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Reinstating the Draft? Not a good answer!

On the face of it, reinstating the draft -- an idea put forward by folks as different as Fritz Hollings and Charlie Rangel -- sounds like a good way to raise the specter of suburban kids going off to Iraq, thus building more suburban middle-class opposition to the war (and by extension Bush).

And I am all for building that opposition.

But I did my time in the military and came out convinced that a professional military -- even in a country founded by "citizen-soldiers" -- is the only way to go.


A professional military is a far better fighting force than a conscript military. That has historically always been true, but the advances in technology simply reinforce this. While you can, in a pinch, train a grunt to carry a rifle and operate in a squad in 3 or 4 months, that's about all you can do. You can't use OJT to train him step up to squad command (as you could in Vietnam, simply by throwing him in the jungle for a couple of months), because squad leaders now carry all sorts of technical equipment that require time and training to learn to use effectively.

And that's just at the bottom of the pyramid: the foot soldier. Anyone whose job is more sophisticated -- missile control, tanks, logistics, communication and cryptology, intelligence, electronic warfare, ship navigation, equipment maintenance -- requires many months of training just to function at an entry level.

So if you reinstate a draft to round out the ranks, it's not going to be the 2-year draft you had in Vietnam (or that is proposed by Hollngs); it's going to need to be a four-year draft if the military is to get much use out of its draftees.

Another problem with the draft is morale. While I disagree that the all-volunteer military is made up of poor people with no choices, at least everyone in the military did choose to join. Once in the military, some are of course more motivated than others, but all share the knowledge that they are all there because they chose to be. No one is serving beside someone who is disgruntled because of being drafted, who is just marking time at best, or who is threatening morale at worst.

Draftees, in short, just don't do good work.

And you can see that in the present war, where National Guardsmen -- "weekend warriors" as they are universally known in the professional military -- have borne a disproportionate number of the casualties during the occupation, and have been the source for a disproportionate amount of scandal. The pilot recently censured for disobeying direct orders and thereby killing 8 Canadians in Afghanistan? National Guard. The prison police force who became torturers? National Guard.

Hollings and Rangel point to a draft military as being more "equitable". Equitable for whom? The soldier in the field? The taxpayer? Not them.

Instead of reinstating the draft, the best bet is to increase the incentive to join the military. Unfortunately, in its zeal to run the war on the cheap, the Bush administration is running the other way. Schools and PXs on domestic bases are being shut down, making it harder and more expensive for military families. Education benefits are being held back. Pay is slipping again.

Americans are going to have to accept that they may need to spend more on manpower. Clinton and Bush both leaned toward the idea of "more technology, fewer people", which works to some extent, but not if you cut manpower too far. And that's what Clinton and Bush did.

Expanding and reforming the professional military is not particularly popular right now, and never has been in Democratic circles. But if you think of the military as a tool, why would you not want the best one you could get? The tool is now being used in the wrong place for the wrong reasons, but the next war may be one that we really do want to fight and win.

Allan Jenkins posted this at 17:36. Permalink |

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