Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Old man's war? 

Stratfor's George Friedman has sent around a letter to subscribers with a serious, thought-provoking, politically impossible proposal for broadening the burden of war. I am going to climb out on a fair use limb and post the whole thing for your consideration and comment, and hope that my oft-repeated suggestion that you subscribe to Stratfor will suffice for compensation:

New York Democrat Charles Rangel, the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has called for the reinstatement of the draft. This is not new for him; he has argued for it for several years. Nor does Rangel -- or anyone else -- expect a proposal for conscription to pass. However, whether this is political posturing or a sincere attempt to start a conversation about America's military, Rangel is making an important point that should be considered. This is doubly true at a time when future strategies are being considered in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the available force is being strained to its limits.

The United States has practiced conscription in all major wars since the Civil War. During the Cold War, the United States practiced conscription continually, using it to fight both the Korean and Vietnam wars, but also to maintain the peacetime army. Conscription ended in 1973 as the U.S. role in Vietnam declined and as political opposition to the draft surged. From that point on, the United States shifted to a volunteer force.

Rangel's core criticism of the volunteer force is social. He argues that the burden of manning the military and fighting the war has fallen, both during Vietnam War conscription and in the volunteer army, for different reasons, on the lower and middle-lower classes. Apart from other arguments -- such as the view that if the rich were being drafted, the Vietnam and Iraq wars would have ended sooner -- Rangel's essential point is that the way the United States has manned the military since World War II is inherently unjust. It puts the lower classes at risk in fighting wars, leaving the upper classes free to pursue their lives and careers.

The problem with this argument is not the moral point, which is that the burden of national defense should be borne by all classes, but rather the argument that a draft would be more equitable. Rangel's view of the military and the draft was shaped by Vietnam -- and during Vietnam, there was conscription. But it was an inherently inequitable conscription, in the sense that during most of the war, deferments were given for students. That deferment, earlier in the war, extended to graduate school. As a result, by definition, the less-educated were more vulnerable to conscription than the more-educated. There were a host of deferments, including medical deferments, and the sophisticated could game the system easily. A draft, by itself, does not in any way guarantee equity.

During the final years of the Vietnam-era draft, the deferment system was replaced by a lottery. This was intended to (and, to some extent, did) reduce the inequities of the system, although sophisticated college students with low numbers continued to find ways to avoid conscription using the complex rules of the Selective Service system -- ways that the less-educated still couldn't use. The lottery system was an improvement, but in the end, it still meant that some would go into harm's way while others would stay home and carry on their lives. Basing the draft on a lottery might have mitigated social injustice, but basing life-and-death matters such as going to war on the luck of the draw still strikes us as inappropriate.

The switch from deferments to the lottery points out one of the key problems of conscription. The United States does not need, and cannot afford, a military that would consist of all of the men (and now, we assume, women) aged 19-21. That would create a force far too large and far too inexperienced. The lottery was designed to deal with a reality in which the United States needed conscription, but could not cope with universal conscription. Some method had to be found to determine who would and would not serve -- and any such method would be either unfair or arbitrary.

Americans remember World War II as, in many ways, the morally perfect war: the right enemy, the right spirit and the right military. But World War II was unique in that the United States had to field an enormous military. While some had to man truly essential industries, and some were medically disqualified, World War II was a case in which universal conscription was absolutely needed because the size of the force had to be equal to the size of the total pool of available and qualified manpower, minus essential workers. Unless it suited the needs of the military, no one was deferred. Married men with children, brilliant graduate students, the children of the rich and famous -- all went. There were still inequities in the kinds of assignments people got and the pull that was sometimes used. But what made the World War II conscription system work well was that everyone was needed and everyone was called.

Not everyone is needed in today's military. You might make the case for universal service -- people helping teachers and cleaning playgrounds. But there is a fundamental difference between these jobs and, at least in principle, the military. In the military, you might be called on to risk your life and die. For the most part, that isn't expected from teacher's aides. Thus, even if there were universal service, you would still be left with the dilemma of who gets to teach arts and crafts and who goes on patrol in Baghdad. Universal conscription does not solve the problem inherent in military conscription.

And there is an even more fundamental issue. During World War II, conscription, for just about everyone, meant service until the end of the war. During the Cold War, there was no clear end in sight. Since not everyone was conscripted, having conscripts serve until the end of the war could mean a lifetime of service. The decision was made that draftees would serve for two years and remain part of the reserve for a period of time thereafter.

Training during World War II took weeks for most combat specialties, with further training undertaken with soldiers' units or through combat. In World War II, the United States had a mass-produced army with plenty of time to mature after training. During Vietnam, conscripts went through basic training and advanced training, leaving a year for deployment in Vietnam and some months left over after the tour of duty. Jobs that required more complex training, from Special Forces to pilots to computer programmers, were handled by volunteers who served at least three years and, in many cases, longer. The draftee was used to provide the mass. The complexities of the war were still handled by a volunteer force.

The Battle of the Bulge took place 62 years ago. The Tet Offensive was nearly 39 years ago. The 90-day-wonder officers served well in World War II, and the draftee riflemen were valiant in Vietnam, but military requirements have changed dramatically. Now the military depends on highly trained specialists and groups of specialists, whose specialties -- from rifleman to warehouse worker -- have become more and more complex and sophisticated. On the whole, the contemporary Army, which historically has absorbed most draftees, needs more than two years in order to train draftees in their specialties, integrate them with their units and deploy them to combat.

Today, a two-year draft would be impractical because, on the whole, it would result in spending huge amounts of money on training, with very little time in actual service to show for it. Conscription could, of course, be extended to a three- or even four-year term, but with only selective service -- meaning that only a fraction of those eligible would be called -- that extension would only intensify the unfairness. Some would spend three or four years in the military, while others would be moving ahead with schools and careers. In effect, it would be a huge tax on the draftees for years of earnings lost.

A new U.S. draft might force the children of the wealthy into the military, but only at the price of creating other inequities and a highly inefficient Army. The training cycle and retention rate of a two-year draft would swamp the Army. In Iraq, the Army needs Special Forces, Civil Affairs specialists, linguists, intelligence analysts, unmanned aerial vehicle operators and so on. You can draft for that, we suppose, but it is hard to imagine building a force that way.

A volunteer force is a much more efficient way to field an Army. There is more time for training, there is a higher probability of retention and there are far fewer morale problems. Rangel is wrong in comparing the social base of this Army with that of Vietnam. But the basic point he is trying to make is true: The makeup of the U.S. Army is skewed toward the middle and lower-middle class. But then, so are many professions. Few children of the wealthy get jobs in the Social Security Administration or become professional boxers. The fact that the Army does not reflect the full social spectrum of the country doesn't mean very much. Hardly anything reflects that well.

Still, Rangel is making an important point, even if his argument for the draft does not work. War is a special activity of society. It is one of the few in which the citizen is expected -- at least in principle -- to fight and, if necessary, die for his country. It is more than a career. It is an existential commitment, a willingness to place oneself at risk for one's country. The fact that children of the upper classes, on the whole, do not make that existential commitment represents a tremendous weakness in American society. When those who benefit most from a society feel no obligation to defend it, there is a deep and significant malaise in that society.

However, we have been speaking consistently here about the children of the rich, and not of the rich themselves. Combat used to be for the young. It required stamina and strength. That is still needed. However, there are two points to be made. First, many -- perhaps most -- jobs in today's military that do not require the stamina of youth, as proven by all the contractors doing essentially military work in Iraq. Second, 18- to 22-year-olds are far from the most physically robust age group. Given modern diet and health regimens, there are people who are substantially older who have the stamina and strength for combat duty. If you can play tennis as well as you claim to for as long as you say, you can patrol a village in the Sunni Triangle.

We do not expect to be taken seriously on this proposal, but we will make it anyway: There is no inherent reason why enlistment -- or conscription -- should be targeted toward those in late adolescence. And there is no reason why the rich themselves, rather than the children of the rich, should not go to war. Or, for that matter, why older people with established skills should not be drawn into the military. That happened in World War II, and it could happen now. The military's stove-pipe approach to military careers, and the fact that it allows almost no lateral movement into service for 40- to 60-year-olds, is irrational. Even if we exclude combat arms, other specialties could be well-served by such a method -- which also would reduce the need for viciously expensive contractors.

Traditionally, the draft has fallen on those who were barely adults, who had not yet had a chance to live, who were the least equipped to fight a complex war. Other age groups were safe. Rangel is talking about drafting the children of the rich. It would be much more interesting, if the United States were to introduce the draft, to impose it in a different way, on entirely different age groups. Let the young get on with starting their lives. Let those who have really benefited from society, who have already lived, ante up.

Modern war does not require the service of 19-year-olds. In the field, you need the strong, agile and smart, but we know several graying types who still could hack that. And in the offices that proliferate in the military, experienced businesspeople would do even better at modernizing the system. If they were drafted, and went into harm's way, they would know exactly what they were fighting for and why -- something we hardly think most 19-year-olds really know yet.

Obviously, no one is going to adopt this crackpot proposal, even though we are quite serious about it. But we ask that you take seriously two points. Rangel is correct in saying that the upper classes in American society are not pulling their weight. But if the parents haven't served, we cannot reasonably expect the children to do so. If Americans are serious about dealing with the crisis of lack of service among the wealthiest, then they should look to the wealthiest first, rather than their children.

I am in a meeting in New York and posting this from my Blackberry, so you're on your own. I do have several reactions and modifying suggestions which I may post later, but will leave it to our very sharp commenters to shape the discussion over the next few hours.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Nov 21, 05:44:00 PM:

As a former Marine, I would say the worst thing that could happen to the military would be a draft. You don't want people in your unit that don't want to be there. It might be OK for the Army, but not the Marines (that is said in jest, kind of).

Modern war does not require its participants to know exactly what they are fighting for and why, outside of following orders. Participants don't get to decide which missions follow the overall goals, which missions are good vs. bad. Trust me, even contractors in Iraq better be in good shape. You never know when you might have to quickly exit a location that turns into a free fire zone.

Rangel called for the draft the first time saying that he wanted to force white parents to face the same prospects as black parents did, until someone pointed out to him that in combat units, blacks only made up about 8% of the troops. Now he has decided to pick up his chant again with a new spin. Want to pass a good law? How about forcing the kids of congress into the military.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Tue Nov 21, 06:12:00 PM:

It's an interesting proposition, but, first of all, it would help to have more data. There are already lots of more mature guys in the volunteer military besides just 20 year olds. What are the numbers? I'm not sure its as young as he says.

A big problem with drafting older guys is that, if they haven't grown up in a military-like hierarchy, they may be a big cultural problem for the military to absorb. Following rote command is pretty important; so is unquestioned authority. Most successful older folks might struggle to fit into the typical command hierarchy...esp if they are reporting to a highly trained, younger officer.

This is an idea that emanates from a high IQ analyst, not a field operator. A guy like me, for instance, might be an interesting guy to throw into an intel function, but I'd be worthless in any sort of field leadership or combat role...at least without significant training. Though I will admit to a latent violent desire to shoot at bad guys.

I think it might be interesting to integrate certain companies into elements of the fight though, and see if their poeple would play. For instance, Fedex and UPS might offer tremendous logistics capabilities. SAS might offer tremendous IT and data analysis functionality (an area of spectacualr opportunity). TV broadcasters and media networks could drive new comms strategies. This form of enlistment would leverage specific talents for certain desired apps, without upsetting military culture.

Sort of like individual JVs for specific projects.  

By Blogger DEC, at Tue Nov 21, 06:21:00 PM:

Good grief, TH, another attempt at social engineering. The political right is getting as bad as the political left in the area of social engineering.

In my view, a military draft is involuntary servitude.

Any country that is unable to find enough volunteers for national defense does not deserve to survive.

(I served during the Vietnam War. My service helped my business career in many ways. I could care less what other people in my generation did.)  

By Blogger Dan Bostan, at Tue Nov 21, 07:42:00 PM:

The only valid argument for a draft would be to prepare for a (certain) war with China, in the future...  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Tue Nov 21, 07:51:00 PM:

Rangel's larger point about the need for a greater sense of commitment from a larger part of the population is a good one. Unfortunately, I see his call for a draft as just another way of attacking the present administration.

I'd like to see more volunteerism in service to the country, not less, which is what Rangel is calling for. There should be a range of commitments that people could make, not the least of them being serving in the armed forces.

It would seem no matter how you cut it that a voluntary force is both more highly motivated and more qualified than one that is conscripted. The goal shouldn't be to get a more representative mix irrespective of quality, but one that maintains or improves upon the quality of the one we have now.  

By Blogger DEC, at Tue Nov 21, 07:57:00 PM:

Doesn't the U.S. have enough enemies already, Dan Bostan?

China is not America's enemy. Don't make them one.  

By Blogger Stephen Fleming, at Tue Nov 21, 09:41:00 PM:

I wish more people would read "Starship Troopers" by Robert Heinlein. (If you saw the movie, erase all thoughts of it from your mind. Except Denise Richards in the shower scene. :-)

Conscription is slavery and inherently immoral. A society that depends on conscript troops -- of any age group -- deserves to fail. (I submit that we could have fought WW2 without the draft. Peer pressure would have filled the ranks.)

In the book, Heinlein proposed that anyone can volunteer for military service (including graybeards, if they can pass the physical), and the military will find a task for them. Maybe behind a desk, maybe walking point in Fallujah. When they get out -- and ONLY when they get out -- and ONLY those who DO get out -- they can vote.

No one else votes. Period.

I would cheerfully and without a moment's hesitation surrender my vote to live in that society, even though I am not ex-military and don't plan to volunteer.  

By Blogger mledeen, at Tue Nov 21, 09:48:00 PM:

i am not a great fan of stratcom, but it's fine with me if older people want to volunteer for the military, as in fact they do. the numbers are probably pretty small--i'd love to know them and will try to get them--but they do exist.

as for rangel's caricature of the military, it rather reminds me of kerry's. i am surrounded by privileged people whose kids have volunteered. scads of them. EVERY commissioned marine officer is a college graduate, and there is an interesting subgroup in america of kids who are in college precisely because they want to be marine officers.

there are many more kids of elected officials than most people imagine. their parents don't talk about it much, because the kids don't want them to, but the numbers are significant. they include kids of congressmen and senators, they often come from very presitigious colleges and universities.

yes, army enlisted men and women don't usually come from privileged families, but they are well above the national average in education and income.

finally, i just came from a marine website, where i learned that reenlistment is way up, significantly ahead of last year. we don't need a draft, and the military don't want a draft; it would dilute quality.

the ignorance about our military is a real problem. lots of people with very strong feelings about it don't start from the facts, they start from their feelings. no good.  

By Blogger Screwy Hoolie, at Tue Nov 21, 10:06:00 PM:

Fascinating. Absorbing. Irrelevant.

The Cut-and-run, Defeat-o-crat Iraqis don't want us there in any large number. Enough to train their guys and no more. Choosing to stay there is antithetical to democratic ideals.

“Seven out of ten Iraqis overall–including both the Shia majority (74%) and the Sunni minority (91%)–say they want the United States to leave within a year.” Note: less than 10% of Iraqis nationwide support a U.S. withdrawal only as “the security situation improves,” the current policy of the Bush administration.

More from the pollsters at WorldPublicOpinion.org:

"Support for attacks on U.S.-led forces has grown to a majority opinion - now six in ten."
"Growing support for attacks on U.S.-led forces has not been accompanied by any significant support for al Qaeda."
"Majorities still approve of the U.S. training Iraqi forces and helping with community development, though most of these feel the U.S. is doing a poor job."
"Majorities of all groups do not favor a movement toward a looser confederation and believe that five years from now Iraq will still be a single state. A large majority sees the current government as the legitimate representative of the Iraqi people."

Now we can send enough guys to Afghanistan to rebuff the resurgent Taliban and do away with all this drafty bloviation.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Tue Nov 21, 11:12:00 PM:

there are two, almost mutually exclusive ideas here.

First, as noted by Mleeden (one wonders who that is!), for many service is an important aspect of maturation. The royal families expected their progeny to serve and those families, irrespective of their current economic realities, who had members who served have an expectation that thier off spring will enlist.

My dad had three grandsons, all of them Marines. Not bad for an old Navy Chief, eh?

Next, Mr Rangel won't say this, but a tour of duty would rescue large portions of his constituency. It's as simple as that. These guys won't put down their play station games long enough to volunteer but the military would do them good.

So yes we have some stratification, service families honor and respect service. Non service people could use the discipline and purpose that service provides.

Sadly, none of that matters to Chollie. This is pure political bullshit, from a purely political guy. Staying in office is what keeps him fat and happy and he'll do anything, anything, to maintain his life.

God Damn the man.  

By Blogger Ed Nutter, at Tue Nov 21, 11:27:00 PM:


I often recall "Starship Troopers" when listening to the bloviations about the current conflict. It's way less likely than Friedman's proposal as it would require an EXTREMELY unlikely Constitutional amendment. Of course Heinlein's society was a global far future with what are now nations filling the current roles of states.

I'd go for it too, 'cept I'd be grandfathered in thanks to my Viet Nam time service.  

By Blogger Andrewdb, at Tue Nov 21, 11:34:00 PM:

I agree that Mr. Rangel's proposal is being made for all the wrong reasons - but I have come 180 degrees on this subject as I get older. Indeed I finally joined the State Guard a couple of years ago at the age of 40+.

I now believe a universal military draft (not civil service) is good for the people being drafted (see the above comments on why), and it is good for the military, as it makes it closer to the society it is part of. As the percentage of people serving falls, the disjuncture (is that a word?) between the service and those served increases. In a democracy (or even a republic) that is not good.

Yes, I know this is social engineering, and does not address the issue of what makes for a strong and effective military, and yes, I also know that the current military is widely reflective of the society (see that famous Heritage report).

Second point - the reason we send 18 year old to fight is that they think they are immortal and don't get as scared as 30 year olds (who don't think they are immortal, at least any more). Combat really is (largely) a young man's job.  

By Blogger Pudentilla, at Tue Nov 21, 11:52:00 PM:

"it would help to have more data" - perhaps the point of the exercise is to have hearings about the state of the military, its recruiting challenges, etc. - I think they call it "oversight." Would have been nice before aWol's excellent arabian adventure.

"conscription is slavery" - go tell the ephebes and find a 12 step group for the historically illiterate.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 22, 12:49:00 AM:

One problem with the underrepresentation of the privileged.

What about the elite universities banning recruiting on the campuses? First this should be resolved, then we can talk about the imbalances.

About mandatory military service. And what about having everybody to serve two weeks a year between the ages, say, 14 and 24, then maybe two weekends per year until 50? These people wouldn't go to war, but at least they would be exposed to the military. I am not advocating this. Just want to know if there is any inherent problem with it. Of course, it won't train an army, but that time is enough to pick up essential stuff like how to use a rifle.


By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Wed Nov 22, 04:38:00 AM:

Now we can send enough guys to Afghanistan to rebuff the resurgent Taliban and do away with all this drafty bloviation.

And what are the other 200,000 (approx gulf war v1.0 troop level)or so new warm bodies going to do?

Costs a lot to keep a standing army of that size in the field.

Does a draft mean we get quit hearing democrats whine about the cost of all this? Seriously, that alone makes me tempted.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 22, 06:28:00 AM:

I'm 50. Very healthy, and in excellent cardio/strength condition (my strength training regimen starts with 45 pull-ups). Engineering grad; good technical skills.

I would join up in an instant and consider it a privilege to serve. But there's no mechanism for that.

There should be one.  

By Anonymous davod, at Wed Nov 22, 07:27:00 AM:

The draft is not volunteering. The Peace Corps is volunteering.

Countries do have the draft. I would suggest the reason is they cannot get enough people for a volunteer force of the size they they need.

Modern war does not require young men? Has anyone noticed that at the end of the day the laws of war still stand. Only a ground force can take and hold ground. You can use all the technology you want to deny the enemy an advantage but at the end of the day you need fit young men to fight and hold ground.

Pud (As in pulling the) As I recall the Congress passed a resolution in 98 calling for regime change in Iraq. The Congress passed a resolution supporting Bush's position before the war.

The Representatives and Senators represent their constituents. The overwhelming majority in Congress does not want a draft. The Americam people have spoken on this issue. What you want is for a miniscule viewpoint to take precedent.  

By Blogger Piercello, at Wed Nov 22, 08:28:00 AM:

What if we required as an educational prerequisite to graduating from high school a certain level of knowledge about the military? Rank, insignia, general knowledge of the history the military with specialization in one branch of choice, elementary logistics, this sort of thing. I certainly came out with none of this. Throw in some kind of physical fitness req as well if you like, and throw in some games that would give an intuitive level of understanding of some very basic infantry tactics.

As an extreme position, and one hell of an incentive, send anyone who fails off to some form of boot camp for a summer. Require this knowledge of all politicians, teachers, and journalists...

If we are largely agreed that the burdens of war should be more widely shared, but in disagreement on the notion of compulsory service, we should set the second question aside for the moment and investigate the consensus further. You know, first control the borders, then worry about who is here already.

Whaddya think?


By Anonymous BIRD OF PARIDISE, at Wed Nov 22, 10:18:00 AM:

I think maybe instead CHUCKY RANGLE should be issued a SECTION 8 and be consited nuts just like with on MASH and CORPAL CLINGER  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Wed Nov 22, 10:30:00 AM:

Some enterprising Republican should counter Rangel's proposal with one that is vastly more practical and makes far more sense, if the goal is to increase public exposure to the military.

The proposal: Require that all students in public school enroll in JROTC.

Coupled with a reinvigorated ROTC college program, it would be a way for prospective OCs to improve themselves while allowing the country access to a far bigger pool of talent.  

By Anonymous michael i, at Thu Nov 23, 03:50:00 PM:

What about the girlies? And why isn't hillary pilloried as a chicken hawk -- some feminist she is, using her sex to dodge the draft during the Vietnam war.

Until women's bodies become as expendable as men's, the US will be saddled with a fat lot of voters who whine that defense is unnecessary and the money for it should be whizzed away on social programs for single mothers and their broods. Gag!  

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