[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.
 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.