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[Cross-posted at The Left Coaster.]

The good David Sirota of Salon asks an excellent question in wondering whether ending the draft (forced military conscription for young males) was a wise military and societal move after Vietnam, a rather well-worn political science question but obviously high in value in keeping in the front of our consciousness, the United States is horribly lost in violence and militarism.

Liberty to abstain is cited as one abstract rationale for ending the draft--meaning freedom for ordinary citizens from worrying about Afghanistan because their sons aren’t drafted there—but totally missing is the freaking liberty of the individual, I can hardly think of a more horrifying societal experience of taking an essentially gentle, peaceful boy and transforming him into a ravenous killer through conscription. You’re coming into my young American life to force me into the Marine Corps with all that screaming, sweat, blood and death? The very physical and political core of America better be threatened for that wire to be tripped into conscription, only that justifies such a hideous intervention of liberty into an individual’s life.

My personal security tripwire is invasion from Mexico. When the Mexican tank divisions are massing on the border for imminent invasion then—and only then—activate Selective Service.

Stated thesis that the personal citizen involvement of the draft is the only proven safeguard against the rampant militarism afflicting us now is incorrect.  For many long periods of our history we essentially had no standing arming at all with of course no conscription, the battleship navy the only anomaly of a nation fiercely proud of its ability to stay out of those stupid European wars.  Politically there was a very strong consciousness that standing armies—militarism—inevitably led to horrible human abuses and stories simply on the whim of political leaders who turned out to be stupid little boys, committing our men to insane death usually for no more good reason than ego and posturing.

Or powerful money interests, of course. Even in early isolationist 20th century that’s how one gets an American Marine Corps general reflecting upon retirement that he sent far too many boys to their deaths for Shell Oil and Dole Banana.

We never built a social utopia with all the money we didn’t spend on standing armies, but at least we didn’t waste it, either.

WWI saw us end conscription and shut the Army down, again leaving somewhat of a Navy. Sure the Depression forced a lot of isolationism, but the country was merely returning to its sensible roots of avoiding the disastrous pitfalls of militarism—without a draft to cement that national mentality in place.

WWII swamped us and the world with unparalleled institutionalized violence, mayhem and death, but I would argue it was the stupid, hysterical, manipulative politics of anti-Communism that gradually eroded America’s traditional suspicion to large ready military forces.  Those same political forces felt immense shame and frustration after the defeat of Vietnam, and were completely ecstatic when George Bush smashed a reeling non-fighting Iraqi army so British Petroleum and their pals could keep the planet warming in the first Gulf War.

Then his son lied us into another war to finish buffing the testicles of his national security bff’s.  A Global Force for Good, that sure worked out, eh?

Anyway, the point is that the usual American suspicion against standing armies and conscription was completely lost after WWII, Rachel Maddow covered the evolution very well in her latest book.  Initiating and then ending the draft for Vietnam was not the sole variable in our rampant militarism today.  I’m not saying Mr. Sirota is wrong, only that the answer is incomplete in how we got into our flaming mess of militarist violence of the present, yes, even without a draft.

As  y’all know I have been immensely dismayed that President Obama has fully embraced heinously wasteful US militarism, even continuing the utterly futile war in Afghanistan for six years.  The oil companies received $20 billion a year for the fuel bill, but the little people got nothing but evil, maiming and death for all the insanity.1

Reinstating the draft won’t stop the Navy from switching to drones, tripling their attack force for each carrier to 144. The Navy likes to use carriers in pods of three, in 2030 six of them could launch 900 drones with precision weapons and no risk of American life.  Is that the kind of capability we want in some quack Tea Party President to have, let alone any human soul?

The first step in getting out of this mess (something I don’t have an answer for) is peace, leadership committed to staying the hell out of Syria or any war.  I’ve been yelling about it for six years, but DC is totally uninterested.

[1] I forget the precise year of tax return, but President Obama one year filed as a deduction many, many tens of thousands of dollars of charitable giving to reputable organizations that helped our soldiers with limbs lost in Afghanistan.  It seems likely to me—I don’t know—that he’s done that every year of his presidency.


900 Navy drones with global range with use at the whim of a President is a good idea.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The Last Time We Had Serious Civilian Pressure (15+ / 0-)

    to end war was the last time we had the draft.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Fri May 10, 2013 at 06:38:50 AM PDT

    •  Not only that, but when the draft stopped (5+ / 0-)

      the military became even more isolated from society (a chronic problem) and the drift toward a Christian Dominionist army of centurions and praetorian guards began.

      And during the Iraq war, Bush let thousands into the military on waivers because there weren't enuf qualified volunteers.  This has been a significant contribution the the presence of a thug culture in the military.  

      Finally, a volunteer military enables a president to act with less consideration for public sentiment because the public is not fully represented in the ranks and can be more easily silenced with sanctimonious manufactured emotion about America's greatness and sacrifice.

      The draft needs to be changed into a universal service requirement, 24 months, with a strong core of military training to pass constitutional muster, after which you go into the field with a choice (when possible) among military, environmental/public health, and infrastructure-building.  No senatorial-family exceptions, no deferments, no excuses.

      And it needs to include women, of course, and at long last.

      Their real God is money-- Jesus just drives the armored car, and his hat is made in China. © 2009 All Rights Reserved

      by oblomov on Fri May 10, 2013 at 07:11:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Universal "service" is totalitarianism--it assumes (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        that the needs of the individual are subservient to the needs of the state, even more than a war-time draft does.  

                The idea that the "draft ended the war in Vietnam" is ahistorical.  At the least, the war in Vietnam lasted from the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution until the fall of Saigon -- I.e., almost 10 years.  At the height of the war, the U.S. had 500,000 personnel in the Vietnam theater, a fraction of the U.S. population at the time at least twice the maximum we had in Iraq & Afghanistan at one time.  We lost about 50,000 dead in Vietnam, a toll 4-5 times as large as the deaths the U.S. has suffered in Iraq & Afghanistan, even when private contractors (a.k.a. mercenaries) are included.  If that's how a draft limits war, spare me from a draft.*

              The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were actually severely curtailed by the manpower limitations of a voluntary military, just as I'm sure that the options being presented today by the military to PBO are highly constrained by those same manpower limitations, especially since they have been so depleted by the idiocies in Iraq & Afghanistan.  A voluntary military has considerable drawbacks but those are manageable compared to the potential a draft provides for the type of vast military escalation that we saw in Vietnam.  

                *Actually, I spared myself from the draft through a 4-year legal fight for C.O. status,  during much of which I worked full-time as a draft counselor and anti-war, anti-draft activist.  Ironically, I escaped prosecution for the one time I actually had to refuse induction because I had a criminal charge pending from being arrested at a draft-board sit-in on "Stop the Draft Day."

        "If you don't read the newspapers, you're uninformed. If you do read the newspapers, you're misinformed." -- M. Twain

        by Oliver St John Gogarty on Fri May 10, 2013 at 09:07:51 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Only about 3% (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mr Robert, aliasalias

        of Americans are directly affected by these illegal wars.  That includes military members, their direct families members and then the residual family and others work in and around the bases.

        I hated being in the service during Vietnam, but: "when the draft stopped the military became even more isolated from society (a chronic problem) and the drift toward a Christian Dominionist army of centurions and praetorian guards began."  A mosty correct position

        I also agree w/ Gooserock:  "The Last Time We Had Serious Civilian Pressure to end war was the last time we had the draft.

        The military is out of control, w/ officers who receive gedunk medals for for taking a shit to the god damned christians who want to achieve Armageddon by nuking everything in sight.


        •  Exactly how "serious" was the "civilian (0+ / 0-)

          pressure to end war" in the late 1960's and early 1970's.  I was in the thick of the anti- war movement for several of those years, and I didn't notice any overwhelming civilian support at the time, even in NYC where I lived then--certainly not significantly greater that the opposition to the Iraq war at equivalent times.  

                True, there was greater opposition among draft-age civilians, and that opposition got enormous publicity, especially when it became violent or, as happened much more frequently, when the attempts to suppress it became violent.  But anybody closely involved in that opposition will admit how small its power and influence were.

                I would also submit that a great deal of the civilian anti-war sentiment at the time came from revulsion toward the prospect of nuclear war rather than from opposition to the draft: see the Cuban crisis, "Strangelove," "War Games,"
          "Seven Days in May," "On the Beach," etc., etc.   Anxiety and horror regarding nuclear war pervaded popular culture in the '60's.  Or maybe I'm just projecting--the insanity of MAD certainly had as much to do with my becoming involved in anti-war work as did the prospect of my being drafted to fight a war I thought immoral.

          "If you don't read the newspapers, you're uninformed. If you do read the newspapers, you're misinformed." -- M. Twain

          by Oliver St John Gogarty on Fri May 10, 2013 at 01:05:30 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Ending the war didn't end the militarism (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Grabber by the Heel

      You're correct, of course, but our current mission is to end the insane level of American defense spending.  I don't know how to do that, but putting a draft back in will not do it.

  •  Ideal versus reality (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sturunner, Cedwyn, oblomov

    In an ideal world, yes, we would shut down overseas bases, reduce the army and marine corps troop level and the draft would be unnecessary.

    The reality is, this is not going to happen. And, the reality is that the culture of sexual harrassment, racism and evangelism that has become so rampant in the military is due to the lack of a draft creating an insular community.

    And, I'm sorry if this appears disrespectful, but as a former naval officer I have seen a sense of entitlement grow in the military.  Now that less than 2% of the population actually participates in military service, and the civilian population has not been called upon to sacrifice during these past 10 years, the military feels entitled to the huge re-enlistment bonuses, the special pay, and all the benefits that come with military service.

     Look at the officer corps: the number of admirals and generals has skyrocketed, and the military has become just like Congress: a revolving door where you retire from the military on Monday and Tuesday you're back doing the same job for more money as a contractor, and getting your military pension.

    The draft is a huge necessity.  And this time, no deferments.  You can add slots for national service programs  as a non-military service, but everyone should have to do at least 2 years service, period.

    Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear. ~William E. Gladstone, 1866

    by absdoggy on Fri May 10, 2013 at 06:51:56 AM PDT

    •  Until we become a society (0+ / 0-)

      in which CO status isn't treated like a form of disease, and isn't granted conditionally upon the applicant's acceptance of a state-approved form of Sky Fairy or Sky Troll, no thanks.

      Dogs from the street can have all the desirable qualities that one could want from pet dogs. Most adopted stray dogs are usually humble and exceptionally faithful to their owners as if they are grateful for this kindness. -- H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej

      by corvo on Fri May 10, 2013 at 07:17:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  paradox - one nit (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    With a minor exception during WWII the Marine Corp has always been a volunteer force. Since WWII no one has been drafted into the Marine Corp, or Navy or Air Force. All draftees were into the US Army.

    I am a big supporter of all an volunteer military force. I served in a US Army made up primarily of draftees.

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Fri May 10, 2013 at 06:58:04 AM PDT

    •  This is correct (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Thank you.

      My father was diagnosed with brain cancer last week, so my effort before this was kind of a mess, and I was combative in the comments.  I sorta need some abstract writing, it's good to be reminded of this.

      I enlisted in an all-volunteer Navy.  What it would have been like with draftees, omfg.

      Take care.

    •  There wasa time during the Viet Nam War, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      1966-'67, at least, when the Marines took draftees. Many times I've heard the stories of how, at the induction station, the Marine sergeant would go down the line, taking one of every so many, usually the way I hear it every sixth one, for the Marine Corps.

      On the ground, in RVN, I could recognize a Marine draftee by the way he walked, the way he held himself.

      The phrase "didn't wanna be there" comes to mind.

      War beats down, and sows with salt, the hearts and minds of soldiers." Brecht

      by DaNang65 on Fri May 10, 2013 at 08:25:27 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The draft is dead...and buried (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      IMO, the draft is dead. I think the reasons are:

      1. War is a  big product-dependent business, and the products are increasingly costly and more technological, requiring skilled, motivated folks to operate them. Without these operators,  equipment obsolescence, and thus sales, would be hampered. Draftees may not be that motivated to train and operate, vs. an eager youngster who sees and uses the military as a path way out of the lower class.
      2. Legislators aren't going to bring the draft back, as voters aren't going to let their young Johnny and Julia be put at risk via a draft.--Better to hire this work out, as in all volunteer force. There's a precedent: Great Britain fought the Revolutionary War with heavy infusion of rented Hessians, and we, the rebels, could send soldiers hired to take our place, against them, IIRC.
      3. Military leaders (see 1. above) don't want draftees, who are unknown quantities, messing with their expensive toys. --And don't want the time and expense of training them. 'Better to get smart kids who are willing to learn and to follow orders right out of the box. The brass also remembers “fragging” in Vietnam.

      •  The draft broke down toward the end of Vietnam (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        In the early 1970's a large number of young men just ignored their draft notices.  Donald Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense at the time, under President Gerald Ford, and Dick Cheney was Ford's chief of staff.   Those two had a front row view of the draft system breaking down, and

        I'm sure it impressed them deeply even though they managed to keep it from becoming a big news story.  
        Some of those draft resisters moved to Canada, and others stayed home waiting for a knock on the door that never came.  Eventually Jimmy Carter pardoned them.

        I believe Cheney and Rumsfeld were strong opponents of even discussing a draft durning the Bush II administration.  The last thing they wanted was for people to remember the hippie slogan, "What if they gave a war, but nobody came?"

        We're all pretty strange one way or another; some of us just hide it better. "Normal" is a dryer setting.

        by david78209 on Fri May 10, 2013 at 09:32:11 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  B52D - there is no group advocating for a draft (0+ / 0-)

        There is no group in the US with any political muscle advocating for a draft. The armed forces certainly doesn't want them. You are right, the draft is dead.

        "let's talk about that"

        by VClib on Fri May 10, 2013 at 10:52:39 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  It was a good thing in that it made every war (5+ / 0-)

    personal to every American since everyone had a friend or family member subject to the draft.

    There is no need for it when unemployment is high, an "economic draft" replaces the one done from necessity when the government requires more boots than are signing up voluntarily.

    If the economy improves and enlistments drop or if there is any immediate need for boots by TPTB, a draft will be re-instituted in a heartbeat, I would bet on that.

    “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” FDR

    by Phoebe Loosinhouse on Fri May 10, 2013 at 07:07:40 AM PDT

  •  Except that we never really ended the draft. (5+ / 0-)

    That's why all of our young males have to register for "selective service."  The draft can be reinstated easily.

    We don't draft actively only because it would make wars unpopular.  It's much easier to fight a war when it's someone else's kid being sent home in a body bag that can't be photographed.

    Dogs from the street can have all the desirable qualities that one could want from pet dogs. Most adopted stray dogs are usually humble and exceptionally faithful to their owners as if they are grateful for this kindness. -- H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej

    by corvo on Fri May 10, 2013 at 07:15:57 AM PDT

    •  Much easier, but still done (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      corvo, david78209

      I don't disagree with you, but very sadly note without the draft the wars go on and on, popular or no.

      Only a political change of parties stopped the Iraq war, and the Obama team wanted to keep much more of a presence there than they did, the Iraqis stopped them.

      Afghanistan is an endless horror of waste--hell with $20 billion a year in cash the education community would be dancing in the streets every night if we spent that on our kids--yet it still drags on and on and on and on.

      Not having a draft doesn't stop the militarism, obviously.  It won't stop the fleets of drones.  Putting it back in place won't stop the drones or missiles either, it's just not the only answer.

      [sigh] Prudence and practicality should have stopped all this insanity, let alone the lying death.  How we get our people and leadership back to a better place I don't know.

  •  We have an economic draft now (6+ / 0-)

    It is just like it used to be. The poor uneducated kids go into military service. If you have a HS diploma it is the best paying career you can find. In the end it works just like the draft did when there were deferments for college students.

  •  nope, sorry (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    we'll be much less likely to be war-happy when Buffy and Miff start getting drafted.

    Please don't dominate the rap, Jack, if you got nothin' new to say - Grateful Dead

    by Cedwyn on Fri May 10, 2013 at 07:43:56 AM PDT

  •  It wasn't really an anomaly. (0+ / 0-)
    the battleship navy the only anomaly of a nation fiercely proud of its ability to stay out of those stupid European wars
    For a nation whose economy was still in large part dependent upon the import and export of goods to Europe, a navy that could defend American merchant shipping wasn't an anomaly but a necessity.

    One of the first military actions of the young Republic was a naval action to stop the Barbary pirates who were seizing American ships and ransoming or enslaving their crews.

    A nation with no real land-based threats of invasion could do without a standing army, but no nation that depends on maritime trade can do without the protection of a standing navy.

    "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." --Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife

    by JamesGG on Fri May 10, 2013 at 09:29:17 AM PDT

  •  We should re-instate the draft as part of a (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    willard landreth

    national service program. If drafted, other ways to serve could be chosen by the draftee than just military service. Some kind of service corps that would allow American youth to work in hospitals, communities, and natural environment, etc.

    Democracies should have shared service to the society that spans economic and class lines and brings us all together.

    Disclosure: I supported draft resistance during the Viet Nam War and made myself "scarce".

  •  its not the draft (0+ / 0-)

    after Vietnam, the size of the military was shrunk to make it much harder to go to war.  At that time, almost all military functions were performed by military personnel.  That meant that 80% of the uniformed personnel played support roles and 20% were in combat roles.  Over time, the miliatry and their civilian corporate friends, figured out that contractors could perform many of the support roles, thereby freeing up more personnel for combat roles and earning the civilians big paydays.  Without the contractors, the military did not have enough bodies for Iraq and Afghanistan.   Its the contractors that allowed those wars to be fought.

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