Tuesday, July 26, 2005

David M. Kennedy has a column today bemoaning the thought that today's soldiers are mercenaries. Apparently, it is bad for society when our armed services fight for money rather than being drafted.
The United States now has a mercenary army. To be sure, our soldiers are hired from within the citizenry, unlike the hated Hessians whom George III recruited to fight against the American Revolutionaries. But like those Hessians, today's volunteers sign up for some mighty dangerous work largely for wages and benefits -- a compensation package that may not always be commensurate with the dangers in store, as current recruiting problems testify.

Neither the idealism nor the patriotism of those who serve is in question here. The profession of arms is a noble calling, and there is no shame in wage labor. But the fact remains that the United States today has a military force that is extraordinarily lean and lethal, even while it is increasingly separated from the civil society on whose behalf it fights. That is worrisome -- for reasons that go well beyond unmet recruiting targets.
A friend saw this column and wondered if all those National Guard serving in Iraq and Afghanistan saw themselves as apart from society.

What Kennedy is really advocating is some sort of return to the draft so that the population would be more involved in the war.
The life of a robust democratic society should be strenuous; it should make demands on its citizens when they are asked to engage with issues of life and death. The "revolution in military affairs" has made obsolete the kind of huge army that fought World War II, but a universal duty to service -- perhaps in the form of a lottery, or of compulsory national service with military duty as one option among several -- would at least ensure that the civilian and military sectors do not become dangerously separate spheres. War is too important to be left either to the generals or the politicians. It must be the people's business.
I think this all part of the same push that Charles Rangel had last year saying that we needed a draft because if there were a draft the war would be more unpopular and there would be more of an anti-war movement in the country. And I'm sure there would be if everyone 18 - 25 were subject to service. You can see that that is what Kennedy is truly worried about.
This is not a healthy situation. It is, among other things, a standing invitation to the kind of military adventurism that America's founders correctly feared was the greatest danger of standing armies - a danger made manifest in their day by the career of Napoleon Bonaparte, whom Jefferson described as having "transferred the destinies of the republic from the civil to the military arm."

Some will find it offensive to call today's armed forces a "mercenary army," but our troops are emphatically not the kind of citizen-soldiers that we fielded two generations ago: drawn from all ranks of society without respect to background or privilege or education, and mobilized on such a scale that civilian society's deep and durable consent to the resort to arms was absolutely necessary.


Yup, we got involved in Iraq because of some Napoleon-style "military adventurism." Just throwing around allusions to Napoleon does not make it so. Does Professor Kennedy really believed that we went in to Afghanistan and Iraq to conquer them in the same way that Napoleon went in to Spain and Russia? I'm sure he knows his 19th century history very well; I wish he were more familiar with his 21st history.

But how many times does the military have to say that they don't want everyone serving? They want people who have gone through their special training and who are committed to the military for a certain set time and aren't looking to get out as soon as their year is up. Rumsfeld has said over and over that he is not looking for a draft.
Rumsfeld leaned closer to the microphone and said, "I think the only people who could conceivably be talking about a draft are people who are speaking from pinnacles of near-perfect ignorance."

He added, "The last thing we need is a draft. We just don't." He explained that recruitment and retention in the part-time forces have been affected by active duty troops who are staying longer in the regular military.
So, Kennedy's call for national service is based more on what he thinks would be good for the country's character than for the country's military. There is no way that having a bunch of disgruntled draftees in the forces is going to be a good thing for the military.

If Professor Kennedy is concerned about the character of today's youth, perhaps he should talk some more with his students at Stanford and those applying to Stanford. My experience as a high school teacher is that the students who are aspiring for college all want to make sure that they have some sort of community service on their record. They're out tutoring children, building houses for the homeless, helping in political campaigns, doing chores for the elderly and a host of other sorts of service that my generation coming on the tail end of Vietnam never considered. Sure, their motivation might be mostly to fill in that section of the college application, but a surprising number of them have made connections that they say they want to continue in college. Look at any major college and you will see scores of groups that students volunteer in to give back to their communities. Unless Stanford is so different from schools here in North Carolina, I expect that many of Professor Kennedy's students have volunteered in such ways also. Every religious organization seems to have some program to facilitate and encourage such community service. Granted that they're not giving up a year of their lives to fight in Iraq. But I have always been impressed with the sense of service that I see in today's youth. Sure there are kids who aren't plugged in to these volunteer opportunities, but many of those kids are working jobs for money that they need. Do we really need the government to come in and make this voluntary system mandatory? Would that make the involvement of young people in their communtities any richer or heartfelt? And would it make the military any more competent?

If Professor Kennedy is so worried that those who are serving in our armed forces are really separated from society, perhaps he should go spend some time talking with those serving now in Iraq or Afghanistan. I just bet that he would find there the most noble type of citizen-soldiers that our founding fathers might have ever dreamed of. I don't think that he would be as worried about the "modern military's disjunction from American society."

UPDATE: A serviceman serving in Kosovo reminded me that I left out those National Guard serving in Kosovo. I apologize. We have such tremendous servicemen and women serving around the world and I suspect that none of them take kindly to being compared to mercenaries.