Friday, October 07, 2005

An All-Volunteer Army?

This one I have got thinking about as I've noticed a decidedly conservative lean to the milblogs from Iraq compared to say history books and reprints of letters I've read from WWI and II.

Now I don't know, but I gather the US ended your draft what, 30 years ago? If so, you're approaching the second generation of an all-volunteer army. Nobody getting drafted then staying, any and all lifers chose the military and felt it was what they wanted to do from the start? From my own experience the left of my generation (early gen X) doesn't go in for the soldier's life often so I assume there are less of us serving...

So some questions for dadmanly and a place to start:

1. Without claiming a formal survey, of all the troops you've met in the last year, what percentage would you guess are conservative, what percentage moderate and what percentage left-leaning?

2. Do reservists/NG members seem any more or less skewed right than lifers?

3. Would mandatory service (while maintaining a cadre of lifers) threaten the quality of the modern army? Is it even practical in the modern, high specialized military?

4. Does it worry you that a significant portion of your nation may some day (if not now) live their whole lives not even sure how to fire a weapon, let alone maintain one?

5. Should the left be worried about attaining a state where most of the people in the military have a particular party affiliation?

6. At what point do totally uninformed and inexperienced people stop deserving any say in what is done by the people who are actually at the sharp end? How would civilian oversight really work if the people overseeing it were clueless?

7. Does a populace who for the most part have never served make it unlikely that politicians will be held to account for wasteful military spending, or make it unlikely that they will recognize GOOD military spending when they see it?

I don't really have a position to argue for myself yet (I'm sure you'll give me some), the only thing I think is that, as a lesson in citizenship and solidarity, I think all democracies should have a period of mandatory military service.

BW

Dadmanly Responds:

I think BW is correct in his impression that a large majority of MILBLOGGERS are decidedly conservative, although I would guess they are far more conservative on military issues (and perhaps economics) than conservative, say, on social issues (although I think a majority still would be, but less so).

I think BW may have hinted at one of the primary reasons for that: we ended our draft 30 years ago, and have an all-volunteer army. As BW suggests, those who stay in for life have made an initial choice and then continue to choose to stay in. No one (except the few Vietnam era drafted Soldiers who may still be in, nobody got drafted and then decided to stay. This causes some interesting culture phenomenon, as I'll discuss along the way.

BW is also correct that military life is not a widely popular decision for generation X (or Y or Z), but it really doesn't need to be to maintain force numbers sufficient for manning. A minority of young people, self selected, is all that is necessarily required.

But on to BW's specific questions:

1. Without claiming a formal survey, of all the troops you've met in the last year, what percentage would you guess are conservative, what percentage moderate and what percentage left-leaning?

I think I read that 73% of Soldiers voted for President Bush in the last election. I think that's a helpful starting point. No doubt, something less than 27% voted for John Kerry, some of whom might have been conservative and thought of Kerry as a viable "military-minded" candidate.

They'd be wrong in my opinion, but I've spoken to Vietnam era vets who believed this to be so, there would be some who thought so. We can discuss Kerry another time perhaps, but suffice it to say most military thought him a phony and that he discredited and disgraced his military service after the war.

I think those who view military service as a civic responsibility, an honor and a virtue, and follow through on that belief by putting their life on the line will by definition tend to also share other conservative beliefs. Not that Patriotism is necessarily conservative, but conservative tend to be overwhelmingly patriotic, and therefore will far more often self-select military service. Likewise, those who are more progressive, socialist, will tend to view (national) patriotism at least ambivalently, if not with distrust or even scorn. It seems to me there is a lot of self- and nation-loathing (and cynicism) that lies at the heart of many a progressive agenda.

2. Do reservists/NG members seem any more or less skewed right than lifers?

That's an interesting question. I could see in some ways skewed less right; we have civilian jobs, we did not pick the military as a full time profession. Some did not expect to ever go to war, many were in for college benefits.

Then again, many joined the Guard and Reserve after 9/11, precisely to join the effort to fight terrorism and protect our way of life. The sense of civic obligation rose dramatically -- in casual discussions as well as official communications -- in the wake of 9/11, and the tremendous courage exhibited by uniformed services in NYC.

The one canard I thing we can safely put to rest is that people join the military out financial desperation. As any one can tell you who does NOT want to stay in (pulled in from the IRR or on stop loss for example), if you want out you don't care if you have to go on welfare. If you look at demographic trends, the highest rates of enlistment or re-enlistment far more match the red blue map than the economic one. In other words, joining up is far less common in Blue state or blue city regions, far higher in red state areas. Poor people or unemployed sometimes join the military, but there are easier ways to survive. South, Midwest, West, Rural areas. The Army is pretty much red state fed.

3. Would mandatory service (while maintaining a cadre of lifers) threaten the quality of the modern army? Is it even practical in the modern, high specialized military?

Yes. No. (I hadn't thought of that, that's another reason why not.)

No career military person wants to deal with unwilling draftees. It's bad enough today dealing with the few involuntarily extended or those called back to service.

4. Does it worry you that a significant portion of your nation may some day (if not now) live their whole lives not even sure how to fire a weapon, let alone maintain one?

Not particularly, but then I think survivalists are a bit wacko.

I believe deeply that we will sustain a nuclear terrorist attack (or two or three) somewhere in the US. I think that will change everything, and not for the better, because those of us who warned of such things, and those who think there is evil that must be confronted, will have NO patience for the foolish ostriches who have stubbornly kept their heads in the diplomatic, appeasement, or pacifist sand. Habeas corpus will go, as will many of the other safeguards, and that will be the true test of whether we survive as a people.

And oddly enough, I think that event, and the drastic upheaval it will cause, will make everybody a believer, and we'll unify in purpose like something out of Independence Day (the movie). Naive, perhaps, but then I know we are the Nation of Lincoln, and capable of the most amazing feats of courage and resilience in given the chance.

What I am concerned about is that so many of my fellow citizens think they are entitled to the amazing blessings we have, and have no clue of the generational sacrifices that have been made to make it all possible. "Freedom isn't free," as the bumper sticker says. Or as Greyhawk says, "Good people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

5. Should the left be worried about attaining a state where most of the people in the military have a particular party affiliation?

Not worried, but it should cause them to rethink who is making the sacrifices necessary to defend the liberties they take for granted. (Or worry, if they are obsessed with politics.)

6. At what point do totally uninformed and inexperienced people stop deserving any say in what is done by the people who are actually at the sharp end? How would civilian oversight really work if the people overseeing it were clueless?

Never. As the NCOs used to like to say, "I gets my power from Congress." And Congress gets it's power from the people who elect them. Same with the Commander in Chief, elected by the people. And to your last, you will cause quite a few chuckles from military veterans, who would most likely respond, "And how is that different from what we have now (or ever)?"

7. Does a populace who for the most part have never served make it unlikely that politicians will be held to account for wasteful military spending, or make it unlikely that they will recognize GOOD military spending when they see it?

Waste is waste, and you don't need to be a subject matter expert to see the worst excesses. In the US, military leaders say, we don't need Base A or Weapon X, and Congress goes and gives them Bases A, B, and C for good measure, and Weapons X, Y, and Z as a bone to defense contractors in their districts. Famously, reports of $400 hammers and $600 toilet seats got huge play here, and I believe helped lead to some dramatic changes in the political landscape throughout the '80s. Arguably, these were in the mix leading up to Clinton's win in '92 and the Contract with America in '94.

That's why I am very excited about our Porkbusters effort here. I think it can be as effective with wasteful military spending.

Links: Basil's Blog, Dadmanly, Outside the Beltway, Wizbang, California Conservative, Jo's Cafe, bRight & Early

BW Responds:

"I think I read that 73% of Soldiers voted for President Bush in the last election. I think that's a helpful starting point. No doubt, something less than 27% voted for John Kerry, some of whom might have been conservative and thought of Kerry as a viable "military-minded" candidate."

Now for me this seems spooky. The potential problems of a significantly politically aligned military are not to be sneezed at long term, based on the history books at least.

"Likewise, those who are more progressive, socialist, will tend to view (national) patriotism at least ambivalently, if not with distrust or even scorn.

Yay! Something to argue about! I knew we'd find something (or did you just throw me a bone?).

Anyway, first off, are folks on the left ambivalent about national patriotism. I would have to say most often, to some degree yes. I would say however that this is as much a reaction to unthinking "cover yourself with the flag" button-pushing on the part of the activist right as it is anything rooted in the left. One of the oldest tactics in the book is accusing people of being "unAmerican" (or whatever country), and that tends to get thrown out there most often by a right pushing their own views. In its natural form patriotism is a grand thing. Abused, it is a button that can be used to push folks into all kinds of pretty terrible behaviour, and is the keystone of many an autocratic regime, regardless of their overall left/right tendences.

It seems to me there is a lot of self- and nation-loathing (and cynicism) that lies at the heart of many a progressive agenda."

Cynicism is not something that the left can claim a patent on. I get enough US talk radio and TV to hear a lot of frank, nasty cynicism coming from right-wing pundits and hosts, so I'm going to suggest it is much more the fashion of the day (masquerading as intelligence or wisedom) and thus nothing that can be claimed or laid at the door solely of the left.

As for self and nation-loathing, the one thing I quite like about many on the left is being able to criticize oneself and one's country without felling like either a jerk or a traitor. You don't have to hate your country to be opposed to its current policies. Many on the left would argue that you do not love your country (or your neighbour, or yourself) if you allow stupid or evil things to continue to be done in our/its name without speaking up.

I love Canada enough to have a problem without our underfunding of our military. I love Canada enough to hate the policies that are slowly destroying our national health care system. I love Canada enough to oppose tax cuts while we still have a large national debt. I love Canada's freedoms enough to want the RCMP and CSIS investigated and held to account for the Arar incident, even if it does end up embarassing us. I loved Canada enough to support Jean Chretien when he refused to commit troops to "the coalition of the willing".

I suspect most on your US left love your country and feel that some of the choices made by your current administration threaten its welfare, international reputation and perhaps long term survival.

BW

7 Comments:

At 7:24 PM, Blogger Synova said...

Just a couple random comments...

Active duty aren't necessarily lifers. Many people who enlist intend to enlist for a few years and then get out. I think that if you asked new recruits if they intended to stay in for 20 and retire, very few of them would say yes.

Enlisting in the military doesn't require that a person be conservative, but it does sort of require that a person at least not consider the military evil in concept.

That said, the young people I know who have left-leaning parents seem to have odd ideas about the military. I wouldn't join the service either if I thought that it was full of power hungry, humorless jerks demanding unthinking obedience. Yet I get "I could never join the military because my sense of humor would get me in trouble." Yes, I know there are plenty of bad movies and TV shows out there, but is that really an excuse?

I disagree that there should be mandatory military or civil service. I don't like the "mandatory" part of that. :-) But I do think that a spot of military service is a very good thing for young people to experience.

 
At 10:20 PM, Blogger Papa Ray said...

I think every young person should have the choice of community service (either city, county or state) OR military service.

And it should be mandatory.

Our young people would benifit as well as the Nation.

Papa Ray
West Texas
USA

 
At 9:19 AM, Blogger Rhiannon said...

I could never join the military cause I have a problem with authority. [BTW I'm one of those people who thinks the military is evil, but that's based on personal experience ;)]

Rather than have mandatory milt/commun service, offer the knowledge, opportunity and encouragement for comm service in mid-high school elective courses that give credit for community services (and let's kids do something OTHER than school work), etc. Some places already have this. It's better to show them their options and encourage them to go for it, than force them... which only breeds resentment and generally has the OPPOSITE effect of what you're looking for. IMO.

 
At 2:22 PM, Blogger Synova said...

I don't think that young people, or anyone else, benefit from mandatory volunteerism. Thinking that mandatory community service is going to teach young people to value voluntary community service is sorta-kinda like expecting that welfare taxation is going to increase people's dedication to charity giving.

It's more likely to result in people figuring that they "did their time" and now they are off the hook.

I've got a problem with authority, too, rhiannon. I always have, because it was how I was raised. My Dad used to tell us kids what pranks to do in school (we were too smart to listen) and my Mom taught me to doubt all authority other than Scripture, because all other authority was prone to being *wrong*.

For some reason I really enjoyed my time in the military. The rules and structure weren't oppressive at all.

It's not really a top-down sort of authority structure anyhow, no matter how much it seems to be. Officers are, generally, far more constrained than enlisted. When it works the way it's supposed to it's not orders and authority passing back and forth, but loyalty and support. The sergeant watching his officer's back while the officer is subsumed by his (or her) dedication to the troops under his command.

 
At 3:57 PM, Anonymous Jack said...

Ever read Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" (read, not watch the movie)? One of the basic ideas in that book concerned citizenship. No form of service was required of anyone (it was actually discouraged), but a position of some kind had to be found for anyone who volunteered. Only people who had served were permitted to vote or hold office.
I don't think we are anywhere near that type of government, and there would be many problems that Heinlein ignored, but it is an interesting thought. If you want to help control the future of the nation, first you must offer your future to the nation. Sometimes I think I like that idea, other times it scares me silly. My father and all four of his sons would have qualified.

 
At 9:10 AM, Blogger BW said...

One of the benefits I see to mandatory service is a crowbarring (woot, I invented a word) of people's narrow little world views. Other than perhaps the world of work (and even then not necessarily) where else can a person meet individuals from all parts of their nation and all walks of life?

I'm sure mandatory service can't force people to love their country, any more than mandatory community service can turn a criminal into a social worker, or workfare an addict into a productive member of society.

In any case, in a nation where workware is the norm, it seems odd mandatory national service isn't.

By the way Jack, the *book* Starship Troopers is in fact part of my inspiration for the idea, combined with the relatively common expectation for national service in most other G8 countries.

 
At 1:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think that we should have to serve be cause it would show that the freedom that we have dosent come free we have to do some thing to earn our freedom it would also show us what others give up for our freedom.if we was to see what they give up then we wouldnt take our freedom for granted.

i am willing to go in to the millitary to protect the United States citezens that are stuck up and spoiled rotten and that take our freedom for granted even though they dont deserve it the only reason this is be cause i was raised in the lower working class wich taught me not to take any thing for granted
as you can tell i cant spell at all please rply back with your thought and any one that takes this offensivly i am sorry but that is to bad
bonnie weidt
wyoming rose

 

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