Magazine article The American Conservative

War Isn't for Everyone: The Military Needs Civilian Control, Not Citizen Soldiers

Magazine article The American Conservative

War Isn't for Everyone: The Military Needs Civilian Control, Not Citizen Soldiers

Article excerpt

THERE HAS BEEN MUCH hand-wringing lately that the public does not share in or even understand the sacrifices being borne by America's military. As a combat veteran who's the son of a combat veteran, my reaction is simple: So what?

In a January speech at National Defense University, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen lamented that Americans know "precious little" about the military and worried that, while they have been "very supportive" of our troops, they have almost no direct relationship with them. The people who fight our wars come disproportionately from rural areas and serve in remote outposts that give them little contact with the general public. As a result, "we don't know the American people. The American people don't know us."

This continued a line of argument began by Mullen's boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who bemoaned in a September speech at Duke University that, while Americans have "fond sentiments for men and women in uniform," the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan "remain an abstraction, a distant and unpleasant series of news items that do not affect them personally." He continued: "Even after 9/11, in the absence of a draft, for a growing number of Americans, service in the military, no matter how laudable, has become something for other people to do."

Gates contrasted this with the earlier days of the Republic, in which "apart from heroism on the battlefield, the act of simply being in the military was nothing extraordinary or remarkable. It was not considered a sign of uncommon patriotism or character. It was just something a healthy young man was expected to do if called upon, just as his father and grandfather had likely done in the two world wars."

He noted that this "ethos of service" once extended to elite circles as well, with famous entertainers, sports stars, and the graduates of our nation's top universities routinely doing a hitch in the military, whether in peacetime or war.

The inauguration of the all-volunteer military in 1973 ended that. While Gates emphasized that "reinstituting the draft is overwhelmingly opposed by the military's leadership," he nonetheless lamented that the strain of repeated deployments is felt only by a "tiny sliver" of society.

Division of Labor

It's no doubt true that our armed forces are less representative of the greater society than ever before. Is that really a bad thing?

America has traded a model in which a tiny cadre of professional soldiers was augmented with legions of amateurs during wartime for a large professional force augmented by a semi-professional reserve force. By most accounts, the result is a far superior fighting machine.

Indeed, Gates himself acknowledged in the Duke speech that "the all-volunteer experiment has proven to be a remarkable success" and that we currently field "the most professional, the best-educated, the most capable force this country has ever sent into battle." Furthermore, "Going back to compulsory service, in addition to being politically impossible, is highly impractical given the kinds of technical skills, experience, and attributes needed to be successful on the battlefield in the 21st century." Especially since, as Gates noted, "an ever-growing portion of America's 17- to 24-year-olds, about 75 percent, are simply ineligible or unavailable to serve for a variety of reasons, but above all health and weight problems in an age of spiraling childhood obesity."

Does having our warfighting done by professional soldiers, rather than a cross-section of the young male citizenry, put the burden on a smaller group of people? Sure. And does that mean that there's less mutual understanding? Certainly. But that's the nature of specialization and division of labor.

Once upon a time, most people grew their own food, made their own clothes, and built their own houses. Now most of us specialize in one field and pay others to do those things for us. …

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