Draft the Bloggers

William Broyles writes in the New York Times that The U.S. should reinstate the draft:

If this war is truly worth fighting, then the burdens of doing so should fall on all Americans. If you support this war, but assume that Pat Tillman and Other People’s Children should fight it, then you are worse than a hypocrite. If it’s not worth your family fighting it, then it’s not worth it, period. The draft is the truest test of public support for the administration’s handling of the war, which is perhaps why the administration is so dead set against bringing it back.

Broyles, who writes from Wyoming, brings more than a theoretical opinion to the discussion:

The longest love affair of my life began with a shotgun marriage. It was the height of the Vietnam War and my student deferment had run out. Desperate not to endanger myself or to interrupt my personal plans, I wanted to avoid military service altogether. I didn’t have the resourcefulness of Bill Clinton, so I couldn’t figure out how to dodge the draft. I tried to escape into the National Guard, where I would be guaranteed not to be sent to war, but I lacked the connections of George W. Bush, so I couldn’t slip ahead of the long waiting list. My attitude was the same as Dick Cheney’s: I was special, I had “other priorities.” Let other people do it.

When my draft notice came in 1968, I was relieved in a way. Although I had deep doubts about the war, I had become troubled about how I had angled to avoid military service. My classmates from high school were in the war; my classmates from college were not — exactly the dynamic that exists today. But instead of reporting for service in the Army, on a whim I joined the Marine Corps, the last place on earth I thought I belonged.

So Broyles tried out the Cheney Defense, whereby a rational person arranges serial draft deferments until after draft age, but Broyles didn’t push it as hard as our chickenhawk-in-chief. Surely it’s a coincidence that Cheney is also from Wyoming. Yet another Wyomingite, John Perry Barlow, has written eloquently of the dangerous perceptions of bomber pilots who, dealing death from above, cannot appreciate its horror. What was simply a metaphor for telecomic opportunism in 1995 is specific now:

“One of the liabilities of conducting a military operation that is so heavily based on “death from above” is that, even with our surgical new targeting abilities, we are dangerously abstracted from the consequences below.

My story was simpler. On graduation from college in the spring of 1965, my interest in flying trumped my interest in grad school, so I just volunteered for Air Force pilot training. It was the only way I saw to avoid the more threatening option of enduring Law School and all that it meant. From a combat standpoint, perhaps I was starting my affection for binary data: pilots usually live or die. Seldom are they simply injured.

Though I developed no love affair with the Air Force, I do treasure the experiences I was forced to undergo and master. Like Broyles, I was never injured significantly, suffered no post-traumatic stress nor even the survivor guilt he dealt with. I certainly never endured the stress of jungle life he did.

Like him, I served with and put my life in the hands of enlisted men who were not college types, for whom I likewise developed a deep respect. It also gave me a bully pulpit from which to ridicule people who want to send other people’s children into harm’s way.

Embracing the Unscheduled Hardship

In a restaurant on September 15, 2001, a quartet of twenty-somethings at the next table were discussing what everyone was. One of the young men seemed to take the terrorism personally: “It’s not fair! This is the part of my life when I’m supposed to enjoy life! What happens next?”

That’s a strong contrast with Joseph Campbell’s observation that the first half of an ideal life should be spent humbly: mastering the received wisdom and disciplines of one’s seniors, while the second half should be spent questioning everything and improving on conventional wisdom. By that standard, “advanced” societies have it exactly reversed. When young we are allowed to do what we naturally do: question everything and resist discipline when we have no judgment to form biases, and when older, equally irresponsibly, we fall into habits of rigid thinking and uncritical conservatism, our dendrites hardening with the arteries.

Broyles is suggesting what I wholeheartedly embrace: A national draft.

The only solution is to bring back the draft. Not since the 19th century has America fought a war that lasted longer than a week with an all-volunteer army; we can’t do it now. It is simply not built for a protracted major conflict. The arguments against the draft — that a voluntary army is of higher quality, that the elites will still find a way to evade service — are bogus. In World War II we used a draft army to fight the Germans and Japanese — two of the most powerful military machines in history — and we won. The problems in the military toward the end of Vietnam were not caused by the draft; they were the result of young Americans being sent to fight and die in a war that had become a disaster.

One of the few good legacies of Vietnam is that after years of abuses we finally learned how to run the draft fairly. A strictly impartial lottery, with no deferments, can ensure that the draft intake matches military needs. Chance, not connections or clever manipulation, would determine who serves.

If this war is truly worth fighting, then the burdens of doing so should fall on all Americans. If you support this war, but assume that Pat Tillman and Other People’s Children should fight it, then you are worse than a hypocrite. If it’s not worth your family fighting it, then it’s not worth it, period. The draft is the truest test of public support for the administration’s handling of the war, which is perhaps why the administration is so dead set against bringing it back.

I like a broader engagement: All citizens should be required to do four years of service that requires them to master a useful discipline and teach it to others. The reasoning is not to provide cannon fodder for Pax Americana, but rather to leaven the military with a broad cross section of American stereotypes.

Obviously, only a lucky few of us would be drafted into the military, but that must not excuse any young person from doing something useful and understanding why. I suggest that young people be required to maintain a public journal describing what good they think should be done in the world, and how they are working on that cause. Applying Dr. Weinberger’s rule, every such blogger would be required to become famous for 15 people, or be found derelict in their duty.

We Few, We Lucky Few

William Broyle’s most telling memory of combat is of being driven so far past his limits that he learned that self-imposed limits are illusory:

To my profound surprise, the Marines did a far greater service to me [than his service to his country]. In three years I learned more about standards, commitment and yes, life, than I did in six years of university. I also learned that I had had no idea of my own limits: when I was exhausted after humping up and down jungle mountains in 100-degree heat with a 75-pound pack, terrified out of my mind, wanting only to quit, convinced I couldn’t take another step, I found that in fact I could keep going for miles. And my life was put in the hands of young men I would otherwise never have met, by and large high-school dropouts, who turned out to be among the finest people I have ever known.

Military aviators are taxed mentally and emotionally more than physically (though 12 hours of takeoffs and landings on steaming, postage stamp strips surrounded by triple-canopy jungle and anti-aircraft fire will soak your flight suit, hopefully with sweat). My personal boot camp had been Colorado Outward Bound School, so I also found that physical limits are merely mental, at least for a 20-year-old.

There’s almost a genetic need among young men (the only gender for which I can generalize) to experience overwhelming physical struggle with death as a palpable option. If our society were wise enough to impose universal usefulness on our youth, the ones undergoing military service would get the most from the experience.

As we used to say in 1968, it’s a shitty war, but it’s the only one we’ve got. With that as a young man’s spontaneous response to warfare, it makes a lot of sense to include the unwilling in this stupid enterprise.

Many Eyes Squash All Bugs

The problem with an all-volunteer military is that you attract only those who want to go to war and those for whom the military is the best job opportunity. The point of a military draft is not to staff the military with unwilling citizens, the point is to staff the country’s leadership with people who have served in the military. While it’s true that war is too important to be left to the Generals, it’s even more true that war is too important to be left to those who, like the current war gamers, admire it as a means to subdue inferior regimes and to refresh the military stockpiles.

Let’s draft the future leaders of the land into the military so their cynicism of the blunt instrument of war can leaven the enthusiasms of the ones who haven’t yet been disillusioned. Then their experienced eyes can debug policy to weed out the coding error called warfare.

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.
                   — Dwight Eisenhower

11:18:08 AM    

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