Joseph Epstein, writing in The Atlantic magazine (January – February 2015) makes interesting arguments for reinstating the military draft here in the United States. While he personalizes them with his own experience, they are not new. His principal arguments are that compulsory service brings together citizens from different socio-economic and regional backgrounds and thereby is a means of beneficial socialization, and—a rather tired one— that if those in power were to face the prospect of putting their own kith and kin in harms way, they would be reluctant to engage in unnecessary wars.
Addressing Epstein’s second point first, historically, our politicians have not gone to war without a pretty good sense that the electorate will support such a course. That electorate may change its mind, of course, particularly if a conflict becomes protracted with no end in sight. That has happened twice: Vietnam and Iraq. The first was fought with draftees; the second with all volunteers. U.S. active involvement was about the same length.
The view that the military is a desirable agent for socialization seems supported by the evidence. A good soldier, sailor, airman, or marine becomes a good citizen. Marketable technical skills can be learned, particularly in the navy and air force. The military instills skills and attitudes common to civilian employment such as showing up on time, organization, getting along with co-workers, and seeing tasks through to completion. Living and working with, and having to depend upon, those of different socio-economic, regional, and ethnic backgrounds is valuable for understanding and appreciating differences that can foster harmony in society.
For all those beneficial side effects, however, requiring citizens to involuntarily serve, except in a time of genuine national emergency, misplaces the proper function of the military in a free society.
Military conscription “establishes the fundamental principle of statism: that a man’s life belongs to the state, and the state may claim it by compelling him to sacrifice it in battle,” wrote philosopher Ayn Rand. In answering General Westmoreland’s statement in opposition to an all volunteer military that he “would not wish to command and army of mercenaries,” Milton Friedman asked the general if he would rather command an army of slaves. Both men indulged in a bit of hyperbole, but Friedman’s point was well taken.
The purpose of a military establishment is to protect our shores and interests abroad. It does so by being a credible threat to kill people and break things, and actually do so when necessary. In carrying out such missions, our service members face the possibility of death and disabling injuries. It is one thing, however, to volunteer to be put in harm’s way and suffer death or injury; it is quite another to be forced to be put in that position and so suffer.
Unfortunately, in a world shrunk by transportation and communication technology, a clash between civilizations and cultures is inevitable and bound to be more frequent. For better or worse, the role of world policeman has been thrust upon the United States. To carry out this role, force often must be used. The politically incorrect observation that despite what your mother told you, violence sometimes does solve problems. Anyone who doubts that is invited to look at the losers of World War II; they haven’t troubled the world since. Neither will Saddam Hussein or Bin Laden. No recipient of the death penalty has been a problem to others subsequent to their execution.
It is necessary that we have a professional military—legions, as did ancient Rome—to keep the international peace. This is so because, as historian and Korean War veteran T. R. Fehrenbach put it in This Kind of War, “any kind of war short of jihad was, is, and will be unpopular” with Americans. (He wrote that in 1963, and used the term ‘jiahd’ as generic for holy war or crusade.) These kind of wars are. fought with legions, and, Americans, even when proud of those who serve in them, do not like legions. “The liberal society has no need or use for legions. . .. Except that in this world are tigers,” wrote Fehrenbach.
This is a lesson the United States must learn. There is a real jihad waged against the West today. America is the leader of that civilization, even though saying so often rankles our European friends. A well trained and equipped professional military must be deployed to meet it wherever it is festering. This can be efficiently accomplished by all volunteer armed forces, not unwilling draftees. If this kind of war becomes one for which we have to rely on draftees, we have already lost it.
Postscript: The Epstein article is ancillary to another feature attempting to analyze why the U. S. military, the best trained and equipped in the world keeps losing wars. The author pontificates at length, but the short answer is – politicians. For those interested
see this link.