Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Monday, June 24, 2002
Stanley Kurtz meanwhile has a follow-up to his prior piece in favor of the draft, which I commented on yesterday. He's also very smart. He makes some extremely good points. But I still think he's wrong on the basic argument.

Kurtz himself admits that the benefits of a draft from a military perspective are subject to debate. More important, he identifies many of the things we should do first, before contemplating a draft:

* Increase recruitment quotas and issue a call for volunteers.
* Spend more money to retain key personnel
* Require all colleges that accept Federal money to have ROTC on campus.
* Provide strong financial incentives for college-bound (or recently graduated) young people to enlist.

We should do all of these things right away. They would all cost money and political capital - and I think Kurtz is right that these are major reasons why none of them has been done. But they would cost a whole lot less money and less political will than instituting a draft, and they would move the culture in the right direction and, I suspect, increase our military strength more than a draft would. We should do all of them.

But I continue to resist arguments for a military draft not so much for arguments from efficiency as because I think it's fundamentally un-American. That isn't to say we couldn't institute a draft as a last resort. But it really should be a last resort. We aren't even close yet.

Why do I say the draft is un-American? Because our country was built on voluntarism. We are not France. Our revolution was not founded on a notion of the General Will, and so we cannot argue that it can compel the citizenry into ranks in that Will's service. If America cannot inspire its citizens to come to its defense in its hour of need, it cannot compel that inspiration.

Kurtz and others make the argument that the draft would be a reasonable way to supply manpower to meet the huge demands of home defense, freeing the professional military for more complex duty overseas. Let's unpack this a bit with a comparison. 10 years ago, America faced a enormous and growing crime problem. Both organized and "random" crime was taking an enormous toll economically and socially. Clearly, addressing this problem would require more police and corrections officers. How did we address this manpower problem? Did we draft people to join the police force? Certainly, conscripts could do much of the boring part of police work: fingerprinting, paper-pushing, etc. This would free up trained officers to do the more hazardous and complex duty required of our professional police. Why did no one make this argument?

It's not only that the argument would fail on the economic merits. (Individuals conscripted to do these tasks would be taken away from more productive work. Any apparent savings from using conscripts rather than paying a market wage for the work would be more than offset by losses to the private economy.) The argument also fails from a moral perspective. No one would argue that the government can, except in extraordinary emergency, compel the citizenry to serve in the police force - in spite of the fact that the maintenance of public order and the support of the laws is a primary function of any government, and in spite of the fact that, in a Republic, the government is an expression of the citizenry at large. What's different about national defense?

When you boil them down, a lot of arguments in favor of the draft turn out to be cultural. This is, indeed, the major reason for universal conscription in countries that have it, such as Israel and Germany. But I am skeptical that it works the wonders it is supposed to work in these countries any more than it would in the United States. The head of my firm is German, and did the required stint in the German military. He does not reminisce fondly about his relations with Germans of all classes (nor does he feel he did anything useful for German national security). I know many individuals who have served in the Israeli Army, which probably does a better job than most of molding its citizenry - many of them immigrants from all over the world - into a single cultural unit. But even there, distinctions of class and culture are strong and enduring. It's not an accident that the military leadership of the country comes largely from the Ashkenazi elite, and even from a handful of kibbutzim - from a particular cultural stratum, in other words - and this fact is not lost on the sectors of the country that are largely outsiders to this culture.

The nostalgia for the draft's cultural benefits looks a lot like the nostalgia for the public schools of yore - you know, the ones that did such a great job of molding us into a single people and giving us all the same cultural background. But the public schools are still with us, and they don't seem to be doing such a good job. Indeed, the same conservatives who worry about our balkanized culture believe in school choice and home schooling. Whatever the answer is to our divided society, cultural engineering through conscription is not it.

The one effort that I think he is correct would require a draft, because the manpower requirements would be so enormous, would be a sustained effort to occupy large chunks of hostile foreign territory. If we plan not just to conquer Iraq but to rule it, and similarly to rule in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc., then we'd need huge conscript forces to maintain order. But this is not what we should do. We have been reluctant to conquer Iraq in part because we do not know what will follow. The motivation for reluctance is good, but it should motivate us to figure out what will follow, and how to make a favorable outcome transpire. It should not be shunted aside on the assumption that an American administration will follow an American campaign.

We are not know, in any sense, faced with the prospect of total war. We face a serious security challenge, and we need to figure out how to meet it. But the enemy we face does not even control a state, much less a major power undergoing full mobilization to fight us. Total war may not be obsolete, but it is not upon us, and it is folly for us to structure our society - and that's what we're talking about when we talk about universal conscription, a real and serious draft - on the assumption that such a war is upon us. We do not want to be a garrison state. That being the case, we do not want a draft, not yet.

If we have to have a draft, it should be for civil defense, and we should create a separate service branch for that purpose. A civil defense corps might be able to undertake many of the duties of home defense currently allocated to the armed forces. But even here, I'd be inclined to rely on the National Guard, the successor to the state militias, and, if we need more manpower in the Guard, recruit to get it.

I have more faith than Stanley Kurtz that, if the President needs people, and asks for them, he'll get them. The problem is not American patriotism, or the AVF. The problem is that the military and political leaders in this country are not prepared to take the risks and make the changes necessary to put us on a war footing. Kurtz knows this. The only place where we disagree is over whether a draft would be in any way a solution to the problem.