Former General Stanley McChrystal has raised his head again, this time in an interview in The Washington Post. In it, the West Pointer — who was relieved of his command for shooting his mouth off about the vice president and White House staff — talks about his support for the draft.
First off, the idea of bringing back the draft started almost as soon as we switched to a volunteer military. The usual canard is that with the draft, the nation would not be so eager to go to war. It sounds great…if the People were choosing whether to go to war or not, but they do not. That is the political class, which has increasingly found it hard to hide their disdain for the people they serve.
Stanley McChrystal proves himself a flawed thinker, and utterly disconnected from the nation — not surprising for a guy who went to the elite military academy of the nation (a consequence of being a general’s son — like the children of politicians, the children of military leaders tend to find themselves in the family business) and who spent all his life as an officer in the military. It’s a rarified position, especially for one who makes it a career. These are not “just folks”; they are aristocrats by the very hierarchical nature of the military, and they do not mix with the unwashed rank and file. As with a career politician, this is not someone who “knows the people” or even the tenor of his troops.
On to his comments: McChrystal uses an idiotic first play in his argument for the return of conscription. This isn’t “mandatory service.” This is the government taking your life and freedom from you for certain length of time. You are force to become property of the state — a slave. McChrystal touts forced service as a means to break people out of their “social or cultural circle”, as he sees the public as ghettoized into political, ideological, or racial cliques. To the general, forcing people to be thrown together in terms of service would help break those preconceptions.
Except…it doesn’t work. Having been an enlisted man, I can tell you people do not necessarily change their political stripes, despite the active indoctrination they get in basic training and AIT. Exposure to “the world” is not under circumstances that engender a respect for the Other, or even real understanding. You throw young folks into the world, and often they are shooting at you. Worse, they may not agree with the mission, something that volunteers implicitly have to accept. You joined, you shut up and serve. A person forced into uniform, forced to go to an alien place, and forced to fight people they don’t know for reasons that will not enrich them or secure their future…that doesn’t go over so well.
The military is not preschool. You don’t send your young adults to the military to learn social skills, or so that they will consider the military “human beings” and not tools of policy. Because that, also, has not worked in the past. (But I’m getting ahead of myself.)
Having a “representational cross-section” of the population fight means those population groups that either oppose war, oppose the administration, or simply have something else going on in their life — like raising a family, going to work (or more likely looking for work, these days) would be forced to engage in behavior they might find morally or intellectually offensive, or might simply break their will. These are precisely the people a soldier does not need at their six. Those are the people that get you killed.
And why is it so necessary to have this representational cross-section? Because to elitists like McChrystal it is “fair.” It’s not fair that some people choose to go, some choose to stay home. In the interests of fairness, as with most bad legislation that seeks to equilibrate aspects of human choice or endeavor, it is not fair precisely because it removes the agency from the people it seems to control.
McChrystal also is giving the standard whinge of military folks when he says of conscription: “Oh, I think it’d be much better, because right now, there’s a sense that if you want to go to war, you just send the military. They’re not us.” The average person just doesn’t understand the military and what we go through. They don’t show due deference. Ask an enlisted soldier — they might say the same thing, but they don’t care; they see themselves as braver or better than the people demonstrating on the street. (They are, of course, right…and wrong.) This is MCChrystal’s own pet peeve, and it is a telling one — he wants to be respected and listened to, not just by the captive audience in camouflage, but the rest of you ungrateful wretches.
This whine of the general’s also feeds into the final flawed argument: that a draftee army cuts down on the desire to go to war. His statement suggests the nation is more willing to go to war because they don’t see the military as “people.” Well, that’s true if your cadre of friends are all Progressives — as the general most certainly is. The military is an instrument of policy to Progressives and the political class (of which a general is most certainly a member.) They will not see the military servicepeople as anything but a bunch of clothed robots; that’s partly the reason for uniforms in the first place — to dehumanize, homogenize, and make the use of soldiers as painless as moving figures on a wargame board.
As to the idea that concription dulls the desire to go to war, that might be the case is the People made the decision to send people to war, but they do not. The political class makes that decision, and they make it based not on the good of the nation or the People, but on international power plays and personal benefit. Much of history, militaries have been conscripted because aristocracy though of the people as property — of the lord, of the state, for the party…it has never pumped the brakes on a “rush to war.”
The American experience is no different. When the Union couldn’t muster enough troops in the Civil War, they instituted a draft and that wound up killing more Americans than any other war. They tried volunteers in World War I and there was a lackluster support. In WWII, Korea, and Vietnam we had conscription and let’s run the numbers: that’s roughly 16 of 30 years spent fighting somewhere. After Vietnam, conscription was ended. Since then there’s been Grenada and Panama — both very short actions. Iraq 1 and 2 — the second conterminous with Afghanistan. There was Somalia, and the Bosnia and Kosovo missions. 38 years with 17 years spend in some kind of conflict.
Not much difference, eh?
So why bring back the draft? None of the stated reasons the general articulated are remotely applicable or factual. It will not make us better neighbors. It will not be “fair.” It will not make the military more respected (Case in point: how were the troops returning from Vietnam treated and how are our current vets treated?) It will not reduce warfare –especially now that the War on Drugs/Terror and the interminable Afghan conflict have the military and law enforcement-industrial complex making huge amounts of cash.
They want the draft, because then the politicians “own” us again. They can force you to go off and fight for their pleasure and interests; right now, they can only muster those interested in serving, and that interest will — I assure you — decline as the political class runs the country into the ground financially and continues to attack the civil rights of its citizenry.