am not suggesting there is anything wrong with disciplining soldiers for going AWOL or deserting. I do, however, think that raising the rate of prosecutions recently is a bit odd. It never should have been low to begin with. The reason I was able to easily achieve a much better AWOL rate was because my predecessors and peers were much too lax in enforcing the rules.

The fact that the Army in increasing prosecutions now sort of indicates that they are taking out their frustration with the lack of a draft on the relatively few Americans who were willing to volunteer. The implicit de facto recruiting slogan here is, “Join the all-volunteer Army and suffer tougher discipline than ever before to punish you for the failure of more of your peers to volunteer.”

You’ve heard the expression, “Preaching to the choir.” This is punishing the choir—because they are too few.

Punishing soldiers for going AWOL or deserting makes perfect sense. But punishing them for the fact that they were among too few young people who volunteered is absurd.

Toughening the discipline on the relatively few who volunteered to punish them for their peers’ lesser enthusiasm for volunteering is akin to the other recent practice of invoking the fine print in enlistment contracts to prevent those who want to get out of the Army when their time is up from doing so—another reaction to the lack of a draft. In the process of deterring more strenuously soldiers from going AWOL or deserting or quitting the Army when their time is up, we are likely also deterring some who might have enlisted from doing so. Media stories about heightened discipline and/or not letting people out when their hitch is up do not encourage volunteers.

The most shocking thing I read in the Times story was that now, for the first time ever, the deserters include military doctors and lawyers! Wow!

One of the potential penalties for desertion is death by firing squad. During World War II, at least one American soldier was, indeed, shot by a firing squad for deserting.

Drug use by military personnel
One of the manifestations of military personnel who are too low quality is drug use. According to an 8/7/07 story at (It's easy for soldiers to score heroin in Afghanistan—Simultaneously stressed and bored, U.S. soldiers are turning to the widely available drug for a quick escape. By Shaun McCanna), U.S. troops in Afghanistan are getting addicted to drugs in large numbers.

We saw that in Vietnam as well. The media would have you believe it is caused by our troops simply being there. Not so. I was there, in Vietnam, as were my West Point classmates. Reportedly, heroin and other drugs were easy to come by. I would not know. I did not want or seek any. As far as I know, none of my West Point classmates got involved with dangerous drugs in Vietnam.

This is obviously a disaster for the troops involved, but it is also a disaster for their units because you cannot fight effectively when you are high. Furthermore, these guys do not get over being heroin addicts when they come back to the states. And they are veterans so the VA has to dump endless amounts of taxpayer money into the bottomless pit of helping drug addicts stop being drug addicts.

My position is that it’s not covered by the VA because it was not in the line of duty.

But the liberals don’t think like that so you and I will all be paying until we die for the low-quality people we sent to those countries who got addicted to cheap heroin. I am not talking about every soldier or Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan, only the ones who buy cheap local heroin. The fact that many if not most do not get addicted to heroin proves that it is the fault of the troops in question, not the U.S. government that they are addicted. Had we not been scraping the bottom of the barrel to get enough troops, I suspect our representatives in the military in those countries would have been far less inclined to become addicted to heroin.

The subtitle of the Salon article seems to excuse the troops who became addicted on the grounds that they were “stressed and bored.” That’s bull! Troops have been bored since the beginning of time. We were bored stiff in Vietnam most of the time. War has been described as months of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.

Their commanders are supposed to deal with that through healthy means. They also need to do enough random drug tests such that the addicts are quickly found out and thrown out. A commander is responsible for everything his men do or fail to do, including use heroin. The facts in the Salon story represent a failure of command, command which has been made far more difficult by the military’s failure to maintain an adequately high standard for its incoming recruits. An ounce of recruiting is worth a pound of coaching in the football business. Same is true in the war business. By having an all-volunteer military, the American people give their junior officers a loaves and fishes task. So many if not most of the best young officers get out of the Army, compounding the problems caused by brining in substandard privates. Furthermore, it pushes the U.S. military across the tipping point. The prevalence of heroin addicts in the military causes the good enlisted men and officers to leave the military which flips the whole thing into a vicious downward spiral.

Aged soldiers

In a 3/18/07 column, We Were Soldiers Once—and Young author Joseph Galloway said the military raised the age at which one can enlist from 35 to 42. My dad was a draftee in Europe in World War II. He told me that at one point during that war the word suddenly came down to discharge everyone of low rank above a certain age. I think it was 35 or 37. Why?

They had done a statistical analysis and found that soldiers that old were a net drag on the military because they tended to get sick or injured more often and caring for them took more personnel than the total number of such soldiers in the military.

I also read articles about the Iraq war commenting on the extraordinary age of many of those serving in the war zone in reserve and guard units. The dead and wounded list also have many people in their 40s and 50s and many grandparents.

Isn’t this one of the things that happened to the Nazi Army at the end—old men and boys being drafted? The Nazis had no choice. They had already drafted all the more appropriate aged men. What is our excuse for doing this when we are the third largest country in the world in terms of population and we have not drafted a single soul for this war? The answer, not an excuse, is that we have become a nation of draft dodgers.

Unhealed but back to the front

Another problem caused by lack of a draft is that wounded or injured military personnel are being declared fit for service before they have completely healed and while doctor’s instructions still prohibit them from a full-range of activities. Somehow, potential combat has been declared to be an activity that does not require a clean bill of health. One soldier who is medically not allowed to lift the kind of weight that is standard garb—like bulletproof vest, camelback water bag, etc.—has been ordered back to duty in Iraq and sued the Army to stop his deployment.

How ridiculous does the personnel situation in the military have to get before the powers that be admit there is a serious problem here?

Lower basic training minimum standards

A 4/16/07 Wall Street Journal story says that the army has lowered its standards for passing basic training. In May, 2005, 18% of Army recruits flunked out of basic training and were sent back to the civilian world. Now, only 6% flunk. Recruits sure as heck did not get thinner or smarter—quite the contrary, according to all media reports.

So the standards must have been lowered. I suspect I would have thought that more than 18% should have flunked before and that lowering the flunk-out rate to 6% is nothing but letting even more people who should have been flunked out stay to meet the Army’s numbers needs.

The problem is that warm bodies are not enough. Lousy soldiers are a drag on the Army and cause all sorts of problems like needing more personnel to take care of all should-have-flunked-out-guys’ problems and failures throughout their time in the Army. Low quality soldiers also cause high quality enlisted men and officers to get out of the Army because they do not want to have to work with and clean up after a bunch of guys who don’t do their jobs or “pull their oar.”

Easier promotions

That same Wall Street Journal article said that the Army is having to promote sergeants and officers whom they did not want to promote just because they do not have enough qualified guys to promote but they need X number of sergeants and officers at the various ranks. The military, stupidly, refuses to hire leaders from outside the military. That is, they only promote from within.

Unfortunately, that means they sometimes have to promote people who do not deserve promotion when “within” does not have enough qualified people. During World War II, they brought in a lot of leaders from outside the military and either made them officers from the start or promoted them so rapidly that they might as well have given them the rank from the start. We won World War II.

No draft, no victory

The Union was unable to fight the Civil War without a draft—America’s first. The Confederacy never instituted one. They lost.

Great Britain tried to fight World War I without a draft. They had to relent and institute a draft. Ultimately, Germany and Japan lost World Wars I and II in part because they could not draft as many soldiers as their Allied enemies.

One of the reasons Napoleon ultimately lost at the Battle of Waterloo was that his enemies copied his approach, including instituting their own drafts. The mighty Prussian Army—a so-called “professional” army, all volunteers—got their heads handed to them by French draftees and “unknown officers” so they adopted a draft, too. For details on Napoleon and the draft, see the book The Utility of Force by British General Rupert Smith. I reviewed that book at this web site.

Some would point out that we lost Vietnam in spite of draft. I did not say that a draft is all you need to win a war. Germany and Japan had drafts in World War II. Rather, I am saying that not having a draft greatly increases the probability that you will fail to win the war. draft is probably sine qua non for winning a significant war, but a draft alone is not sufficient to win such wars.

A reader who is a history buff says this is incorrect:


- Over 90% of the US Army were volunteers; less than 200,000 men were drafted of well over two million troops raised.
- The Confederacy instituted drafts as well (in fact starting a year before the US), and may have had a larger proportion of its army raised in this way.
- In neither case was the draft successful; both systems allowed for "substitution," which allowed a man to pay another to serve in his place or simply give the government a lump sum. Most men who joined via the draft were substitutes. In the South the ability of slaveowners and overseers to avoid conscription (on the grounds that someone had to stay home to keep the slaves from revolting) was one of the elements that led to it being called "a rich man's war and a poor man's fight."
- The draft was exceedingly unpopular and in some cases actually hurt the war effort; for example, the initial US national draft led to a race riot in New York City, and the Confederate draft led to greater levels of desertion and (in Unionist areas such as the Appalachians) outright revolt.

Thought you might find that interesting. I hope to read more of your writings in the future.

Thank you,
Jennifer Burdoo
Miami, FL

War is a competitive event

War is a competitive event. We need to win our wars. You do not put together a winning team with “Georges.” You need “Jakes.”

Am I saying that all volunteers are “Georges” and all draftees are “Jakes?” Nope. I was a volunteer, albeit by going to West Point, not enlisting. All my West Point classmates were volunteers and about 98% of them were “Jakes,” not “Georges.” Rather, I am saying that on average, when considered as groups, the draftees were better soldiers, sailors, and marines than the volunteers.

During Vietnam, you could have randomly selected teams of draftees and volunteers from any U.S. military unit. If you then had them compete with each other, not only would the “Jake” team win, they would run circles around the “George” team. Compete in what? It would not matter. Athletics. Chess. SAT scores. Military skills. You name it.

Keep that in mind when you contemplate our current all-“George” military fighting a war against a worthy opponent that has a draft, as opposed to the third-world countries we have been beating up on since the Korean War.

Email from a ‘George’

Dear John,

This email is more of a confession than it is comment. Today, I signed the paperwork to transfer into the IRR (inactive ready reserve); I thank you from the bottom of my heart, for spending the time to write as candidly as you did for wayward people like me who are conflicted about serving.

I am a "George."
I of all people should never have been allowed into the Army. Of course, you wouldn't have known that from just looking at me. Though I never crawled around people's backyards like the Georges of the world, I did spend far too much of my childhood watching war movies, playing war video games, and running around the neighborhood in surplus fatigues with the other neighborhood kids. By the time I was in middle school, I was a walking encyclopedia of military ranks, tanks, jets, helicopters, battleships, rifles, and major battles. I became a star cadet in my high school's NJROTC program. Our armed drill team won regional championships. When the time came to join the military, I joined the reserves so that I could fill my insatiable appetite for the Army life while I went to college ROTC. I didn't go to college to learn, make connections, and to expand my horizons. No! I went because that was where ROTC was. While I was at AIT, they called me Sergeant Major X. When I was in the reserves, they said I would one day become a Brigadier General.

Never have they been so wrong.

In your articles, you speak of the lack of integrity in military people. I can't speak to what percentage of the current Army that applies to, but I confess that my actions are antithetical to the ideals of honor. It was easy to "talk a good game" and pontificate about honor, service to country, and glory in battle like a turn-of-the-20th-century romanticist. It was for my own selfish pride that I wanted to join the Army. Most of the "inappropriate reasons" that you mention in your "should there be a military draft" article apply to me. I wanted the uniform. I wanted the war stories. I wanted the bragging rights. I wanted war medals. But most of all, I wanted the rank. And I was willing to do anything I could to get it.

Yes means your enlistment stops. No means numerous opportunities!
And by "anything", that included fraudulent enlistment. I was diagnosed with severe asthma since I was 5 years old, which is permanently disqualifying for any and all military service, and I knew it. When a recruiter came to our high school to talk to us about enlisting, I mentioned that fact to him. He looked me square in the eye and said, "If did not have any symptoms after your 13th birthday, then it doesn't matter if you had asthma or not." So he asked me again, a little slower, "Did you have asthma after your 13th birthday?" Then with much greater emphasis, "Because if you did, then I can't help you. But if you didn't..."

I'm a severe asthmatic, of course I had symptoms on a monthly, if not weekly, basis. But this was 2003, the Army had an insatiable appetite for recruits. Before I knew it, I found myself on a bus on the way to Ft. Sill for basic combat training. There, and several more times I should have been forced out because of my asthma. I had some sort of reaction which triggered my asthma on a land nav course. Their solution? Prescribe me an inhaler. I fell out of every single platoon run during PT because I couldn't breathe. I failed the 2-mile run portion of every single PT test in basic. Yet, I was allowed to graduate for some reason. I suspect because I was only 5 seconds off, and the Army was hard-up for recruits, they let me slide by. During AIT, I almost suffocated and died because we were forced to wear our gas mask and climb up a steep embankment while carrying someone on our backs. Everyone else did fine, but I had "break the seal" (basically insert my fingers through the side of my mask so that I could get more air in through the gap between the mask and my hand). For some reason, the powers that be allowed me to graduate. Afterall, I did look and act the part, and I spoke good game.

I almost forgot to mention that the week prior to shipping off to basic, the recruiter took a bunch of us (one of us was homeless!) to the recruiting station to meet his boss which was an E-7. They gave us a questionnaire like one we would get at MEPS. They reviewed our answers and told us to get used to answering "no" on certain questions if we wanted to make it through! The first day at Ft. Sill, some E-4 sat us all down and told us that this is the last chance we have to declare anything we "forgot" to mention to recruiter or at the MEPS. But they also said, "If you made it this far, why bother mentioning it now?" Honor and integrity, indeed.

JROTC superstars
I met quite a few people who I would describe as Jakes. They did not dream for years about joining the military as I did. Instead they got good grades in high school, participated in sports, and formed clubs. They ran for school president, played instruments in the music band, and they sometimes even had jobs (and thus cars and girlfriends). I shit you not, every person who was involved with JROTC or had visions of grandeur about joining the military did terribly in basic training. On the other hand, the Jakes of the world ended up outperforming the "fuckin' JROTC superstars" (as our drill sergeant used to call them) in every possible aspect, save for perhaps knowing where to pin rank and patches and stuff. When I read your analogy of Jake and George in your "military draft" article, I was floored at how accurately it depicted the two different types of soldier. Except the Georges were people like me, and the Jakes were not drafted. Instead they were forced to join because of some other reason such as lack of gainful employment in their little Podunk town.

Just pieces...
One of the people I met, who I am still friends with, strikes me as a Jake. He had no care whatsoever for the military when he graduated high school. The fact that he was annoyed that officers were their own separate medieval-esque caste is an understatement. He was one of the most proficient and professional sergeants we ever had. Yet, when he returned from active duty, it was apparent that his experiences had scarred him for life. It took copious amounts of alcohol to get him to open up, but eventually we would hear stories of seeing people blown to bits by IEDs. One specific account involves a bunch of infantrymen opening up the back of a Bradley that was recently hit by an RPG. There was nothing left in there but blood and gore. "Just pieces..."

He was not the only one who was haunted by his visions. Everyone that came to us from active duty that was an infantryman, line medic, or engineer had some sort of gruesome experience. I eventually flunked out of college for a few semesters and ended up finishing my enlistment in relative peace as our unit never got deployed. Every single person that was transferred to us from active duty and saw the true ramifications of combat are now completely out of the army. The ones that are still in? The ones who fixed trucks or pushed papers "inside the wire."

Don't go over there...
I grew up relatively estranged from my paternal grandfather for most of my life. He and my father apparently had a falling out and we only saw him once or twice a year for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Though they had a falling out, my father would every now and then mention things about our grandfather's war experience. He was an artillery sergeant and fought the Japanese during WWII. He also fought in Korea and retired as a first sergeant years before I was born. As I write this, I'm looking at my grandfather's funeral flag on my desk, which is folded neatly into a triangle in a wooden flag display case. Finally, we have come to the true reason why many of us Georges join the Army. In my case, it a sense of pride derived from our family's military history. Not only was my grandfather a WWII vet, but my father was an officer in the mid 70's, and my older sister served an enlistment in the 80s in the medical field. I was the first son of the first son, the heir of the military tradition! I had no choice but to continue in my forefather's footsteps. A week before I shipped off to basic he called us. I will remember until the day I die, the words of my war-hero grandfather: "I'm proud that you want to serve your country. I hope one day you can go to college and maybe even be a doctor. But whatever you do, don't go over there. There is no reason for you to be over there."

My father never told me why we were estranged from him for so long. Perhaps his war experience hardened his heart and he became a difficult man to life with. However there was a moment of true concern and compassion for a grandson from a man who had more than his share of combat experience.

If anything, my quasi-military experience has shown me that the ideals I held dear to my heart about the military don't actually exists. From my late grandfather, to the "Jakes" that finished their enlistment obligation in our reserve unit, the only message that I received was that there is nothing honorable about combat. It seems to me that there is an inverse correlation with the amount of combat people have experienced compared to their notions of honor. The ones who have seen combat up close and personal speak in terms of survival, loss, and their buddies. Whereas the ones who never left the wire argue about who should or shouldn't be considered a veteran depending on how many deployments you have under your belt (this really happened). I'm not a veteran by any means, and I would barely qualify my experience as true military "service". Rather, it was a vain, selfish, and most of all dishonorable pursuit of prestige and recognition. As you previously pointed out from a famous movie, "A man's got to know his limitations." Not only was I medically unfit to join according to the regulations, I was ethically unfit. I joined for all the wrong reasons, and took advantage of the Army's desperation for troops to feed my ambition. I thought I craved combat, yet found that I was a fool when Jakes crumpled into a sobbing, alcohol-infused, ball on the floor when reminiscing about carrying their buddy's bodybag to the helicopter. He said they called them "Hero Flights." I never heard of them until then.

Now at the age of 28, I feel that I am hopefully more knowledgeable about the concrete consequences of war. I'm now married, we hope to start a family soon. Me getting killed or seriously disabled would end those dreams. In your book "Succeeding", you have to find out who you are, who you are NOT, and base your life goals on that. I entered the Army in a dishonorable way. That is not me, and that is why I failed. I know now that I am not a careerist soldier. I spoke a lot of good game about honor. But did I live it by joining for vanity? Hell no. I want to live a life of truthfulness and success and to do that I started by doing the right thing which was to leave the Army.

Thank you, John.

Not enough volunteers during World Wars I and II

The Twentieth Century World Wars were considered “good” wars. Studs Terkel wrote a book about World War II called, The Good War.

But “goodness” notwithstanding, and the total unity of the American people notwithstanding, the military still could not get enough volunteers and had to draft. Furthermore, they not only drafted people into the Army, like my father and uncles, they also drafted people into the Navy and Marine Corps. They even drafted openly-gay men. So our vow that we will never again have a draft condemns us to losing any future large-scale war. It is impossible as a practical matter to win any but the smallest wars without a draft. That is a statement of arithmetic, not opinion.


Today, the American people as a group seem to think the military should be staffed by SEOSEC, that is, “Somebody Else Or Somebody Else’s Child.” They couldn’t care less about the quality of the people who serve as long as it’s not them. Furthermore, they want no risk that they would be drafted and no increase in taxes to pay for a higher quality military.

In fact, implicit in the decision to have a military at all is a decision to staff it with people of adequate quality and character to get the job done. An argument could be made that because of the catastrophic consequences of losing a war, we should staff the military not with adequate people, but with the best people.

How do you get the best people to do a job that is akin to being an executioner? A draft is the only way.

Back-door ‘draft’ of those who previously volunteered

I have seen a number of media accounts of active-duty military who had completed the tour of duty they enlisted but who were not allowed out. Apparently there is some fine print in the law that lets the military extend active-duty personnel beyond their agreed commitment and the military has invoked that law on a number of occasions during the Iraq and Afghan operations.

That’s not right. They did that to West Pointers and others during Vietnam, too. Those who complained to their Congressman or sued in civilian court generally were allowed to get out as I recall.

What a betrayal! You are a good enough citizen to volunteer to serve in the military and risk your life to do so and the thanks you get is to extend you to punish you for the failure of other Americans to do like you did. Give ’em an inch and they take a yard. It’s like some Kafkaesque, Alice-In-Wonderland, upside-down version of letting a convict out of prison early as a reward and incentive for good behavior.

A 2/27/08 Los Angeles Times story said that about 8,000 Army soldiers were currently being forced to stay in the Army beyond their enlistment contract. This short-sighted outrage will make it harder to recruit by revealing that you cannot trust the U. S Army. This so-called "stop-loss" policy applies to soldiers whose units are about to deploy to Iraq. Some of them may die in Iraq, on a date after the enlistment they agreed to.

In March, 2009, the Secretary of Defense announced that he was phasing out the stop-loss policy. Mighty nice of him. It was blatantly immoral.

Another back-door ‘draft’ of sorts in the extension of combat tours from 12 to 15 months

On 4/11/07, the Pentagon announced that it was extending combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan from 12 months to 15 months. One again, this is a result of the fact that not enough young people are volunteering for the all-volunteer Army.

However, at least one soldier in Iraq said it was actually a good thing for winning the war because the longer U.S. personnel are there, the better they get at dealing with the enemy. Well, duh! The one-year tour in Vietnam was one of my pet peeves about that war and I believe is one of the main reasons we lost it.

During World Wars I and II and Korea, the U.S. military personnel there were there “for the duration,” that is, until they won. As a result, they got better and better at fighting the enemy and more and more angry about being there instead of home so they won the world wars and fought the Korean war to a mutual cease fire agreement.

In Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, all the military personnel had or have to do is wait until the end of their tour to go home. Then they are replaced by a new group who start all over building rapport with the locals, learning local enemy tactics, and so forth. This is a typical stupid military way of doing things that is more focused on “morale” and such than winning.

With a draft, the military could focus on winning rather than trying to rotate personnel frequently in order to keep their recruitment and re-enlistment rates high enough to avoid losing too many.

Back-door ‘draft’ III: forcing Air Force and Navy personnel to work for the Army

Yet another way the Army is trying to compensate for the lack of a draft is to “draft” some of those who volunteered for the Air Force and Navy into the Army by borrowing them from those services. Some, according to a 4/16/07 Associated Press story, are even serving as Army infantry (convoy protection). An Army spokesman said convoy operations were “routine” activities. Sure. Tell that to former Army Quartermaster Private Jessica Lynch and her comrades, some of whom were killed in the convoy out of which she was wounded and captured before she was rescued.

The main reason people volunteer for the Air Force and Navy is to avoid being in the Army or Marine infantry. The Air Force and Navy are not so much attractive as they are a way to get the benefits of being in the military without the danger and misery of being in the infantry.

So what effect do you suppose news stories about Air Force and Navy personnel being forced to serve with the Army will have on recruiting and retention of Air Force and Navy personnel? Me too. The Army is going down due to lack of a draft and now it may take the other services down with it.

Most Air Force and Navy personnel detailed to the Army seem to be providing more rear-area type duties. What does that do to the Army guys who were previously performing those duties? Turns them into infantry.

When I was in the Army the main reason people who enlisted in the Army ended up in those rear area types of jobs to begin with is they made some extra effort, like agreeing to a longer tour of duty, to avoid the infantry. What effect do you suppose media stories about such persons being forced into the infantry after all will have on enlistment and retention rates? Me too. The infantry is going down due to lack of a draft and it may take the other Army branches down with it.

Armor branch soldiers forced to go to war an infantry

The book In a Time of War tells of a West Point class of 2002 graduate who wanted to be an armor (tanks) officer. His grades were high enough that he got his wish, graduated from armor training, was assigned to an armor unit where he and his platoon further trained in using their tanks. Then his unit was sent to Iraq, without their tanks. In other words, they were forced to fight as infantry, a branch in which they had not been trained. While riding in a hummvee, not a tank, he was hit by an IED. He lived for a few seconds after the blast. They never found his legs.

In other words, not enough people are volunteering for the infantry, so the Army uses stop-loss, and the “within-the-military drafting” of members of other branches, like armor, and other services, like Navy and Air Force, to get more people into the infantry. We have a draft all right, but it currently only applies to those dumb enough to volunteer for the military. After they volunteer for, and maybe pay for a particular service or Army branch through extra study or committing to a longer enlistment or officer commitment, they get drafted into another. And many die or get maimed in the units to which they were “drafted.” It is unlikely that the lieutenant from the West Point Class of 2002 who was killed in the hummvee would have been killed if he had been in a tank when the explosion went off.

Take turns

The word “draft” has taken on diabolical, demonic connotations to most Americans. But the basic idea is benign and simple. Some things are dirty jobs that few people want to do but someone has to do. When it’s garbage collecting or roofing, we can pay others to do it rather than do it ourselves. But military power and war are special cases.

They are not only dirty jobs, they are extremely dangerous and they confer upon the persons in question the right to kill or injure other people. Military service should not be outsourced or the sole province of a lower class of society. You cannot pay a person enough to die for you. We all need to take turns doing it, in part to make sure it’s done right, and in part out of fairness. They are also extremely important jobs. We can survive some spilled garbage or a roof leak. We cannot survive a military defeat.

There is also the question of whether one part of society paying another part to fight wars is the use of mercenaries. In substance and morally, it is. The use of mercenaries is generally illegal under international law. Mercenaries are not entitled to the Geneva Convention protections for prisoners of war. This is because, as I said above, fighting wars is a special case. The normal rules of finance and economics should not apply.

Milton Friedman

I recently saw a TV documentary on the late economist Milton Friedman, whom I love. He was a leader in the effort to outlaw the draft. He got into a debate with then General William C. Westmoreland about the draft. Friedman called a draft army a “slave army.” Westmoreland responded that an all-volunteer army was a “mercenary army.”

Bill O’Reilly

Bill O’Reilly went nuts about an NBC reporter who used the word “mercenary” in February, 2007. William Westmoreland, who also called military volunteers mercenaries graduated from West Point in 1936, was a veteran of World War II and Korea, and was the main commander in Vietnam for most of that war. At the time of the debate with Friedman, Westmoreland was the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, the highest ranking Army officer. It is hard to imagine that he was not patriotic or a supporter of the U.S. Army.

Westmoreland certainly did not need to take lessons on respect for the military from O’Reilly who never served in the military. O’Reilly graduated from high school in 1967, which was probably the peak year for the Vietnam war. He did serve as a war correspondent in El Salvador and the Falklands Islands. In my observation, war correspondents generally saw more combat up close and personal than most soldiers in the same wars. For example, CBS anchor Walter Cronkite has sometimes been condemned as a liberal. Probably true. But he also flew into Arnhem, behind enemy lines, in a glider with paratroopers during Operation Market Garden in World War II.

‘Demolished mercenary argument?’

Alan Greenspan, who was also involved in the decision to switch to an all-volunteer military, said that Friedman “demolished” the notion that volunteer soldiers are mercenaries.

Well, I heard his arguments in the documentary and I thought he was borderline disingenuous, failing to make any distinction between the unique license to kill and willingness to die of a soldier and such every day occupations as doctor or plumber. Giving Friedman the benefit of the doubt, I will suggest that his error on this subject was probably that if you are a hammer, you tend to see the world as being made up entirely of nails. Friedman was a lifelong economist, so he probably sees economics as the dominant format for analyzing everything. But not everything in life is economics. There are also emotions, principles, justice, and so forth.

Also, Friedman never served in the military. He worked for the U.S. Treasury Department during World War II. So his perspective on the draft was strictly ivory tower and his anti-draft arguments were strictly academic.

Stop paying them

One way to see the extent to which our all-volunteer military is mercenary would be to end all monetary compensation for military personnel and just provide room, board, and uniforms and equipment to the troops. Those who are motivated purely by patriotism would remain. Or we could pay them the same as we pay Peace Corps members, who are motivated largely by non-mercenary motives because of the Peace Corps policy of not paying much more than the Third-World citizens being helped by them make. I believe our military are paid far more than our Peace Corps members.

I expect the number of people in the military would decline if we cut their pay to the level of the Peace Corps or lower. That suggests that mercenary motivations are at least part of the reason many are in the military. As I said elsewhere in this article, the typical member of the military these days has a number of motivations for being there—including money for college, the financial value of the military’s generous retirement benefits, and so forth.

The fact that military enlistments and reenlistments rise during recessions in the civilian economy indicates at least in part a mercenary motivation for enlisting. I have seen that in the media again and again throughout my life, most recently, a 1/20/09 Associated Press story had this headline and subheadline:

Poor economy aids military recruiting: Sign-up goals increasingly easy to surpass as jobs become more difficult to acquire

Stories like this prove that either many military volunteers are mercenaries of a sort or that the vast majority of military personnel are motivated by mercenary reasons at least in part.

Military wage rates are generally competitive with civilian occupations and, I would suspect, with actually mercenary wages paid in countries where real mercenaries are actually in use. Soldier of Fortune magazine could probably comment on what a mercenary goes for these days. Military benefits far exceed the most generous civilian plans.

At least part of the motivation is mercenary

Speaking as a former member of the military who had zillions of conversations with fellow members at the time, I would say that patriotism is probably the least important reason the vast majority of individuals are in the military and few of them would serve if that were the only reward for doing so. Speaking of them as if patriotism were their only, or even main, motive strikes me as misinformed or dishonest and probably a manifestation of survivor guilt or rear-area guilt on the part of the never-served-in-the-military persons.

I am not saying that U.S. military personnel are motivated only by money. Actually, even mercenaries who call themselves mercenaries are probably not motivated purely by money. They also seek adventure and status among cretins.

Patriotism is in the back of the minds of nearly all of U.S. military personnel in my observation. But in an all-volunteer military, money is a primary motivation and a sine qua non for most volunteers.

The one thing I can say for sure about draftees is that they are not mercenaries and that is my point and the one Westmoreland made. Neither Westmoreland nor I intended to demean the service of volunteers. But a draftee Army is intrinsically more appropriately selected and motivated than a recruited one for the profoundly serious and very dangerous business of killing others and risking their lives in the process.

Huge bonuses to enlist, reenlist, bounties

The Army had to pay over $600 million in reenlistment bonuses in 2006 to keep their reenlistment rate as high as they needed it. In 2003, they only needed to pay $180 million in such bonuses. The Army is also awarding $2,000 bounties to those who identify a prospective recruit who later does, in fact, enlist.

The Army is considering paying $45,000 new recruits either for purchase of a home or to start a business. The earlier or additional promotions described above are also monetary incentives to remain in the military in that promotions are accompanied by pay increases.

They did pay $35,000 to captains to stay in the Army. Their target was about 15,000 retentions. They only got about 11,000. Furthermore, they figured out that many who received the bonuses would have stayed in the Army anyway had they not received them.

Jack McNeal is a former Army first lieutenant. He is now CEO of Probus Executive Search in Mountain View, CA. He says of encouraging a young person to join the Army, “I’d be hesitant to do that myself.”

Speaking as another former first lieutenant, I agree. My alma mater West Point wants us to recruit cadets. I cannot in good conscience do that—not until the Army cleans up its act and learns how to fight asymmetrical wars effectively. At present, going to West Point or the Army increases your chances of ending up in a body bag or Walter Reed. For what? To be the 113th-from-last guy killed in Iraq in a war that accomplished little of value to the American people?

Retired Army lieutenant colonel Ann Wansley said,

They want me to con some innocent young person into signing up for an occupation which promises to put him or her in danger of death or severe, long-lasting mental or physical harm. And for this I am supposed to cheerfully accept payment? What kind of person do they think I am?

Says Donna Davidson, a San Francisco executive recruiting consultant of the bounties,

It seems mercenary. I don’t know who advised them to do this. It seems like about as low a tactic as I can imagine.

For the fiscal year that ended on 9/30/08, the Army and Marine Corps had to pay $640 million in bonuses to recruit new members. That’s 25% more than they had to pay the previous year to meet their recruiting quotas. The individual bonuses were as high as $40,000 in cash plus additional amounts for education or home down payments.

Explain to me again why our increasingly highly paid “volunteers” are absolutely not mercenaries.

Are the 100,000 private contractors employed by the U.S. in Iraq mercenaries?

The 3/26/07 Time magazine has a lengthy article about the 100,000 private contractors the U.S. military employs in Iraq in support of the war effort. The roles they play include:





checkpoint operators

convoy security

aerial surveillance

They are armed and operate armed helicopters. Many are former U.S. military personnel. The founder and sole owner of one such company, Blackwater Security Consulting LLC, a guy named Eric Prince, is apparently a U.S. Naval Academy dropout or flunk out who later became a U.S. Navy officer and who was “attached” to a Navy SEAL team, whatever “attached” means in that context.

Normally, marines guard embassies around the world. (Don’t ask me why.) Apparently now, Blackwater often does instead. That’s U.S. marines being replaced in the exact same military job by private, paid contractors.

According to Time, many of the lowest paid civilian security guys in Iraq are from Nepal, Chile, and Fiji. Sounds like an American foreign legion. Former U.S. and British military personnel who work for Blackwater get much higher pay. One low-level guy who was a former SEAL was paid $600 according to the story. He ended up one of the Americans who was killed, mutilated, set on fire, and hung on the Fallujah bridge.

A judge involved in a case in which Blackwater is the defendant said, “Blackwater has wrapped itself in the American flag” for saying it speaks as part of the total military force in Iraq.

A 2006 Pentagon assessment of future defense policy said private security contractors were part of the total force and told how to make them part of U.S. war-waging.

Sure sounds like mercenaries, albeit many are home-grown. And it sounds like they have been made necessary by the lack of a draft and the military’s inability to get enough people to volunteer for the military and/or the military’s inability to get approval to recruit more military. It also sounds like the private security personnel are far more expensive than draftees, at least on the front end. Career military people get huge retirement benefits, but draftees rarely stay for a career.

The 6/25/07 Time magazine had an article by Joe Klein about the need for courage on the part of presidential candidates. It discussed “National Service” saying,

In a new book, Are We Rome?, Cullen Murphy avoids the standard imperial cliches but finds some interesting parallels, especially the notion that the Roman Empire began to falter when it started hiring out major functions of government, including military service, to private contractors.

I am concerned about that, but not whether contractors prepare meals. Rather, I am concerned about moves to turn the U.S. Army into a day-labor Army that relies on foreigners rater than U.S. citizens for its manpower. See the America’s Foreign Legion subhead below for more on that.

Draft-dodger nation

The notion that those who join the military at least in part for the money and other financially valuable benefits is just one side of a provocatively worded “coin.” The other side is that those who have not served in the military or been eligible to be drafted into the military are draft dodgers.

There are a number of ways to dodge the draft. During Vietnam, draft dodgers went to other countries like Canada or Sweden, they claimed to be conscientious objectors, they got into the reserves or national guard. That was a way to avoid active-duty military service back then and the method used by President George H.W. Bush’s Vice President Dan Quayle and his son President George W. Bush. If you doubt that, read the following sentence in a 9/16/08 Wall Street Journal article about the draft:

The sons of the influential sometimes secured coveted spots in the National Guard, which at the time was a virtual guarantee that they’d avoid combat.

Or they lied about being in the reserves or national guard (that was how President Bill Clinton illegally dodged the draft). But there is another way to dodge the draft: outlaw it.

Let me tell you the only groups of U.S. citizens who are not draft dodgers:

  • those of us who ever served on active duty in the military
  • those who were eligible for the draft when it existed but who did not get drafted—like my brother Bill who got a low draft number in the draft lottery in the late 1960’s
  • persons who are physically unfit for military service

Everyone else is arguably a draft dodger. Nowadays, the favorite way, and only way necessary, to dodge the draft is to pass a federal law that prohibits drafting anyone. That law makes us predominantly a nation of draft dodgers with a minority of veterans.

A Spartan king was quoted by Thucydides as saying,

The nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.

Just so. We are currently that nation.

Nothing but draft-dodger presidents lately
The best evidence of that may be the last two presidential administrations. All four of the elections that put Bill Clinton and George W. Bush into office involved a draft dodger running against a war veteran. The war veterans who lost those elections were George H.W. Bush (WW II in the Pacific), Bob Dole (WW II in Italy), Al Gore (Vietnam), and John Kerry (Vietnam). All four were defeated by two draft dodgers: Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Clinton received a draft notice during the Vietnam war. He got out of it by telling his draft board that he had enlisted in the National Guard, which was a lie. George W. Bush was in the National Guard. Young people may think that being in the National Guard was not draft dodging. The hell it wasn’t! Unlike what former guardsman Bush has ironically done in Iraq and Afghanistan with the guard and reserves—sent them into combat repeatedly—National guards and reserves saw almost no combat at all during the Vietnam war. Indeed, President George H.W. Bush had some difficulty during the 1988 campaign when it was discovered that his vice-presidential running mate, Dan Quayle, had been in the Indiana National Guard during the Vietnam war. Anyone who was of age during Vietnam can confirm that the Guard and Reserves were ways to avoid serving in Vietnam or on active duty.

Prior to Bill Clinton, being a draft dodger had been the kiss of death for a politician since the first draft was instituted during the Civil War. Indeed, Clinton wrote a letter to a military officer expressing great concern about “maintaining his political viability” in view of likely criticism about his draft dodging. Al Gore and John Kerry appear to have been running for president since they were 12 and seem to have consciously gone to Vietnam on the assumption that the old rule that draft dodging was the kiss of death would still be in effect when they ran for president. Guess again. In a nation of draft dodgers, Gore and Kerry looked like saps.

It was not likely to get any better in 2008. Other than John McCain, there were no leading presidential candidates who ever served in the military or even whose children have served. Dark horse Duncan Hunter was an airborne ranger in Vietnam at the same time I was there. Ron Paul was in the Air Force. Democrat Chris Dodd was in the Army for six years. Democrat Mike Gravel was in the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps, whatever that is. I never heard of it.

In 2008, the combat vet lost to the never served naif.

Slavery and indentured servitude
A number of draft-hater readers of this Web site have snarled at me that I am advocating “indentured servitude.” Actually, they are. I am the one opposed to indentured servitude.

These ignoramuses believe that slavery and indentured servitude are synonyms. They are not. They are opposites. Indentured servitude is voluntary and limited in duration, like all-volunteer Army contracts. Slavery, on the other hand, is involuntary and forever. You can look it up. Read the Wikipedia article on indentured servitude at Indentured servitude was a contract in which an employee promised to work for an employer for a set period of time—usually about three to seven years. The employee could not change his mind.

In the North America in the 17th and 18th centuries, most, I repeat, most Americans were indentured servants. Their transportation cost to America was paid by their employers and was part of why they agreed to be indentured servants. It is now illegal (breach of a “personal service contract” can now only be enforced by monetary damages, not “specific performance” or refusing to let the person quit the job) and exists today only in the form of contracts between the U.S. military and military personnel, most notably enlistments, service academy students, and military officers who have remaining obligations as a result of receiving education or choice branches or assignments.

Since 1973, the all-volunteer U.S. military consists mainly of indentured servants who cannot quit until they complete their contracted period of service. In some cases, they cannot even quit then and are extended under some fine print in the contract or pertinent law.

Not slavery either

Now that I have pointed out that the all-volunteer Army is indentured servitude precisely, draft dodgers are screaming at me that a draft is slavery. No, it’s not that either.

Slavery is the ownership forever of a person without pay or any other moral basis. Slavery treats humans as if they were private property with no rights like domestic animals. A military draft is a civic duty like jury duty, school attendance before age 16, having to go to the DMV for a driving test, or having to pay income taxes. Draftees are paid. The government does not own them. The service period—typically two years—is longer than most juries, although not all. The pay is better than jury duty. It could be adjusted to reflect lost earnings rather than be a flat rate for everyone.

Higher standards today?

I was in the Army from 1964 to 1972. Back then, I believe we accepted high school dropouts, criminals, and very-low-IQ individuals. My impression from media accounts is that the standards have been raised somewhat since. Although I have also read recently that the standards had to be lowered because of difficulty meeting recruiting targets.

In the aftermath of Senator John Kerry’s statement about U.S. military in Iraq being the worst students, I believe I read that the current active duty military personnel actually are above average compared to U.S. society as a whole. Certainly with the current obesity epidemic, the people in the military are generally more physically fit than the average non-military person. (After I wrote that, I vacationed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village hotel on Waikiki Beach. Next door was Fort DeRussey, an Army recreation hotel for all services. I was disappointed to see that more than half the non-coms and officers I saw in uniform there were overweight. If they lack the self-discipline to win the “Battle of the Bulge” around their own waist, how are they going to lead and inspire their men to win against the lean, hungry barbarians from the Middle East?)

Too many screw-ups

I’m glad to hear the standards have been raised, but I have also seen stories about Abu Grhaib, murders and rapes of civilians, and I have seen TV documentaries about military basic training and there appear to be a lot of people of distressingly low talent and character in the U.S. military. That should not be.

The typical career officer or non-com would denounce any such criticism of the troops saying they were, “Damned fine men and women! Outstanding! Best men and women in the world!” This is pro forma propaganda and party line. It may be a necessary working assumption for leaders when dealing with their subordinates, but the quality of the U.S. military is what it is. If the military brass really believes that stuff, they should release the various test scores on IQ, physical fitness, etc. to the public so we can compare them to the rest of society.

My own first military unit, the Corps of Cadets at West Point, has a lot of graduates who are fond of saying that West Point is the academic equivalent of the Ivy League. No, it’s not. The only objective standard measure I know to consider is SAT scores. Last time I checked, West Point was 100 to 300 points below the Ivy League and came closest to Wake Forest University. West Point may have ranked higher in the past when it was smaller. When I entered in 1964, there were 2,512 cadets. Now, there are about 4,400 and the Vietnam War (late 60s and early 70s) greatly lowered the public’s regard for the military and therefore demand for spots at West Point.

America’s foreign legion

France has a foreign legion. Frenchmen are not allowed to serve in it as enlisted men. The U.K. has its Gurkha units. Colonial powers like France and England had to do that because they could not otherwise get enough troops to control their vast empires—even with a draft.

That is not the American way. Or is it?

In fact, it is rapidly becoming the American way, not because we Americans chose it, but because we refuse to personally defend our own country.

Proposals are now being considered to open U.S. military recruitment offices overseas and to let non-citizens who serve in the U.S. military cut ahead in line, so to speak, to be awarded U.S. citizenship faster.

The 12/26/06 Boston Globe said that,

Foreign citizens serving in the US military is a highly charged issue, which could expose the Pentagon to criticism that it is essentially using mercenaries to defend the country.

There’s that word “mercenaries” again. If it is so out of line, how come everyone from General William C. Westmoreland to the Boston Globe keeps using it?

It should be noted that it is against the law for a U.S. citizen to serve in the military of any other country than the U.S. So our recruitment of foreigners to serve in the U.S. military would be a case of, “Do as we say, not as we do,” also known as hypocrisy.

The Globe also wonders if foreigners in the U.S. military could jeopardize our security. It sure as heck would if we were fighting against the country in which they were still citizens, the country in which their friends and relatives still live, the country in which their friends and relatives are serving in that country’s military.

Non-English-speaking U.S. soldiers?

There is also the question of fluency in English. Lack of fluency in English could result in miscommunication. Miscommunication in the military can result in lost lives and even lost battles.

During the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, Germans posing as Americans infiltrated American lines and wreaked havoc. Once the U.S. figured out that was happening, GIs peppered unknown persons wearing American uniforms and purporting to be Americans with questions that only Americans would know the answers to like questions about Major League Baseball or American radio programs.

If some our GIs of the future are to be foreign, which of our American citizen soldiers will be able to tell which of foreign U.S. soldiers are fake? Or how will our foreign U.S. soldiers be able to tell when enemy soldiers are pretending to be fake Americans? (See the Wikipedia discussions of Otto Skorzeny’s false flag efforts during World War II.)

‘American’s willingness to serve’

The Globe also suggests that recruiting foreigners would,

reflect badly on Americans' willingness to serve in uniform.

Ya think?

The fact is, Americans are unwilling to serve in uniform or have their sons or grandsons serve in uniform—not all of them, but so many that the third most populous country in the world cannot find enough volunteers to staff its military. As I said above, we have become a nation of draft dodgers.

We already have a program that accelerates the U.S. citizenship of green-card-holding foreigners who enlist in the U.S. military. In 2005, 4,600 U.S. military personnel became soldiers while in uniform—up from 750 in 2001. In 2002, President Bush waived a rule that required a three-year waiting period for naturalization if the individual in question were in the U.S. military. Congress later waived the fees for such persons and extended citizenship to the survivors of immigrant, non-citizen soldiers killed in combat.


A recent law gives the U.S. military the right to bring non-U.S. citizens into the military if it’s “vital” for national security. Let me get this straight. If we are in dire straits in terms of national defense, we still just recruit foreign volunteers rather than draft our own citizens? That makes perfect sense. And if we get short of military bread rations, is there a law to let the military eat cake?

The Globe goes on to say,

And military recruiters, fighting the perception that signing up means a ticket to Baghdad, have had to rely on financial incentives and lower standards to meet their quotas.

The notion that signing up means a ticket to Baghdad is not a perception, it’s a fact. It does mean as ticket to Baghdad, or Kabul.

And about that phrase “financial incentives.” Better watch out saying things like that. Bill O’Reilly may accuse you of calling U.S. military personnel “mercenaries.”

At present, the Globe says there are 30,000 non-U.S. citizens in the U.S. military. That’s about 2% of the total. It’s also two divisions of soldiers. The Dallas Morning News says over 69,000 U.S. military personnel are foreign, 5% of the total.

Quoting again from Joe Klein’s 6/25/07 Time article,

...While the all-volunteer U.S. Army is a far cry from the barbarian mercenaries that Rome eventually used to fill out its legions, there is a dangerous chasm growing between the U.S. military—a subculture with a bracing value system emphasizing service, discipline and common purpose—and the slovenly culture at large.

I agree that there is a wide and growing chasm between the Army and the general population, but Klein is way off on his details. Basically, he is spouting the image members of the Army would have us believe. In fact, it is the Army that is slovenly in substance. Their value system is frat house for the youngest enlisted members and the bureaucrat’s position, pension, and PX privileges for the older members. While it’s true that they are in “the service,” the amounts they are paid in current pay and benefits as well as future pay and benefits are now so attractive that the Army no longer represents the selfless sacrifice it did in bygone days. As described above, the military is considering making joining the Army far more lucrative in order to overcome its recent failures to attract and retain enough volunteers.

Discipline in the Army is crap in many ways. Military personnel exhibit discipline in boot camp and in spurts in combat situations. Otherwise, they are big on outward shows of discipline like shiny shoes and belt buckles and salutes, but they are almost devoid of the sort of day-to-day discipline that characterizes the efficient operation of private businesses. As anyone who stops and thinks about it realizes, the military is extremely inefficient and truly a SNAFU organization (Situation Normal, All Fouled Up) If they were truly disciplined, they would not be inefficient and all fouled up.

In other words, in the long-term discharge of their daily duties, the young people working at McDonalds or your local movie theater are more disciplined than the young people in the military. That’s because they have real bosses who are paying real money out of their own pockets for their services. They also have real competitors and customers. Their “wars” are bloodless, but they are continuous and the financial stakes, if not the life-and-death stakes, are high.

Lower standards for foreigners, too?

With regard to lowering standards, will our recent practice of letting thousands of convicted criminals enlist also apply to the foreigners? How will we be able to tell if the foreigners are not criminals, or even if they are of adequate age? Lesser developed countries may not have adequate records or may deliberately conceal criminal records to get rid of criminals a la the Cuban Mariel boat lift which dumped the worst criminals from Cuba into Florida in 1980.

Some, no doubt Democrats who perceive illegal aliens to be future Democrat voters, have urged that illegal immigrants be recruited into the U.S. military. Pardon me, but do our extradition treaties with the foreign countries in question cover deserters? If not, how is this viable?

Some have called the recruit foreigners idea a step toward a day-labor military. It is one thing for Americans to decide they would rather have illegal immigrants than pick fruit. It is quite another for Americans to decide they would rather have illegal immigrant soldiers than serve in the U.S. military.

‘All-volunteer’ missions

Many a war movie has a story about an “all-volunteer” unit that is picked for a special dangerous mission. If I were the officer put in charge of a special, difficult mission, and allowed to pick my team, it would be a cold day in La Jolla before I would assemble an all-volunteer group. You have to be nuts to volunteer for dangerous missions, unless you have some needed special skill that no one else available has.

I would not want to lead a group of nuts on a dangerous mission. I would want a bunch of well-adjusted, intelligent guys who wished they were not on the mission. As the leader, I would not have volunteered (absent my being needed because of some specific necessary skill that I alone possessed among those available to go) and I would want similarly sane and mature persons with me.

D-Day was one of the most dangerous military missions ever. There were darned few volunteers hitting the Normandy beaches that day. World War II in general was one of the most dangerous missions ever. There were draftees in all branches then, including the Marines and Navy. It should be noted that we not only won that war, we won it in three and a half years starting from unprepared scratch.

My dad and uncles served in World War II. My high-school-dropout Uncle Jack was the youngest non-pilot captain in Europe at one point during the war. He often said that the war was won by the draftees in spite of the career volunteer types. I would not be able to confirm that, but it sounds right.


Career military officers and noncoms are lifer bureaucrats. The civilians drafted into the noncom and officer ranks were used to getting things done efficiently in civilian businesses and farms. They also were “over there” “for the duration” and wanted to go home. They were not about to wait until some lifer filled out forms in quintuplicate.

In his book Sea of Thunder (about the WW II Leyte Gulf naval battle), Evan Thomas makes a similar comment to my uncle’s: “By and large, the reservists [roughly speaking the officer equivalent of a draftee enlisted man] performed astonishingly well—indeed, in may cases, better than the Annapolis men, who sometimes were a little too respectful of hierarchy and showed less initiative than the citizen soldiers.” I would add, “The Annapolis men were only ‘sometimes’ too respectful of authority?!” Service academies are obedience schools as much as they are anything else.

In Vietnam, everybody got to go home after one year regardless of whether we won. Not surprisingly, we did not win.

Draft is only way to get non-bureaucrat leaders

Getting non-bureaucrats into the military is the main reason to have a draft. Entrepreneurs and employees of civilian for-profit businesses are used to conducting themselves with a high degree of efficiency and results orientation. Bureaucrats are used to simply avoiding pissing off or embarrassing their superiors. They are in the boot-licking business.

Bureaucrats are process oriented, thus their fondness for statements like, “It’s not my job.” Process-oriented people react to complaints by pointing out they have filled out their paperwork or done whatever some policy manual says is their portion of the chain of action and, if the desired result was not achieved, it’s someone else’s fault and they wash their hands of any further responsibility of getting the job done. See my article on process orientation versus results orientation.

We cannot win wars or achieve anything else worthwhile with such people. Rather, we need people who are in the habit of getting the job done by whatever legal means necessary—results-oriented people who are in the habit of operating efficiently and of using common sense.

Phobia volunteers

One exception to my aversion to volunteers would be for certain duties that trigger involuntary phobias in some persons. For example, the submarine service long ago learned to only use volunteers. Furthermore, if a submariner ever changes his mind, he’s gone at the end of the patrol. I presume claustrophobia is the reason. Also, the thought of being surrounded by water at such depths that the pressure would kill you if the drowning didn’t freaks out many people as well—even those who do not suffer from claustrophobia per se.

Voluntary phobias, like the fear of exerting oneself, would not exempt one from any particular military duty. Similarly, universal phobias, like the fear of getting shot by an enemy soldier, would not be cause for exemption from any duty.

Skills not otherwise available

There are some skills that the military must have but cannot create, like doctors, lawyers, native-speaking translators, and nurses. Again, a draft is likely necessary to acquire those skills.

The draft I envision would not just bring in some one-size-fits-all human being. Rather, it would be like an NFL draft. The NFL needs X number of quarterbacks, Y number of linebackers, and so forth. Similarly, the military needs A number of doctors, B number of nurses, C number of Arabic interpreters, and so forth. They need to draft not just bodies, but also the skills and aptitudes they need.

‘Look like America’

One of America’s Draft Dodgers in Chief, Bill Clinton, said he wanted his presidential cabinet to, “look like America.” Actually, I disagree with that. The cabinet is too small and too important to be staffed like some Chicago machine political patronage job.

But I think making it look like America is a very good idea with regard to the U.S. military. For example, my grad school alma mater is Harvard. I think the percentage of Harvard former students or graduates in the military should be the same as the number of Harvard people in the U.S. population. Maybe it already is. I would be surprised if it were. Actually, there were plenty of us vets at the Harvard Business School. But I suspect that the other graduate schools and the undergraduate college at Harvard are underrepresented in the military. They should not be allowed to systematically avoid military service.

When I was at Harvard in 1975-1977, there was a palpable contempt for me and my fellow vets from the draft-dodger students. My son Dan graduated from another Ivy League college, Columbia, in 2003. He often told me that the palpable Ivy League contempt for the military was alive and well in the Twenty-First Century. Making the Harvard and other Ivy League communities contribute their fair share to the military would likely bring those communities closer to a more accurate and appropriate view of the military.

The same appears true of groups like the wealthy and the educated. They appear to me to be underrepresented in the military. I have known of families where almost every generation served in the military, generally as draftees, and other families where generation after generation never served. That’s not right. No group or family should be underrepresented in the military. I want them all breathlessly waiting to see where their birthday comes up in the annual draft lottery.

Confederate Army?

One of the things I most despised about being an Army officer was having to spend ten months of my life at military bases in rural areas of the Southeast. I was at Fort Benning, GA, twice; Fort Gordon, GA, once; and Fort Bragg, NC, once.

Fear of Killeen, TX

My greatest fear in Vietnam was not getting killed. It was getting assigned to Fort Hood, TX when I came home. I spent part of my time in Vietnam researching things like getting a private pilot’s license and renting a plane with a group of other officers to get the heck out of Killeen, TX on weekends if I ended up there. Fort Hood was a distinct possibility for everyone in the Army because it is a huge base.

The only Northeastern branch

I deliberately chose the Signal Corps when I graduated from West Point because it was the only combat arm with a base in the Northeast: Fort Monmouth, NJ. I was stationed there twice, thank God. Shortly after I got out of the Army, they closed the Signal School at Fort Monmouth and moved it to Fort Gordon, GA. My other choices (combat arms then), and their base locations, were Artillery at Ft. Sill, OK; Infantry at Ft. Benning, GA; Armor at Ft. Knox, KY. The Engineer branch was based at relatively civilized Ft. Belvoir, VA but I could not choose that because of my class rank.

The official accent of the Army

I joked when I was in the Army that the official accent of the Army seemed to be Southern. Soldiers would “you all” and “good old boy” me, then when I asked where they were from, they would say Brooklyn or Gary, Indiana. (The official accent of the Air Force is reportedly West Virginian because that’s where “Mr. Right Stuff” Chuck Yeager was from. As far as I know, the Navy and Marines have no disproportionate accent.)

I do not mind Southerners dominating NASCAR or the NFL or country music. I do not mind Southerners being in the Army—in proportion to their percentage in the U.S. population. But I do mind the U.S. Army being the Confederate Army in the sense that its personnel are disproportionately Southern. According to a story in the 2/22/07 Wall Street Journal, 40% of U.S. Army officers are from the South. That’s way too many.

Why is this? According to the Journal, the U.S. military retreated from the anti-war parts of the U.S., namely the Northeast, Midwest, and West Coast starting during the anti-war movement in the Vietnam era. That included closing military bases, recruiting stations, and ROTC programs. The military also prefers rural areas and especially the South because everything is far cheaper there.

That, in turn, tipped the U.S. military into a vicious spiral where Southernization begat more Southernization. One of the many reasons I got out of the Army and have urged others not to get in is the Army’s being predominantly based in the rural South and staffed by people from the rural South. I suspect a lot of my “Yankee” West Point classmates got out in part to return to the part of the country where the word Yankee refers to a baseball team.

Oh, to be young and single in—civilization

For one thing, most soldiers are young and single. Young and single does not mesh with the rural anywhere. 20,000 GIs and, what, maybe 300 local women of the right age and marital status. It meshes even less with the rural South when you are a “Yankee.”

At both Gordon and Bragg, all of us newly minted West Pointers—including the Southerners—were comparing notes on the girl situation. As I recall, only one guy ever met a girl during the months we were there. He met her at a honky tonk and instantly dropped her later when he learned she was married to a sergeant who was in Vietnam. All of which fit very nicely with the fact that my roommate and I had to live in a trailer park on Old MacDuffie Road in Augusta at the time. Lovely.

Family reunion

I also did not care for competing with Southern fellow lieutenants for promotion by Southern colonels. I expect that a study of staffing would reveal that not only does the Army do more recruiting in the South for both officers and enlisted men, it also has a higher retention rate among Southern natives than “Yankees” because we “Yankees” felt like we were crashing a family reunion when we were in the military.

Accentless children

I was neither married nor had kids when I was in the military, but I am grateful that my California kids grew up with no regional accent. I am glad they did not grow up where I did, in Southern New Jersey, where I acquired an accent that I got rid of as a radio announcer in college. But I am really glad they do not have Southern accents and that whole anti-“Yankee” mentality that most brats (children of career military personnel) seem to have.

Not a lot of red neck Muslims

According to the Journal, by retreating to the rural South, the military is not only missing out on the services of Yankees, it’s also missing out on the service of America’s Muslims and Arabic speakers, which the military sorely needs.

West Point cadets nowadays spend three days in Jersey City, NJ during their junior year. Why? To get to know Muslim culture of American Muslims who are numerous there. But the Army closed its two ROTC programs in Jersey City years ago. This is further evidence of what I found to be the case: West Point is a squared away place that tries hard to do the right thing. The Army, on the other hand, is Situation Normal, All Fouled Up.

It’s supposed to be the UNITED STATES Army

A draft, along with regional quotas for officers, would restore the military to an organization that looks like America. That is not a nice-to-have feature. It’s mandatory. To the extent that the U.S. has, and/or perceives itself to have, a military made up of red state red necks who have a very different accent and world view, the American people will be less inclined to support the military with their tax dollars, their children, and the will to win our wars. And if the military is predominantly Southern, I wonder what allegiance our military personnel will feel towards their majority Yankee masters in Washington, New York, Chicago, and California. Not a healthy situation.

Also, as I said elsewhere in this article, war is a competitive event. We should not be defending our country with the best people the South has to offer. We should be defending it with the best people the country has to offer. The military, like the government, should be of the people, by the people and for the people, not of the Confederates, by the Confederates, and for the Yankees.

Onward Christian soldiers

I also get the impression that the U.S. military is being taken over by evangelical Christians who proselytize their fellow military personnel. When the proselytizer is your superior, you resist the proselytization at your career peril. I do not know if the predominance of Southerners is related to the extraordinary number of evangelical Christians in the military, but the red state South seems to be a hot bed of evangelical Christians as well.

The U.S. Air Force Academy has been in the media a number of times recently for pushing Christianity on students who are, obviously, also Jewish, Muslim, and other religions or atheists. “Religious bullying” one story called it. Another used the phrase “fundamentalist bigotry.”

At least one book has been written on the subject: With God On Our Side: One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup Inside the U.S. Military. One Web site describes the book as, “the authors present a shocking expos of life inside the Air Force Academy and its systematic program of Christian fundamentalist indoctrinations sanctioned, coordinated, and carried out by Academy officials.” The author of that book founded

The author, Michael L. Weinstein, is a Jewish Air Force Academy graduate and father of two Air Force Academy graduates. When his cadet sons were targeted by anti-Semitic remarks from people at the Academy, Weinstein sued and wrote a book about it. He was previously White House counsel under President Ronald Reagan.

I saw him give a talk and take questions on C-Span 2. In response to one question, he said his organization had traced the dominance of the military by Christian fundamentalists and that it began in 1972, the year he noted, when the draft ended. He attributed the takeover [my word] of the military by Christian fundamentalists to the end of the draft.

If, indeed, the U.S. military is being taken over by persons who try to convert other military personnel to Christian fundamentalism and discriminate against those who refuse to do so, that is a serious problem and, again, a problem that stems from using all-volunteers rather than a draft to staff the military.

When your boss and his boss and his boss etc. go to the post chapel every Sunday, you’d better be there, too, if you want to get promoted. If you don’t want to go to the chapel, you probably should get out of the military and get into a career where such matters are irrelevant to your promotions and assignments.

On 9/17/07 in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, KS, Spec. Jeremy Hall of the Fort Riley, KS MPs sued Defenses Secretary Robert Gates and Army Major Paul Welbourne for discriminating against non-Christians in the military. Hall alleges that he got permission to circulate fliers about a meeting of atheists and other non-Christian soldiers, but when he tried to convene the meeting advertised by the fliers, Welbourne stopped the meeting and threatened Hall with court martial and blocking his reenlistment.

On 7/8/08, CNN ran a story about an Army enlisted man, Jeremy Hall, who sued the Army because he decided to become an atheist and noticed that his previously sterling career came to a halt. He says the Army has become a Christians-only organization with regard to career advancement. The story quotes Michael Weinstein, whom I mentioned above, as saying he has been contacted by more than 8,000 members of the military complaining about the dominance of Christians. He also is suing with Hall. The Pentagon denies the charges.

The 8/26/10 Wall Street Journal has an op-ed by Gary Schmitt and Cheryl Miller of the American Enterprise Institute Program on Citizenship. AEI is more a part of the national defense than you might think. AEI was very influential in causing “The Surge” to happen in Iraq. The Journal column was titled, “The Military Should mirror the Nation.” Their thesis is that since the end of the draft, the Army has become less and less a mirror of the nation. In particular they say the Army is becoming more:

• geographically narrow (former Confederate state natives)
• culturally narrow
• more the children of career military
• fewer white middle class suburbanites

They say the ROTC program was intended to make sure officers came from all over America, not just West Point. But increasingly, the Army has shut down programs not in the old Confederacy and increased the number in the old Confederacy. It’s not just Harvard keeping ROTC off their campus. The Army apparently is avoiding campuses like Harvard because ROTC is a harder sell there. But that sort of thinking gets us into a chicken-or-egg, self-fulfilling prophecy spiral. At present, a half dozen or so Harvard college students are enrolled in ROTC in each class. They have to go to MIT to take it. It seems likely there would be more if Harvard restored its ROTC program. Generally, it is harder to take ROTC in colleges in the Northeast, Midwest, Northwest, or West than in the Southeast. That exacerbates an unfortunate geographic, cultural, religious trend. The Army should be fighting against that trend, not using it as a reason to retreat to the Southeast. (I also recently wrote an article about the differences between West Point and ROTC and OCS officers.) Harvard agreed to let NROTC back on its campus in 2011 after the end of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”

The column also says the Army claims the children of more “prestigious” college grads tend not to choose military careers. Probably true. So, I say, draft them. We need them and we need all to share in the defense burden. Attending “prestigious” schools would not warrant a draft deferment in any rational, fair draft.

The nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools. Spartan king quoted by Thucydides

‘Draft Dodgers in Chief’

Since I used the phrase “Draft Dodgers in Chief” in the plural, you may wonder who the other one was. George W. Bush. He was in the National Guard during Vietnam. Ironically, as president, he has shipped the Guardsmen and Reserves to Iraq and Afghanistan in great numbers. But during Vietnam, Guardsmen and Reserves were only very rarely sent to Vietnam or even called to active duty.

Bush himself was never sent to Vietnam as a guard. Both the Guard and the Reserves were then well known, well-traveled ways to avoid being drafted and shipped to the combat zone. The first President Bush’s vice president Dan Quayle avoided service in Vietnam by joining the National Guard and that fact was a bit of a scandal when he ran for VP.

I do not mean to equate what George W. Bush did during Vietnam to what Bill Clinton did. Clinton lied about joining the guard or reserves to avoid the draft. Clinton also publicly denounced the U.S. policy in Vietnam while he was in England as a Rhodes Scholar.

George W. Bush did join the Air National Guard where he became a fighter pilot (F102). That is a substantial demonstration of courage regardless of the presence of the enemy. Also, although guardsmen rarely got sent to Vietnam or any other combat zone at the time, there was no guarantee of that. Bush could have been activated and deployed to Vietnam or elsewhere. I am sure that if he had, he would have gone and done his duty. Clinton would have developed a bad back or some such.

(While I respect the skill and courage of fighter pilots, if you could buy them as a group for what they are worth and sell them for what they think they’re worth, you would have a sizable capital gain. In particular, they seem to believe because there is a coincidental resemblance between a phallus and the aerodynamic shape of an aircraft fuselage, and because engineers use the word “thrust” to describe jet engine power, that their graduation from flight school endows them with extraordinary sexual prowess and attractiveness to women. The public got a peek at this goofy notion and the accompanying boorish behavior in the infamous Tailhook incident. Those of us who were in the military got more frequent exposure to it. It should also be noted that submariners, whose boat and its missiles bear even more coincidental resemblance to a phallus than a winged aircraft, and whose nuclear and rocket engines produce far more power than a jet plane, have never drawn the conclusion that either has anything to do with the sexual prowess or attractiveness of the submarine crew to females.)

I trust my describing our last two presidents as “Draft Dodgers in Chief” will end any reader’s notion that I favor Republicans or Democrats in my views on military. My impression of the Republicans regarding military matters is that they are too trigger happy and too trusting of military leaders with regard to spending and strategies and tactics. My general impression of the Democrats’ military posture is that they have a broad hatred and contempt for the military. The military is a necessity. Anything that’s worth doing should be done right, including maintaining a military.

Getting spit on

I was not one of the Vietnam vets who ever got spit on. Although I was one of the many who were told by the Army not to wear our uniforms when we appeared off the military base.

I will bet that the vast majority of the spitters were Democrats or left of the Democrats politically.

When I entered the military, you had to wear your uniform when you traveled by plane or train in order to get the then standard half-fare deal. By the time I got back from Vietnam, they had changed the policy so that you only had to show your military ID card to get half fare. You could wear civilian clothes when you traveled. The reason for the change was to help us avoid being spit on or otherwise hassled. Although members of the military have a statutory legal right to wear the uniform, we were explicitly advised not to wear our uniforms because of spitters and other harassment.

Fewer wars if we had a draft

Perhaps the main reason to have a draft is to have fewer wars. When the Iraq invasion was pending, I wrote that I thought it was probably the right thing to do, but that I would oppose it if any of my three draft-age sons had to go. Therefore, I said, I must not really be adequately in favor of it. Had there been a draft, I would have actively argued and voted against the war. When it was other father’s sons and daughters going, it did not seem like my problem. War is much too serious a business for it not to be everyone’s problem in the nation in question.

Georges Clemenceau famously said that, “War is to important to be left to the generals.” It’s also true that war is too important to be left to military personnel who had to be persuaded to join for reasons other than duty or patriotism.

George is a good soldier

Another thing I am not saying is that the “George” types did not do their duty and exhibit courage and all that. They generally did. They are probably disproportionately responsible for screw-ups like friendly fire and atrocities and so forth, but as a group, they did their duty and were brave.

The question I am addressing here is not whether they were good or bad, but whether America is best served by a military that consists 100% of volunteers. It is not.

Universal military service?

In many countries, including many much admired by American leftists, military service is mandatory for all. Wikipedia has a list of countries that have various forms of mandatory military service. You can see it at It includes such bastions of admired-by-the-left culture as Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Israel, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. That Web site also has various arguments against conscription (a draft). My impression is that the authors are not neutral on the subject.

Too many soldiers

Am I advocating universal military service? No. I sort of like the idea from an egalitarian standpoint, but I doubt it would be practical. We are the third most populous country in the world after China and India. We have 310 million people. If you remove people who are what was called 4-F (physically unfit) during World War II, you would still probably have about 250 million to serve when they passed through their late teens or early twenties. That’s a lot of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines for a country that currently only has 500,000 military on active duty and 700,000 in the Guard and Reserves.

If you figure the 250 million Americans have about 60 years of adult life, on average, you would have about 4 million people at each age. If, say, you made age 19 the year for military service, we would have a 4-million person military continuously. Actually, it would go up and down due to the Baby Boom, echo of the Baby Boom, and so forth. That is a World War II level of manpower. We had 8 million in uniform the day that war ended in 1945.

Too much money

In addition to being a massive military probably bigger than we need, it would cost an astonishing amount, and render those same 4 million a year veterans eligible for medical care, education and home mortgage benefits. Not only would the cost of maintaining so many in the military be huge, their absence from the civilian workforce would also take a huge toll in lost income taxes, productivity, etc. In September 2006, only 1.7 million Americans were unemployed. So you can see that putting 4 million a year in the military would greatly disrupt the civilian work force.

So I am discussing universal military service only to put what I am advocating—universal eligibility for a lottery-based draft—into perspective and to compare to other nations’ military draft policies.

If you figure half the current active-duty people would be draftees, you would be drafting about 1/2 x 400,000 = 200,000 a year and if there are indeed 4 million eligible, that would be 200,000 ÷ 4,000,000 = 5%. At present, I believe we recruit about 80,000 a year into the military. If that were all you wanted to draft, the percentage of people 19 years old being drafted would be 80,000 ÷ 4,000,000 = 2%. So the average eligible person would have 98% probability of not being drafted.

We had a peacetime draft before

Most Americans think of a draft as a war-time measure. Actually, we had a draft in peacetime for about three months before we entered World War II and between World War II and Vietnam. Elvis Presley, Ralph Nader, and Senator Ted Kennedy were among the famous people drafted during peacetime. Nader had graduated from Harvard Law School before he was drafted. The Army, in typical fashion, made him a cook. Ted Kennedy had just been thrown out of Harvard for cheating when he was drafted. In 1971, as a senator, Kennedy opposed ending the draft and going to the all-volunteer force.

Letting the rich avoid service during the Civil War

During the Civil War, young men could buy their way out of the draft. It was called a “commutation fee” and it was $300. Adjusted for inflation, $300 in 1913 would be $6,112 in 2006 dollars. I cannot go back before 1913 because that is the limit of the Consumer Price Index calculator on the Internet. So we can see that the 1863 $300 “commutation fee” was probably upwards of $10,000 in today’s dollars.

Today, we claim to abhor the notion that one could buy one’s way out of the draft for a sum that most people could not afford then. But have we really eliminated that or just changed the payment flow? To put it another way, does the current military have disproportionate representation by lower financial class persons? It seems that it does.

So how can we claim we have gotten rid of the Civil War “commutation fee?” The rich are still buying their way out of the military. Only now they do it by paying taxes that are spent on recruiting advertising and incentives ranging from military salaries to college tuition.

The poor pay no such taxes because of their income being below the lowest tax bracket. And those same low-income individuals are the targets of the recruiting drives. Who else regards the military pay and tuition benefits as desirable enough to risk their lives for them?

The Civil War commutation fee just cut out the middleman. Nowadays, the rich are still buying their way out of military service, but their “commutation fees” are being “laundered” by the IRS and the various recruiting commands.

Draft is almost universally hated in the U.S.

I am aware that, unlike the European countries that have drafts, the citizens of the U.S. are almost universally opposed to the draft. Even Charlie Rangel, who called for reinstitution of the draft, was just trying to make a point, not actually bring back the draft. So I have no illusions about whether my recommendation will be followed.

The current discussion of whether to reinstitute the draft is mindless and profoundly selfish. People simply do not want to be drafted and they do not want their child to be drafted. Period. End of discussion. End of thinking about the matter. “Let George do it,” is how this mind-set was described during World War II. George being anyone other than me or my child. As I explained above, George is probably not the best person to do or even adequately qualified to do it.

As far as I can tell, virtually no one cares about the quality of U.S. military troops as evidenced by the near total lack of people seriously advocating a draft. All anyone cares about is avoiding service and, in the case of politicians and military leaders, avoiding angering those who wish to avoid service.

Is a ‘professional’ military better than an amateur one?

Many people say the all-volunteer army is “professional” and the draft military is amateur. End of discussion.

Hardly. First, you cannot win an argument by simply applying an attractive label (“professional”) to your side and an unattractive one (“amateur”) to the other side.

Furthermore, although “professionals” are generally better than amateurs, that is reversed in bureaucracies. I am not the only businessman who would have few qualms about hiring a former military person—but only if he or she was in the military only for a brief period. I and many others regard career military people as poisoned by decades of being a bureaucrat.

Bureaucracy is bad and the way they do things generally does not work in the competitive business world. Career military noncoms and officers who retire from the military generally take government jobs. Why? Because they are experienced, “professional” bureaucrats. They are often viewed with suspicion by civilian businessmen and they, in turn, view competitive civilian businesses as too cut-throat and risky. Interesting, isn’t it, that military people who sometimes say, “Killing is our business,” would shun merely metaphorically “cut-throat” businesses.

‘Professional’ at what?

And what exactly is it that current military people are professionals at? It sure isn’t winning wars. The last true war with front lines and all that was Korea—which was a tie not a victory. Vietnam and all subsequent U.S. wars other than Desert Storm (expelling Iraq from Kuwait in 1991) were civil wars. Did we win any of those? Somalia? Afghanistan? Iraq? We seem to have gotten our way in Panama, but I doubt the tactics and strategies of the U.S. in the Panama “war” are studied at West Point as much as Napoleon, Hannibal, Robert E. Lee, and Douglas MacArthur.

In addition to our not having much success intervening in civil wars, the sheer amount of time individuals in our current military brass have spent exchanging fire with an enemy is measured in minutes or hours. Desert Storm literally lasted 100 hours. How much could even the most diligent student of war learn in 100 hours?

In professional baseball, that’s called a “cup of coffee.” As in, “Did you ever get to the majors?” “Yeah. I had a cup of coffee in 2003 in September with the Cubs.” The phrase “cup of coffee” in professional baseball refers to a brief stint of days or weeks with a major league team.

The typical highly decorated officer of the current U.S. military has combat decorations from no more than minutes or hours of contact with the enemy. I do not mean to diminish the service or courage of those men and women, but such brief experience is hardly a basis for claiming to be a “professional” in the sense that lawyers or doctors or engineers or athletes claim to be professionals. True professionals undergo years of relevant training and years more of daily experience. War is, fortunately, a rare event. But the fact that it is rare unavoidably means that professional expertise at successful war fighting is also correspondingly rare. See my article “Is there really any such thing as military expertise?

The U.S. military has more than its share of criminals and high school dropouts for the word “professional” to be used in any but the broadest definition of that term. They are professional only in the athletic sense of because they get paid for it. and that brings us back to the term “mercenary” which the advocates of the all-volunteer military do not like. You can’t ignore the fact that people are in the military in part for the pay when the question of whether we have a “mercenary army” comes up, then point to the mere fact that they get paid for what they do to prove they are “professionals.” You can’t have it both ways.

Draftees typically serve for two years; volunteers, for three. Don’t tell me that extra year is all it takes to be exalted as a “professional” compared to the mere “amateurs” who were drafted.

The war-time draft dramatically increases the percentage of non-“professional” (career) soldiers. We also generally won the wars where we had a draft.

Citizen soldiers

Professional soldiers is not the only phrase applied to the miltiary. Amateur soldiers is a phrase I never heard. The phrase that was used before the all-volunteer Army was “citizen soldier.”

America was proud of its citizen soldiers and proud of the fact that it relied on such soldiers. Americans going back to the Founding Fathers were extremely suspicious of professional soldiers or even of a standing Army. They were okay with a standing Navy because sailors never did coups.

Combat ‘experts’

During the buildup to Desert Storm, I got a kick out of middle-grade officers—captains, majors, and lieutenant colonels—pontificating to their troops about combat in front of news cameras. “How would they know?” I would comment to my family members. Those guys were 25 to 35 years old. It was 1991. U.S. combat activity in Vietnam ended in 1972. Men who were 35 years old in 1991 were 16 years old when Vietnam ended. Exactly what “war” did they fight in to earn the right to pontificate about combat in 1991?

They and their supporters would point to their training. The training I got from 1964 to 1972 was World War II European Theater tactics. Watching the History Channel and Military Channel depictions of current basic training and SEAL, Ranger, paratroop, and other similar training, it still looks to me like we are mainly practicing for World War II in Europe. Occasionally, I see men and women on TV military shows practicing clearing buildings in an urban city—which was actually also a World War II chore—albeit one of the few still needed.

Each combat action that U.S. military are in is different—different from prior combat and even different from simultaneous action like Iraq and Afghanistan. Expertise learned in Fallujah may not even apply to Basra, let alone to Afghanistan or Bosnia. The enemy is different. The terrain is different. The altitude is different. The climate is different. The weapons are different.

So what does the military teach the troops to prepare them for the next combat theater—to make them “professionals” at winning actions in that theater? Heck, the expertise of veterans of the European Theater in World War II may not have even been of much use in the Pacific Theater had they been transferred there—even though the two theaters were simultaneous.

Infantry and armor only

Note that I am mainly talking about infantry and armor tactics here. The Air Force, Navy, and artillery deliver explosives to distant, inanimate objects like buildings, bridges, ships, and aircraft. They would also shoot at groups of enemy soldiers in the open if they had the chance.

They are amazingly good at that and getting better every year. Why? Because they can practice and because they can make better use of technological advances than guys fighting in house to house in cities against enemies pretending to be innocent civilians. It is much harder to realistically practice ducking improvised explosive devices and enemies who pretend to be civilians or allied solider or police and/or hide among women and children.

The U.S. Air Force, Navy, and artillery are so good that no American enemy in their right mind will give them an appropriate target. When the Taliban did briefly, they were promptly vaporized. So were the Iraqis in the Kuwait war in 1991.

Afraid to use the military

One manifestation of the all-volunteer military is that we are afraid to use it. An all-volunteer military is a relatively small military.

In his book Utility of Force, retired British general Rupert Smith has a subhead

We fight to preserve the force

Under it he says,

The fourth trend brings us back to the pre-Napoleonic era, in which the warring armies could not fully commit to the definitive fight since, lacking a system of cheap manpower such as conscription and given the expense of materiel, they could not afford to replace their forces. These issues have once again become relevant in our modern times, for different reasons but with the same effect: we fight so as to preserve the force.

He elaborates that politicians now fear “body bag” effect and are overly averse to casualties.

Some readers may think casualty aversion is a sign of sanity.

Yes and no.

While avoiding casualties per se is obviously good, one must not lose sight of the big picture. Sometimes excessive reluctance to incur casualties in a given situation can lead to even greater casualties later. A casualty in time sometimes saves nine.

While there is a danger in military leaders who apply the phrase, “They are expendable” too freely, there is an equal or greater danger in being so timid and fearful of casualties that you incur even more casualties over the long run as a result of your initial timidity. To the extent that the lack of a draft causes such timidity, the lack of a draft, paradoxically, increases casualties. That is the cruel, but undeniable, calculus of military actions.

Does the military exist to serve the needs of the career military people or to fight wars?
On 8/23/07, the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine General Peter Pace reportedly will advise the President to reduce the number of troops in Iraq. Why? Because the military does not have the stamina or enough people to sustain such large numbers of deployment to combat areas. “Strain the military” is the phrase in the Los Angeles Times article. The article says the military believes they need to reduce the size of the forces in Iraq in order to bolster the military’s ability to respond to other threats.

Let me get this straight. We send troops to battle at the convenience of the military not as needed to deal with threats to our security? Defense policy is to be set by some sort of military union rules about how long a soldier or marine can be in a combat area?

This is a bunch of bull. Accepting for the sake of argument that we need to win the war in Iraq, General Pace needs to say “We need more troops,” period. The objective is to win our wars, not to keep our military personnel happy.

I don’t buy the “bolster the military’s ability to respond to other threats” argument. That’s just a way for the military to disguise making their lives easier. If another threat arises, the Congress needs to obtain more military forces either by a draft or by increasing the incentives to serve in an all-volunteer military. The job of former Marine General Peter Pace and other military leaders is to win our current wars, not to retreat from them in order to be more ready to fight possible other wars. A war in the hand is worth two in the bush. Don’t tell me you can’t win the war we’ve got because you need to be ready for the war we haven’t got. You fight the war we’ve got and let Congress take care of deciding how to fight additional wars if they arise while you’re fighting the first one. In other words, what Peter Pace meant was that we need a draft, not that we need to withdraw from Iraq. He just wouldn’t say that because he’s a politician more than he is a military leader.

Garrison versus combat mentality
I read Col. David Hackworth’s autobiography About Face. See my review of it at He makes the point, if I understand him correctly, that the U.S. Army was a combat organization in World War II and the early stages of Korea. But that during the Korean War and thereafter, including during Vietnam, the U.S. military became a garrison force where, for example, college degrees became more important than bravery medals and combat experience. That is, they did not care for the discomfort and messiness of combat and restructured themselves to be more comfortable and to reward officers for being good in garrison, not for being good in combat. Garrison duty means hanging around Camp Swampy in the U.S. and engaging in such activities as inspections, parades, eating in the mess hall, and the occasional bivouac in the surrounding countryside. In other words, endless Boy Scout camp.

The quintessential manifestation of this change was the switch from the combination of the draft and military personnel remaining in the war theater “for the duration” to the all-volunteer Army and limiting tours in combat to 12 months or so. The notions depicted in the Los Angeles Times story are garrison mentality. “Bolstering ability to respond to other [potential] threats” is just code for going back into garrison.

Basic principles

I submit that some basic principles should be adhered to with regard to the staffing of the U.S. military.

  1. The forces should be of optimal quality and character. A draft makes that quite possible. Relying on volunteers makes it much harder—maybe impossible—especially if a lot of troops are needed.
  2. ALL Americans should contribute both cash and blood to the military. That is, no one should be exempt from paying taxes that support the military and no one should be exempt, either by statute or de facto, from serving on active duty. Since the military does not need millions of members continuously, service should be in the form of everyone being eligible for the draft lottery, not everyone actually serving. Past draft mistakes like exempting college students and such must not be repeated. Over time, the lottery would cause every family and group to contribute an active-duty service member.
  3. Incurable physical problems that would be more trouble than they are worth to the military should exempt citizens from military service, but not bad habits like overeating or a sedentary lifestyle. Fat and/or lazy persons should be given whatever extra basic training they need to get into adequate physical shape. Their obligatory service period, and pay, starts when they are declared physically fit, not while they are getting into shape, thereby giving them incentive to get into shape as soon as possible. Deliberately making yourself unhealthy to avoid military service is a law violation known as malingering. I started to court martial a soldier for malingering, namely, trying to get out of the Army Corporal Klinger [from the TV series M.A.S.H.] style when I was a company commander. The soldier tried to outlast me initially, then he decided to make the best of his time in the Army and became a good soldier. I saved him from a general discharge which he wanted, but which would have hurt him throughout his life.
  4. Prospective volunteers should be given an accurate picture of what enlisting truly means in terms of risks and benefits. Relatively few sane men or women would continue with their plans to enlist if they could meet amputees, military burn victims, observe the processing of KIAs, learn about the true incidence of friendly fire, experience a real fire fight, and so forth.

I wish prospective recruits could meet the flag-draped coffins coming home to Dover, Air Force Base in Delaware. More to the point, I would wish they could see what’s inside the coffins. Flag-draped coffins are moving, stirring, inspiring abstractions. What’s inside them, however, is concrete and would give new meaning to some of the military’s favorite recruiting slogans like “Be all you can be” or “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure” or the current Navy slogan, “Accelerate your life.”

Probably, privacy issues would prevent that from happening, although I suspect some grieving parents would welcome the opportunity to warn others away from the fate that had befallen them. I note that concealing the reality of death is a constant theme of those who politically advocate activities that cause death. Those who oppose the death penalty want executions shown on TV live. Those in favor of the death penalty oppose showing what such deaths actually look like. Anti-abortion activists want to show video of a fetus being vacuumed out of a pregnant woman and disposed of after it stops writhing. Those in favor of abortion oppose anyone seeing the video. No doubt the hawks would oppose prospective military recruits seeing dead military soldiers, sailors, or Marines while anti-war activists would support it. It is a cover-up in each case—an attempt to benefit from the out-of-sight-out-of-mind logic weakness of humans.

There is also actual footage of military personnel dying in combat or as a result of wounds on the operating table. Prospective volunteers should have to watch such videos to make sure they know exactly what they are risking when they enlist.

On Wall Street, it’s called a suitability issue. There, it is considered unethical to sell sophisticated financial instruments, like options, to unsophisticated customers, quintessentially described as “widows and orphans.” Yet our government, the same one that would prosecute violations of the Wall Street suitability rules, sells life-and-death military enlistments to the most unsophisticated 17-year old boys and girls—sending thousands of them to their deaths or to maiming.


In my case, if I had it to do over, I would not have voluntarily entered the Army because of its profoundly inept, evil, spirit-killing bureaucracy. My image of the Army before I joined it was formed by war movies and TV shows and recruiting brochures. The actual Army felt like those things about 10% of the time. The other 90% was hurry up and wait, fending off demands that I kiss the colonel’s butt, trying to get the Army supply system to deliver needed parts during my lifetime, etc., etc. The military ought to have to make some full-disclosure about its bureaucracy to prospective volunteers as well.

I felt defrauded when I got into the Army after West Point. As a company commander, dozens and dozens of my soldiers came into my office to complain that they, too, had been defrauded, e.g., promised computer training, but given none or only a token one hour in a 13-week course apparently for no reason other than to enable the recruiting sergeants to use the phrase “computer training” when talking to potential recruits and their parents. I have seen other recruiting scandals in the media from time to time. The fact that the military has long needed to defraud young people into joining means the draft is needed if only to enable our government to conduct its military staffing business with a minimum of integrity.

The various disclosures I am advocating ought to be sufficient that no member of the military reasonably feels he was tricked or misled into signing up—either by the military itself or by misleading Hollywood or media depictions that the military made no effort to correct. That would require a heck of a lot more disclosure of risks and the negative aspects of military life than have ever been made in the past. One way to accomplish that would be to let those volunteers who can prove they were defrauded into enlisting get out of the military immediately.

Improved reenlistment rates

Pro-military politicians and pundits have loudly touted recent news reports of improved enlistment rates among soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am not sure what to make of that. Soldiers bond with their buddies and feel bad about leaving them when they are in combat. That loyalty to buddies may be the reason for the reenlistment rates.

I wrote the previous paragraph in 2007. On 3/19/08, retired Army general Bob Scales admitted he had been wrong when he said a year before that the, “Army was broken.” He said that he overlooked what he called the “Band of Brothers effect,” that is, the propensity of soldiers to want to stay with their buddies when they are in combat.

I didn’t miss it, and I was just a lowly first lieutenant and that was 39 years ago.

Also, an increased re-up rate is not the same as everyone re-upping. But I acknowledge that my concerns about them not knowing what they are getting into absolutely do not apply to reenlistment.

My West Point class and others of the same era and since have a rate of getting out of the Army that is so great studies have been done to figure out what “the problem” is. See my article Should you go to, or stay at, West Point? for detailed numbers of West Pointers getting out of the Army prior to retirement. My impression is that one of the reasons my classmates and other West Pointer get out is the relatively low quality of their subordinates. In the civilian world, they have more control over who their subordinates are and can pay more and offer better working conditions to attract and retain better people.

5. Prospective volunteers should be screened for psychological and emotional fitness. This harkens back to Joseph Heller’s book Catch 22 which was made into a movie. Here is the paragraph from the book that explains the fictional Catch 22 in World War II Army Regulations.

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

Allowing someone to volunteer for the military should be guided by a sort of reverse Catch 22. That is, if you are volunteering for a job that essentially involves killing and maiming foreigners and risking their doing the same to you, there is a good chance you are a bit off or at least immature. Only after we make sure you are sufficiently sane and emotionally mature will we let you into the U.S. military. I am serious about this.

Disingenuous recruiting

Look at the recruiting commercials on TV and you will see nonsense like slaying fire-breathing dragons with a ceremonial parade saber. At best, the recruiting pitch appeals to inappropriate emotions—like the Navy’s “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.”

Former NFL football player and Army Ranger Pat Tillman did not have an adventure. His fellow “elite” Rangers put three M-16 bullets into his forehead. If you follow his example by enlisting, you may find yourself experiencing a similar “adventure.” The military is extremely dangerous, dirty work and it should not be accepting any applicants who do not know that—really know it.

FBI and police versus military screening

FBI agents are intensively screened for sanity and emotional stability. Prospective police officers are, too, or at least I hope they are. After such screening, the FBI agent or police officer is typically given a 9 mm pistol. Yet we do little or no screening before we had machine guns, grenade launchers, and tanks to moral waiver military recruits who are convicted criminals. Am I the only one who thinks this is nuts?

I have seen some reports that when they had trouble hiring, police had to lower their standards. Since military people have far more firepower than FBI or police, an argument can be made that the mental standards should be even higher, not lower. But at present, they surely are lower.

A board of experts should make sure that recruiting pitches are balanced and accurate and that they appeal to mature, responsible impulses, and do not take advantage of immature young people with self-esteem problems and romantic notions of military service. The current TV commercials aren’t too bad, but a visitor from Mars watching them would think the military is merely a school where people are trained in maturity, nursing, aviation or given a college scholarship. Occasionally, they make a vague reference to “doing something important” or some such. That’s all fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough to constitute full disclosure and to attract the right sort of young people.

Volunteer Army and Marines has far more immature people

This is impressionistic and hard to pin down with data, but it appears to me that one of the effects of an all-volunteer military, as opposed to a drafted one like I served in, is that the percentage of immature members is far higher. One manifestation of this is the propensity of late for military people to characterize themselves as “selfless servant warriors” and to use the word soldier self-consciously as in referring to oneself as a “soldier.” For example, one officer’s wife told me her husband said as long as he was a “soldier,” he would be happy. See my article about the “selfless servant warrior” self-description.

This also manifests itself in the constant wearing of costumes (uniforms) when there is no need. FBI agents and police detectives, for example, only wear uniforms for large-scale military-type operations to avoid being shot by a fellow officer. FBI wear navy blue windbreakers with the letters FBI in bright yellow for such operations. Police detectives wear a similar jacket. Professional football players wear uniforms for practice and games but coaches do not wear uniforms and players need not wear them for other activities like film study or weight training. Doctors and nurses rarely wear uniforms any more.

Military people also wear all sorts of merit badges. Few other professions do that. For example, college professors who have won the Nobel Prize leave the prize medal itself at home when they go to work. You can see a doctor’s accomplishments in framed documents on the wall of his office, but not on the blazer he wears when he goes to lunch.

Military people pursue all sort of overhyped mystique. For example, airborne and ranger school in the Army. I graduated from both of those schools and I served in the 82nd Airborne Division before I went to Vietnam. Airborne (paratrooper) is easy. Anyone can jump out of a plane. My oldest son and his wife did it one day on a lark. Furthermore, they jumped from 14,000 feet. Army jumps are usually at 1,200 feet. My daughter-in-law’s eyes would screwed up for a while—extremely bloodshot—afterward because of the low air pressure at 14,000 feet. Former President George H.W. Bush famously make a parachute jump every five years including in 2009 on his 85th birthday. Couples have had sex or gotten married while sky diving.

But the military and its airborne members would have you believe that wearing the airborne wings indicates you are a far better person than non-airborne. They wear different combat boots (Corcoran’s) than non-airborne—paying extra for them out of their own pocket. They are more likely to parade around in civilian areas like airports with all sorts of doodads designed to make them look like combat heroes.

Haile Selassie

Several of my West Point classmates and I traveled by civilian airliner once. Later in the year, we were all going to the same fort (Bragg) to either the 82nd Airborne Division or the XVIII Airborne Corps. However, at that time, we were just Signal School students stationed at Fort Gordon, GA or Fort Monmouth, NJ. All but one of us wore a plain Army uniform (in order to get half fare back then). We accused the other guy, who was singularly immature, of dressing like he was going to participate in a Haile Selassie look-a-like contest. Haile Selassie was then the Emperor of Ethiopa and was famous for wearing a military uniform with a zillion medals.

Since we were still going to Army schools, the only uniform we were supposed to be wearing was the plain uniform with a Signal Corps School patch on the left shoulder. I and the others did just that. Our “emperor” classmate was wearing the 82nd Airborne Division Patch—a unit to which he had never been assigned and to which he might never be assigned in the future. He might have ended up in XVIII Airborne Corps or at an entirely different non-airborne unit after we completed the school. He also was wearing ribbons representing unit citations won by that unit in World War II or Korea. Which unit? Those are typically won by battalions or brigades or regiments. Even if he was indeed eventually assigned to the 82nd, he could not possibly know in advance which battalion or brigade he would be assigned to within the Division. So how did he pick which unit citation to wear? Apparently he picked the best-looking ribbons on the theory that he might end up in that unit.

He also wore some sort of fancy braided coil around one shoulder. It was light blue, the color of the infantry branch. We were in the Signal Corps (communications) branch. I do not even remember what it signified. Maybe that you were a general’s aide, which he never was. I was never authorized to wear one and never did. He also had colored felt loops with regimental crest badges on them around his epaulets. Again, he just picked the jazziest-looking ones because he could not possibly know what regiment he would be assigned to at that point.

He was also wearing his Corcoran jump boots with his trousers bloused. Normally, Army personnel back then were not allowed to wear combat boots in airports and such. We had to wear dress shoes. Only airborne units were permitted to wear combat boots with their Class A (military suit and tie) uniform and blouse their trousers. (You put a sort of rubber band around the top of your boots and stuff the bottom of your trousers up under the rubber band.)

Anyway, our classmate was apparently trying to impress the civilians on the plane. We gave him a ton of crap about it. It was a bit unusual for a West Point graduate to behave that way, but the closer you got to private rank, the more prevalent that sort of behavior was. Also, the career guys were more inclined to behave that way.

Ranger school is extremely hard and dangerous, but the actual training, other than starving and not getting enough sleep, was nothing very special. Rangers are more motivated than other army personnel. But they are not more skilled than, say, an Army doctor or an Army tank mechanic. Ranger School in only about two months long. Yet the rangers also parade around in special colored berets and other doodads.

Draftees are more mature and well-adjusted as a group

America does not want a military composed of the most immature persons in our society. Immature people, by definition, make poor leaders. They are in the military for the wrong reasons, namely to acquire cheap mystique among segments of society who are ignorant of the details of military accomplishments, namely civilians. When we drafted people, we got a cross section not only in terms of intelligence and athletic ability, but also in terms of maturity, self-confidence, self-esteem.

The prevalence of immature people also drives away from the military those who do not suffer from those deficiencies. When I was at West Point, I noticed that the members of the sky-diving club seemed to be the immature, self-conscious, unconfident, social misfits except for one guy. At Fort Bragg, a West Point roommate and I decided to try the Fort Bragg sky-diving club. After two jumps, I quit, telling my roommate, “These guys are weird. I think they need sky-diving to compensate for lack of self-esteem or something. Too creepy for me.” He stayed in the club for another week or two then came home and told me. “You know, you’re right about the sky-diving guys. I couldn’t stand them any more. I quit, too.” The career airborne guys and many of the new enlisted and officers in the 82nd were the same. I got a sense that joining the airborne was their way to try to compensate for the fact that they couldn’t get a date to the prom or something. To a lesser extent, the volunteer portion of the Army was that way.

Many of the people who enlist in the military or enter as second lieutenants are decent, competent, self-confident guys with good other career options. My impression is that most of them are turned off by the immaturity and other deficiencies of their fellow military and get out ASAP at least partly for that reason. Immaturity is the dominant type in the volunteer military. That causes the mature new guys to not stay for long. The all-volunteer Army attracts mostly the weak and some of the strong—and keeps the weak. A draft military gets all kinds and has a shot at keeping some of the strong if they create the right atmosphere and level of competence.

Since the military is an extremely important institution, and potentially saves our country from being taken over by an enemy in a competitive event called a war, we cannot afford to have the Army dominated by immature people who are there to compensate in a phony, cheap way for their psychological and social weaknesses.

The opiate of the military masses

I suspect the “selfless servant warrior” line is a mantra taught to troops and their families to persuade them that putting up with all the bureaucratic and other hardships of the current military is a good thing. “You’re not stupid to put up with all this shit. You’re virtuous, more virtuous than the people who aren’t dumb enough…I mean virtuous enough to be here like you are.”

It’s probably also a recruiting tool as in, “We know you can’t find another job and you’ve been in trouble with the police and you didn’t make much effort in high school. But if you enlist, you can call yourself a ‘selfless servant’ and a ‘warrior’ and people will buy you drinks and call you a ‘hero’ and say, ‘Thank you for your service’.”

Prospective recruit: What do I have to do to get all that?

Army: Nothing. Just sign up. It’s automatic.

Prospective recruit: I can call myself a ‘warrior’ even if I’ve never been in combat?

Army: Yep. You get to tell people you’re a ‘warrior’ starting on day one.

Prospective recruit: Does selfless servant mean I don’t get paid?

Army: Hell no! Selfless service pays $15,480.00 for a Private and goes up to $144,932.40 for a General, plus you get free medical for yourself and your dependents, 30 days paid vacation every year from day one, cost-of living raises every year, pay raises every two years, either free housing and some meals or extra pay for housing and meals, extra pay for some jobs or for being in a combat zone, and retirement with half pay and full medical after twenty years.

Prospective recruit: Why do they call it selfless?

Army: You ask too many questions, kid.

Prospective recruit: Do I have to shoot anybody to be called a hero?

Army: Nah. All the politicians and media people will start calling you a hero the day you get off the bus at basic training.

Andy Rooney comments

On 3/11/07, 60 Minutes Andy Rooney, a World War II draftee, said words he never thought he would say, namely, that America’s wars should be fought by draftees. Why? For some of the reasons listed above, including the moral waivers issue. It almost sounded like his remarks were inspired by this article, although I have no evidence of that other than the similarity.

West Point Society Dinner

At a West Point Society of the San Francisco Bay Area dinner (Founder’s Day) last night (3/10/07) I mentioned some of my above thoughts on the draft to a wife of a classmate. She said that was exactly what her husband had recently been saying. When I compared thoughts on the subject with him, he agreed with every one that I was able to remember. I did not have this article in front of me at the time.

At the 2009 West Point Founders Day dinner, I had the same conversation with another classmate. He had an interesting twist. He said a draft would enable us to set significantly higher standards. After a few years of that, serving in the military would be a badge of status.

It reminded me of the Teach for America organization that hires top students when the graduate from college and sends them to teach in the inner city. My Ivy League son’s best man did it in New York. It sounded like an awful experience. The daughter of one of my West Point classmates was offered such a position. She accepted an offer from Google instead. The Wall Street Journal or some such told of an Ivy League grad who accepted the inner city thing. He was white the students and parents were black. He pissed them off. They falsely accused him of assaulting little kids. He went through a criminal trial. When the kids could not keep their false stories straight, he was acquitted. But his life was almost ruined. In other words, it’s a lousy job like being in Iraq or Afghanistan. Yet by spinning it as only for top students, they get those top students and those students are proud to have been chosen and probably getting some points with subsequent employers because of the status of having been chosen for it. A top-down draft, that brought in many of the top 80,000 students per year should have the same effect on subsequent job prospects. By the way, anyone who volunteers either for Teach for America or Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) needs their head examined. All three take unconscionable advantage of the naiveté of the young.

At present, military service as a private is considered to be a shit job that you only take if you’re immature and want to be John Rambo or if you are so dumb and lazy that you are no other job prospects. Combining a draft with top-down standards would change both the underlying facts and the image of military service. It would also clean up the military’s act because smart soldiers would not put up with the crap and incompetence that dumb soldiers do. Indeed, I’ll bet the career military NCOs would be terrified upon hearing that the best students in America were going to be drafted instead of letting the worst enlist.

I am surprised and glad to hear that I am not the only one having these thoughts. But we have a long way to go.

Is the Army ‘broken?’

Some journalist dreamed up the catch word “broken” to describe the present or near future Army. Spare us. The word “broken” means either no longer functional or something being in multiple pieces that was supposed to remain in one piece.

This is almost certainly an inappropriate word to describe the Army. There can be no doubt that the Army needs more and better personnel and materiel. There is no doubt that the Army has been deteriorating in many respects during the Iraq war.

On the other hand, that does not necessarily mean that there is a tipping point where a certain amount of deterioration suddenly makes the Army non-functional unit or that, if there is such a tipping point, that we are near it now.

Once upon a time, the U.S. Army was encamped at Valley Forge, PA. The soldiers had no shoes. They had not been paid on time. Etc. Etc. They later attacked the German mercenaries in the employ of the British at Trenton on Christmas eve and won a great battle that was part of the overall victory in the Revolutionary War.

On December 8, 1941, the U.S. Navy had lost a great many of its battleships and other craft in the Pearl Harbor attack. There were not enough men in the military. Many were training with fake guns and trucks carrying signs saying “tank” were being used in maneuvers. Our torpedoes did not work. Within three and three-quarters years of that sad state of affairs, we won World War II.

Clearly, the present trend is generally adverse as far as the readiness of the Army is concerned. But equally clearly, these suggestions that the Army is “broken,” coming from retired military like General Colin Powell as well as from journalists, are bull.

Lack of a draft lets young men veto a war

The Constitution says that that Congress has the power to declare war. Since 1950, the President seems to have taken that power to himself instead. But if we have an all-volunteer military, neither the Congress nor the President has the power to declare war unless the prospective volunteers volunteer. Increasingly, they are not volunteering. Unless they do, the elected leaders cannot wage war.

That is unacceptable. The fact that young men bear the casualties in war should give them a say, but ultimately the responsibility for war and the power to declare it must reside with the elected leadership. The nation cannot give teenagers and young twenties veto power over declarations of war. As long as we have an all-volunteer force, that is exactly what we have done.

Newsweek 9/10/07 article ‘Why we need a draft’
Marine Corporal Mark Finelli wrote an opinion piece titled “Why we need a draft” in the 9/10/07 Newsweek. Finelli was in the World Trade Center when it was attacked on 9/11. He also did a tour in Iraq as a Marine.

His main point was that he saw civilian contractors in Iraq driving a vehicle known as an MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected). I recently saw a story about that vehicle on TV. An IED went off very close to one. The vehicle was not damaged and the occupants of the vehicle were not hurt.

Finelli noted that the marines have very few of such vehicles and did not start getting them until 18 months after they first requested them. Why not? Finelli says he was told money. But that’s obviously not true. Which has more money, the U.S. military, or a private contractor? The U.S. military budget allocated to procurement of equipment is $84 billion for 2007. Civilian contractors probably only have tens of millions of dollars for such things.

The reason the civilians have them is they use common sense and either delegate authority for such purchases to a low level or the upper levels are responsive to lower level requests. The military, in contrast, is a near hopeless, Kafkaesque bureaucracy. And men are dying because of it.

Finelli feels that if we had a draft that was fair, big shots’ sons and daughters would be in the military and the big shots would be more responsive to the need for MRAPs and other things as a result.

I suspect he’s right, but there are a whole lot more reasons than that for having a draft. Finelli quotes the new military war czar, Lt. General Douglas Lute as recently saying considering a draft “makes sense.”

Ya think?

Here is an email I received from a former NCO about the need for a draft.

Here’s one from a citizen of Singapore, where everyone gets drafted:

Hi Jack,

Just a quick quote about draft-dodgers in Singapore. Remember the 100% conscription? Draft-dodgers lose their citizenship and are never allowed to return unless they either serve their term or spend the equivalent amount of time in jail (so long as they are under 40). Conscientious and religious objectors exist and are allowed to not join the army. So long as they spend their time in jail.

I don't know a single Singaporean man who's been through the army who doesn't feel a sense of contempt for someone who ran away from the draft.

Another email [my comments in red]:

I read your essay in favor of the military draft. One historical correction. You wrote that the North had military conscription and won the war. You're half right. Actually the Confederacy, or the South, enacted conscription in 1862, one year before the North, and draftees made up a much higher percentage of the Confederate Army than the Union Army.

The most glaring problem with the "peacetime" draft in the US, 1954-1964, inclusive, was only a minority were called to serve. [Not a problem—the amount called is the amount needed. Alternatives like having fewer or more than needed are by definition bad ideas.] I believe the last figures before the Vietnam War build up, was 120,000 were drafted, 380,000 enlisted, and 140,000 enlisted in the drill status Reserves/National Guard and also the Coast Guard. This 640,000 represents only 38% of males turning 18 every year. It was estimated that had the Vietnam War not intervened, that less than 34% of all males would have seen any military service. I think that the likely number would have been around 30%.

You mentioned that most of the disciplinary problems in the Army were among volunteers. [I believe I said that a large percentage of the volunteers seemed to be the biggest loser from every high school class in America. Discipline was only one of the list of volunteer deficiencies.] True. Especially enlisted volunteers in Germany. I voluntarily enlisted in the Army in 1966, and was in Germany before going to Vietnam, a transfer I volunteered for in 1968. I was honorably discharged in 1969.

Here's the problem with those of you who advocate for the draft. None of you admitted, yes there are problems, but rather than end the draft let's reform it. [You have this upside down. I do not advocate ending the draft. I advocate making it the exclusive way to be in the U.S. military. You seem to be talking about reforming the non-draft or volunteer military.] Every advocate of the draft says everything was just fine. [I have written a zillion articles on the military. No one who read them would accuse me of saying everything in the U.S. military is just fine or ever was. The U.S. military is and always has been SNAFU.] By refusing to compromise, those who favored the draft bear some of the responsibility for it's demise. Now you may ask, what sort of changes? Fair enough.

The figures I have, prior to Vietnam show about 120,000 volunteers in the Army and a equal number of draftees every year. To increase participation, and avoid disciplinary problems, why not have limited voluntary enlistees in the army to 60,000 per year and [That would arguably improve the quality of volunteers, but quality was not my only objection to them. The purpose of the military is to kill people. Harkening back to the book Catch 22, an easy argument can be made that people who volunteer to kill people either know not what they are doing or are mentally defective. I think it’s usually the former but neither is acceptable.] increase the number of draftees to around 300,000. So instead of 240,000 inductions in the Army every year there would have been 360,000.The discrepancy is because a higher percentage of a draftees time is spent in training and also because of the 10% reenlistment rate compared to 27% for volunteers. Reducing the percentage of voluntary enlistees make sense because most career officers and NCO's at least in combat arms units had a very negative view of volunteers. [NCOs and officers, are themselves, by definition, volunteers. If they were not, they would have been out of the military after two years. I oppose volunteers or reenlistments totally. The generals should be two-year draftees with rank and positions assigned by resume when drafted and testing. In my concept, people would be drafted from age 18 to about age 55.]

The Army had a 2 year enlistment, unassigned. Why not have allowed a 2 year enlistment for combat arms volunteers, since most enlisted soldiers in Infantry, Artillery and Armor were draftees, serving a 2 year enlistment? The 3 and later 4 year enlistment for Europe should have been eliminated. All 3 year enlistment should have been reserved for Army Security Agency, and jobs that required in excess of 10 weeks training beyond basic, and the more "popular" assignments. [I do not understand what this is all about. In my all draftee system all these jobs and assignments would be filled by draftees. I would not have troops in Germany.]

The other services could have allowed for more 3 year enlistments, instead of the standard 4 year enlistments for the Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force. Because of a larger percentage of trainees and students, to keep the same amount of tactical units would have me[an]t a larger military. This problem would have been addressed because all planning for a post Vietnam military with a draft called for reducing the pre Vietnam military to 2.45 million, the figure before the build up initiated by the Berlin crisis of 1961. [I do not know about these facts and do not see their relevance.]

Another big problem was pay. Yes, with the draft, pay and benefits would have been no where near what they are with a volunteer system. This does not excuse, a pay freeze for those under 2 years service from 1953 until 1965. The starting pay of $104 per month in 1968 in current dollars would be $641, compared to the current $1339. What would have been a fair starting rate? Since room and board are included, how about 1/2 of the $1.60 per hour minimum wage of 1968, for a figure of $139. This would have been achieved by a $35 per month across the board pay raise for all ranks. In current dollars this would be $854 per month for E1 less than 4 months. [Draftees are cheaper. I have no idea what exactly the pay should be. The government should adopt a criterion and follow it. Peace Corps members have never been paid much. It is “service,” not a job.]

To be universal 100% participation would not be required. The Citizens Militia system of the Swiss and the Swedes inducted 60%, but it was 60% across the board regardless of income or wealth status. I would consider 50% to be acceptable. If 50% not possible, and the US kept the "selective" rather than universal system, this could have been justified by a peacetime VA educational bill, which in effect did happen. [We need enough, not universal. Universal is very expensive. Soldiers have to be trained.]

Even with these reforms, with the reduction of the US military to 1.44 million, using the system in effect in 1964 would have only required around 273,000 per year. With the reforms I advocated around 345,000 and maybe 90,000 for reserves for a total of 435,000 out of 2.1 million eligible, slightly over 20%. Once you get a military less than around 2/3 of 1 percent of total population a draft no longer makes sense. [Bull! We need a draft to make military service fair and to have a cross-section of American society instead of people who are attracted to killing people. Also, draftees would make the military more efficient and more common sense, especially at the NCO and officer ranks. I do not want any volunteers, period and I see no relevance to all these gyrations. There seems to be some underlying notion that volunteers are good. No they are not except for certain jobs where clinical phobias are pertinent.]

There's all sorts of other formulas, for example reducing the draft to 18 months, in which case it would probably be necessary to reduce the organized reserves commitment to 5 years. Once again, I have yet to see one proposal from those who advocated keeping the draft coming up one a single proposal to make the system more fair. Any reform, as far as I'm concerned would have to call for a drastic reduction in 3 year enlistments in the army, and elimination of 4 year enlistments, accept for maybe those who successfully complete helicopter flight training. [Skills that do not exist in civilian life, like combat pilots, would have to be allowed to stay longer because of the time it takes to, cost of, training them. Leadership, however, is not such a skill. The civilian world has far better leaders than the military. The military needs those superior leaders and a draft is the only way to get them.]

The other issue besides pay was the abysmal treatment and conditions for lower ranking enlisted personal. If the Air Force was able to implement civilian KP why couldn't the other services? As an argument for a short commitment, the only advantage I saw over a draftee, and a member of the guard or reserves is that the draftee had more experience with consolidated mess hall KP and folding underwear 6X6. [Irrelevant to draft issue. People should be treated responsibly.]

The Draft allowed the services to overlook pay, and conditions of the lower ranking enlisted, because it they didn't like it, fine, they could leave and someone else would be drafted in their place. [In my draft, all ranks would be draftees. I oppose this sort of treatment and the all-draft military would probably also oppose it and stop it.]

Yes, feel free to quote me. Some of the figures I quoted are from memory back in the late 60's and early 70's.If you or anyone else who has done more research in the actual numbers dispute my figures, I'm probably going to concede, on the question of exact numbers. I want to try to find the report which was published in book form which gave all the figures. I think it was the Gates Report. I'm going to check used bookstores online.

What got me interested in this question as a result of my own service, was the mix of draftees and volunteers. There's several systems, (1) voluntary, (2) conscript, (3) cadre-conscript, and my favorite, (4) citizens militia. I researched every system I could find. The one constant was the countries with at least 50% of eligible males participating was the most popular, or at least the most accepted. [I am not interested in what is the most popular. That is politician stuff. The most popular is probably not the one most likely to win our wars. If I were on active duty and taking out a special, difficult mission, I would damn well not want anything to do with people who volunteered for the mission. Rather, I would want the best men available. I would send the volunteers to the base psychiatrist.]

One interesting system was the Belgians. Voluntary enlistees were classified as technicians. This had a broad meaning. Translated into US terms it would mean a volunteer in combat arms being promoted to Spec 4 right out of AIT. Keep in mind prior to Vietnam the average time in service for E4 was 20 months. The Swedes had the most interesting system. They required more active duty than the Swiss. For an EM-10 months, NCO-15 mos, and officer 18 mos, then a long ass time in the reserves. Because of US overseas commitments, with say maybe 18 mos minimum service this could have been applied to the US system.

Did you ever read the book by Stern in support of the citizen army concept. It was published in 1957. I found it at a used online bookstore. [Never heard of it]

Thanks for hearing me out-Ken M

Best regards,

Ken Morgan, Portland, OR
US Army 1966-1969 and Vietnam 1968-1969.

Here’s another email about a Confederate draft:

The part about the Confederacy never instituting one is incorrect. There were several Conscription Acts passed by the Confederate Congress, the first in 1862. I cannot at the moment remember when the others were passed; most probably in '63 and '64. All were meant to broaden the age range of those males liable for military service (in the Confederacy), most likely because the early war years call for Volunteers did not supply enough manpower. How effectively those conscriptions were enforced is another story. I do remember reading that the Confederate enlisted men were usually disgruntled about those not answering the conscription notices and not sharing the burden of service. Officers seemed to think otherwise; namely they did not want the trouble of dealing with those they thought would be malcontents (for being drafted).

I am sure the minutes of the Confederate Congress (if found and researched) would show these conscription acts.
Also, the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (the CSA part) might contain the exact dates of the Confederate Conscription Acts.


I am generally a libertarian but their opposition to the draft is illogical, wrong, and immoral

Now let me point out one of by disagreements with the Libertarian Party. I favor a military draft. Indeed, I say every single person in the military should be a draftee, including the generals. The only exceptions I would allow would be for positions that require a long-training period like fighter pilot or jobs that trigger phobias like submariners cannot have claustrophobia nor paratroopers acrophobia. A number of hard-core, anti-draft people who read my article on why I favor a draft later told me something like, "Wow! I had no idea there were so many good arguments in favor of a draft."

Most people who favor a draft, regard it as a supplement to voluntary enlistments. That is the way the military was when I was an Army officer from 1968 to 1972. I am okay with that, too, and certainly regard it as a vast improvement over an all-volunteer Army.

The whole Libertarian Party platform is at

Now here is the Libertarian Party Platform paragraph on national defense:

3.1 National Defense
We support the maintenance of a sufficient military to defend the United States against aggression.
The United States should both avoid entangling alliances and abandon its attempts to act as
policeman for the world. We oppose any form of compulsory national service.

I agree with the first sentence.

The second sentence is vague regarding alliances. The word "entangling" is a dysphemism (opposite of a euphemism). That word is spin. There should be no spin in a party's fundamental statement of principles. It has no objective definition unless it is redundant with alliance in which case it is superfluous and therefore adds no information to the sentence. The top of the Libertarian Party page is labeled “The Party of Principle.” I know “entangling alliances” comes from Washington's farewell address. I don't care. It was spin when he said it, too.

Decisions on alliances must be made on a case-by-case basis taking into account the situation and the prospective allies. I cannot imagine that anyone would think we would have been better off not being in the alliance we were in during World War II. But the Libertarian Party platform would have us reject that and all other military alliances. That is stupid on its face.

Policeman of the world

The admonition to abandon efforts to be policeman of the world is similarly mindless and political spin. It happens that I wrote an article about that. I pointed out that the alternatives to our being policeman of the world are either living in a world with no policeman—a course no sane libertarian would pursue when choosing a residential neighborhood to live in—or living in a world where some other country is the policeman. And who might that be?

The correct course is again to decide on a case-by-case basis when and where to intervene. The correct principle is embodied in the two questions: What should we do? and What can we do? We can do a lot. We cannot do everything. Our allies should be forced to do more to help us police the world.

I agree that we have intervened to often and for too long again and again, including Iraq and Afghanistan. In some cases, like Vietnam, the problem was not intervening. It was being too wimpy about pursuing victory. Had we invaded North Vietnam, we would have won quickly. We did not because USSR and China threatened World War III. After the Cold War, they both admitted they had been bluffing. 58,000 Americans died, and South Vietnam became Communist, because we fell for a bluff!?

Afraid so.

Opposition to the draft is simply wrong

The last sentence of the Libertarian Party Platform on National Defense is simply wrong. That is not my opinion. It is a fact.

The last sentence contradicts the first sentence. A "sufficient" military means among other things a "sufficient" number of military personnel. Does an all-volunteer military provide a sufficient number of military personnel?

Absolutely not.

Note "The Good War," World War II. At that time, the U.S. had a total population of 132 million. It's 310 million now. No war in U.S. history had as much popular support as World War II. That's why Studs Terkel called his 1984 book about that war The Good War.

So we must not have needed a draft then, right?

You gotta be kidding me! We had 12 million men in uniform, 10 million were draftees. The two branches of service with infantry—Army and Marines—both had to draft then. In other words, in that war, the Marines needed more than “a few good men” and they had to use the draft to get them.

Furthermore, in all wars when we have a draft, many of the enlistees would not have enlisted if there were no draft. Typically, the military lets you get more choice over your military job if you enlist rather than wait to be drafted.

Today, Americans are far less patriotic and willing to sacrifice than they were in the early 1940s. However much we needed a draft in 1942, we probably need it about ten or twenty times more today. We have become a nation of draft dodgers. The Libertarian Party is one of the enablers of that shameful shirking of our common duty to defend the nation.

Whether to have a draft is not our decision

Americans in general, and Libertarians in particular, are absolutely certain that the American voters and their elected representatives will decide whether we have a draft. Actually, that manifests a profound inability to grasp the whole idea of national defense.

It takes two to tango. It takes 195 (number of countries in the world) to have a peace; only one to have a war. The one who decides to have a war to which the United States is a party can be America, or one of the other 194 countries who decide to declare war on us. Either way, we are at war.

Whether America is a democracy is irrelevant to the decision as to whether it will have a draft or not. Decisions about war, including whether to have one and whether to use a draft to staff one, need not be made by American voters. They can also be made by America’s enemies. American voters did not decide to declare war on Japan, Germany, and Italy in 1941. The decision to go to war in 1941 was made by those enemy countries. Each of them declared war on us and we, in turn declared war on them, but it is hard to imagine what other decision we could have made at that point.

The draft decision is also made by our enemies, not by our voters.


My fellow West Point graduate George Custer led U.S. army soldiers in a famous battle called Custer’s Last Stand. He and all his men in his group were killed in the battle. Why? Primarily because they were outnumbered. Custer’s group had 268 men who were killed; the Indians had 900 to 1,800 men.

The first sentence of the Libertarian Party National Defense policy says to have a “sufficient military.” Custer did not and he and his men were killed and defeated as a result. The draft was not the issue that day, but obviously lack of a draft limits the size of our military force and will prevent it from being sufficient against larger military forces.

In World War II, the Germans had something like 20 million men in uniform. We had 12 million, but we were also allied with the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and miscellaneous men who escaped from occupied Europe. Of course, we also were at war with Japan. They had 6 million men in uniform. When you consider that we drafted 10 million and probably many of the remaining 2 million who enlisted would not have done so had there not been a draft, it should be obvious that if we had had an all-volunteer military during World War II, we and our allies would almost certainly have lost the war.

The size of our military is determined not by us and our politicians. It is determined by the capabilities and intentions of our enemies. Similarly, whether we have a draft is determined by the arithmetic of this formula:

sufficient number of military personnel to defeat the particular threat - number who volunteer = number who need to be drafted (if greater than zero)

The Libertarian first sentence on defense is correct. To be consistent, the last sentence needs to be changed to read,

We oppose any form of compulsory national service unless necessary to obtain sufficient numbers of military personnel for the war in question.

Troop quality matters and a draft provides better quality

I am a West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran. I was a platoon leader twice, including in Vietnam, and a company commander. I had both volunteers and draftees. As a group, the draftees then were much higher quality than the volunteers. Indeed, I have said that roughly speaking, the volunteers then were the biggest loser from every high school class in America. War is a competitive event. You do not win with losers.

If the Libertarian Party position on "compulsory military service" had been the policy of the U.S. throughout our history, we would have lost the Civil War, World War I, and World War II.

During the mid-2000s, the Army had tremendous difficulty meeting their annual quota of a paltry (by WW II standards) 80,000 new recruits. In 2006, they had to issue 8,129 moral waivers. That is, waive their policy against recruiting convicted criminals. So implicitly, the Libertarian Party's policy is that the "sufficient" military will be made up, in part, of thousands of convicted criminals. It is a policy that produces Abu Ghraib, convictions of U.S. military personnel for murder and rape, etc.

Furthermore, the implicit fact about the combination of being in favor of a "sufficient" military but not a draft is that the Libertarian Party believes in the sentiment expressed in the phrase "Better red than dead, or even drafted." The combination of those two sentences means the Libertarian Party's position on national defense against aggression is that they want a sufficient military unless that requires a draft, in which case they are in favor of an" insufficient military to defend the United States against aggression."

Which leads us to the obvious bottom line. The Libertarian Party is in favor of freedom, but only it there is no personal price to be paid for it. No party is more ostentatiously and loudly in favor of freedom than the Libertarians, yet they refuse to acknowledge the fact that freedom isn't free.

Freedom isn't free

I was in the cast of Sing Out '66 or Up With People in August 1966. Indeed, I am listed as one of their "notable former members" in their Wikipedia article. We sang and danced to a song called "Freedom isn't Free" during our performances. The Libertarian Party needs to decide whether they really think freedom is free.

The Libertarian Party's first and third sentences in their national defense paragraph are contradictory and, history tells us unambiguously, mutually exclusive.

Slacker party

One of the problems with the Libertarian Party is some of it's platform planks, like support for legalization of recreational drugs, attract slackers, not people who believe in freedom. I happen to agree with that platform plank, and I have never used recreational drugs or even alcohol or tobacco. There are principled reasons to be in favor of legalizing recreational drugs. The anti-draft plank, however, not only attracts slackers, it has no other purpose whatsoever! The last sentence of the Libertarian Party’s National defense position belies the headline on that page: “The Party of Principle.” No libertarian principle is served by opposition to the draft. It is simply a manifestation of polling within the party as to what members want and they responded out of selfishness, not principle.

"A sufficient military to defend the United States against aggression" means sufficient numbers of men on active duty. Obviously, the closest principled statement the Libertarians can assert to get to this position on the draft is to say that they oppose a draft unless sufficient military personnel cannot be recruited without it. Saying they are opposed to a draft, period, is unprincipled.

Whether they adopt my position that only draftees should be allowed to be in the military may be a matter of opinion, but whether the nation needs a draft to have a "sufficient military to defend the United States against aggression" is absolutely not in doubt. The Libertarian Party position on a military draft is disingenuous at best, and a profoundly selfish, slacker aspiration at worst.

If we are ever tested in a way that a nation of draft dodgers cannot survive, the orthodox members of the Libertarian Party will be among the first to be rounded up in a "compulsory" manner and put up against a wall and shot by the troops of the victorious nation that did believe in a draft.

Arthur Conan Doyle quote

From a 7/31/11 email from Dr. Khan:

I think Ron Paul must be feeling as an old Carthaginian politician felt about the people of Carthage when he was warning them about the ever growing threat from Rome. I can quote from a short story written by Arthur Conan Doyle, called "The last galley"

Many a time have I pointed to Rome, and said, 'Behold these people, who bear arms themselves, each man for his own duty and pride. How can you who hide behind mercenaries hope to stand against them?'--a hundred times I have said it.

And had they no answer? asked the Rover.

Rome was far off and they could not see it, so to them it was nothing, the old man answered. Some thought of trade, and some of votes, and some of profits from the State, but none would see that the State itself, the mother of all things, was sinking to her end. So might the bees debate who should have wax or honey when the torch was blazing which would bring to ashes the hive and all therein. 'Are we not rulers of the sea?' 'Was not Hannibal a great man?' Such were their cries, living ever in the past and blind to the future. Before that sun sets there will be tearing of hair and rending of garments; what will that now avail us?

For in that year a great cloud hung for seventeen days over the African coast, a deep black cloud which was the dark shroud of the burning city. And when the seventeen days were over, Roman ploughs were driven from end to end of the charred ashes, and salt was scattered there as a sign that Carthage should be no more. And far off a huddle of naked, starving folk stood upon the distant mountains, and looked down upon the desolate plain which had once been the fairest and richest upon earth. And they understood too late that it is the law of heaven that the world is given to the hardy and to the self-denying, whilst he who would escape the duties of manhood will soon be stripped of the pride, the wealth, and the power, which are the prizes which manhood brings.

Tom Ricks calls for end of volunteer militaryin Washington Post

Joseph Epstein in favor of the draft for another reason

Here is another excellent pro-draft article:

Copyright 2006, 2007 by John T. Reed

John T. Reed military home page

Link to information about John T. Reed’s Succeeding book which, in part, relates lessons learned about succeeding in life from being in the military

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  • I was Drafted myself and wouldn’t have it any other way. Napoleon Bonaparte was right when he said: “Every man is a Defender of his country”. Maybe a Draft will be the way to get rid forever, of the warmongering of the “Warmongers” in D.C.; Who as long as the Military is made-up of SEOSEC’s, are always looking for wars anywhere and everywhere.

    A Draft without the Exemptions of the previous, will make sure some of these D.C. warmonger’s children and themselves be Drafted. That possibility alone could be the “Incentive” they need to stop the warmongering. Religious ministry and CO’s have NO Biblical basis at all. So some of the religious right who in the previous DRAFT obtained “Exemptions” due to being in Seminaries or “Ministry” and now are also part of the warmongering crowd will also disappear, maybe!

    Another good article Mr. Reed.

    Luis Davila on
  • Regarding the post by the person hiding behind the handle Blacktail. The US military is not that smart. They opposed the end of the draft. Now they’ve been spouting the new party line so long, and all those who experienced draftees as NCOs and officers, are out of the military, so they forgot why they opposed the end of the draft in the 1970s. When it comes to the draft, today’s military simply does not know what they are talking about. They never experienced it and have closed minds about it.

    John T. Reed on
  • John,

    Your draft article could be the most important piece you’ve ever written. It should be prominently displayed and easier to access. This new web site makes it hard to find.

    I too am disturbed by Mr. Hardy’s inability to see the irony of acknowledging that a “conscript military would be better” without endorsing the draft. Vince Lombardi’s (or Henry Saunders’) “winning is the only thing” might not apply to sports, but it definitely applies to war.

    Unfortunately, people like Mr. Hardy vote and I suspect there are more of him than the two of us. Therefore, I propose the following solution:

    The US government should create a separate National Guard, based on your draft article, which can only be deployed outside the US if Congress grants the President a declaration of war the way it did in 1917 and 1941. Nobody would be allowed to enlist in this new National Guard, nobody would be drafted into our existing armed forces.

    Although my “New National Guard” plan would not address your concerns about issues like the mercenary nature of our current armed forces, it has a better chance of passing Congress. The lefties and libertarians could accept it because they would be less likely to die in forsaken foreign lands for the military industrial complex. The military establishment could accept it because it would not threaten their two Ps: profits and pensions.


    Larry D’Amico

    Larry D'Amico on
  • The real reason the US military doesn’t want a draft is because it would expose their culture and self-destructive attitudes and culture to a vastly broader cross-section of the US population, who without the draft are left in the dark. Reinstating the draft for that reason alone would be the single most valuable reform to be imposed on the military; the cockroaches always scatter when you turn on the lights.

    And note that I say “imposed upon”, rather than “adopted by”. Innately incompetent organizations don’t reform when they make mistakes, in part because of the Dunning-Kruger effect;

    That’s why in 2003, William S. Lind stated in “Wars Without Countries” that “Optimists think that if the Iraq war goes badly, the result may be real reform, within and beyond the military. As a realist, I reply: look at Italy. It always loses, but it never reforms.”.

    Blacktail on
  • Mr. Harty, You’re crazy. War takes two. You cannot decide not to have a draft if the other side decides they will have a draft. The object is to win, not to refrain from inconveniencing citizens. It is possible that if we do not have a draft and our opponent does that those who refused to serve may find that a draft is the least of the worries with their new rulers. As I said in the article above, we had 13 million men in uniform in World War II—the vast majority of them draftees. Our enemies—Germany, Japan and Italy—had 20 million. We would have lost the war without a draft, and that was the most popular war we’ll ever have. Your absurd position is how far from reality Americans have drifted on the issue, and why I now call the U.S. a nation of draft dodgers.

    john T. Reed on

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