WAR AND BLOGGING
You may or not be aware of the huge flame-war that has broken out between Juan Cole
and Jonah Goldberg
recently. I've never been involved in one of these internet vendettas ( though, frankly, in the interest of increased site traffic maybe I should try -LOL ). Even on H-Diplo, where certain characters, like Eric Alterman, were worthy of a good old-fashioned flaming, I tended to stick to a policy of " soft words turneth away wrath". Overall, this practice has served me well because I often ended up with cordial relations with the people I was debating, Juan Cole among them, from whom I've learned not a few things about the Mideast.
One of the jabs Cole made at Goldberg was the following judgment:
" I don't think there is anything at all unpatriotic about a young man opposing a war and declining to enlist. But a young man (and this applies to W. and Cheney too) who mouths off strongly about the desirability of a war is a coward and a hypocrite if he does not go to fight it."
Strong words. And something of a moral free pass for anti-war activists since if military service is a duty incumbent upon citizens in a time of war this duty exists regardless of the political opinions held by the citizens. If this duty does not exist then we have a military composed of professional warriors who signed up for at least the possibility
of action and the moral objection to war does not apply.
My view is that military service works well as a system either with elite volunteers or on an egalitarian basis of conscription to forge an army of citizen-soldiers with the fewest exemptions possible. I'm older than Goldberg and younger than Cole and, lacking prior military experience or critical skills, I probably would not be accepted as a volunteer today though I'd have made it in under a very broad-based draft
. I have some reservations about a draft on libertarian grounds and for reasons of military efficiency but if we truly need a larger military to wage the war, middle-aged people like myself should at least be eligible for service and not merely 18-22 year olds kids.
A logical extension to Cole's argument would be the military service should be a prerequisite for political leadership. The ancient Romans certainly thought so - Praetorship with the legions was required for eligibility for filling higher offices in the Republic like the consulship. Machiavelli, in his Discourses on Livy
argued that this tradition produced a more virtuous and vital citizenry for Rome - something of an idealization given the cutthroat nature of Roman politics.
In our history, prior military service seemed to serve a number of our presidents well- Washington, Jackson, Truman, Eisenhower, JFK and Bush the elder. On the other hand, serving in wartime had little apparent impact on the presidencies of LBJ, Nixon, Carter and Reagan. General Ulysses S. Grant, the savior of the Republic, ended up as one of America's worst presidents while Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, with nominal or no military experience, were our greatest.
There is some overlap between war and politics but excellence in one is no guarantee of wisdom in the other.