In a recent interview, retired General Stanley McChrystal stated that he believes America should re-institute a military draft, ensuring that all citizens share the burden of war.
I agree with McChrystal and so did Thomas Jefferson: “Every citizen should be a soldier. This was the case with the Greeks and Romans, and must be that of every free state.”
In today’s America the idea of a draft is politically untenable. Many citizens feel the system is supposed to give something to them, but they are not required to give anything to it. People who think this way call it “freedom.” One could riff off Tacitus and say, “They made a democracy and called it freedom.”
The sense of community in America is dying, and I can attest that the sense of belonging in the military is a troubling phenomena. The military is very separated from everyday America, and this is not a good thing. It is a difficult experience to explain to someone who has never served in the military, but many many people feel very cut off from regular American life. I can testify to this feeling. When I first came in the Army and moved to Germany, I cannot imagine a more alienating experience.
The primary difference between today’s wars and the major wars of the past is that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are fought by a much smaller percentage of Americans. In fact, less than 1% of Americans serve in the military, whereas in WWII, 9% served. When you consider that women did not serve in WWII except as civilians, you can see that a very high number of men were in the military.
A difficult fact to ignore is that America has failed to defeat decisively any foe since the draft was abandoned in 1973. Some can argue that Desert Storm was a decisive victory, but we had to go back and clean up the mess we left. Americans no longer have a visceral feel for what it takes to win wars. This fact drove me crazy in Afghanistan, where I saw a plethora of well-intentioned projects accomplish little. As my friend, Dr. Scott Catino once said: “We’re throwing million of dollars at the insurgency and hoping it will go away.” Solar panels on the roofs of villagers which were stolen by insurgents and used to power bombs. Million-dollar “justice complexes” abandoned. Yet the suspicious stares from the Pashtuns continues. Does anyone believe a member of the military came up with the idea of solar panels as part of the war effort? I think not. It was a Non-government agency (NGO) who thought that was a good idea, because their job is to come up with solutions that don’t involve killing people.
The increasing separation of people in the military is causing increasingly recurrent visits from what military people call “The Good Idea Fairy”. The Good Idea Fairy is a font of well-intentioned ideas which are to be carried out by those of lesser rank. These ideas usually involve taking a rather simple exercise of some sort and transforming it into a confusing, over complicated mess.
The Good Idea Fairy can flourish in places where the negative aspects of bad decisions are not visited upon the person who made the decision in the first place. And since we have so few people who have served in the military and the number of elected officials who have served before beginning their political careers is growing smaller every election cycle, it seems trouble was inevitable
So now politicians can make decisions about a military in which they and perhaps their father never served. Political and social ideologues push ideas and plans for the military having little real knowledge about how it will effect our ability to fight. Women in the infantry is one idea that I’m sure The Good Idea Fairy would be proud of. While there are women that serve honorably in the military, the Army and Marines prohibit women from serving in the infantry for what every military in the last 10,000 years has thought obvious reasons. Not the least of which is a wanting physical prowess when it comes to fighting a war. Watch the movie Restrepo and imagine a woman being in that environment for 15 months.
But winning wars isn’t what’s important to some about the military. What’s important is the opportunity to push an agenda, to change society by infiltrating its most hallowed halls. Thus, in 2013 we have women being admitted to the Army’s toughest school–Ranger School. And every female failure at the school will need to be justified to high level rank.
This honest female Marine Corps Captain writes about her opinion concerning women in the infantry. She says that even though she was an outstanding athlete in college, and is not in the infantry, her deployment to Afghanistan left her with permanent injuries. She lost 17 pounds and her body stopped producing estrogen. And she wasn’t doing half the physical work that a Marine infantryman does.
All of this leads to a growing sense within the military that the troops don’t matter. Every decision is imposed without asking the people in the military what they think, or if they are asked, it doesn’t matter what they say. This is what happened with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Surveys were passed around but the SECDEF made it clear before a single chad was punched: This is getting repealed.
Suicide rates in the Army doubled after 2004. At that point some Army units were doing back-to-back 15 month tours. And this wasn’t in areas of the world as sophisticated as WWII Europe. It was culture shock with IEDs. With so few Americans serving during this operational tempo, you’d think the Army could have done without the multi-million dollar studies that tried to explain the reason for skyrocketing suicide numbers. But no. The studies were again ordered by people who have never been there and barely even care to read about it.
It used to be that the very best served. In WWII men had no choice, they went. The entire will of a nation was brought to bear against the country’s enemy’s. Now, our uber-professional Army can’t decisively beat a herd of toothless goat herders who know more about using fertilizer to make a bomb than using it to grow crops. America simply hasn’t enough troops to make it work.