Tuesday, February 08, 2005

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.

Very good points!

If a draft is needed, the type of conflict should determine the eligibility of a draft. In a protracted shooting war with China where we try to normandy Fuijan, a young, aggresive, and male force would be best. But to militarily occupy and reconstruct a large portion of a Gap, older, more diverse, and more experienced (with life) soldiers would be wanted.

As part of Operation Olympic, there was to be an all-female draft to supply nurses and medical support personel. If there is to be a draft in the future, it might be highly targeted and not involve fighters at all.
In a free society, if you believe a war is wrong then why shouldn't you refuse to serve in the military? After all if our political leaders cannot persuade people to serve then why should they? Then again, if your country is at war, isn't there some obligation to stand with your country? I understand why the anti-Bush, anti-war liberals don't swamp the recruiting stations. But it's the conservative supporters of the war who I come across who aren't in the military that concern me. After all if they aren't willing to practice what they preach then why should anyone else?

This brings up the question of Bush's daughters. Why aren't they in the military? I found Bush's vision and articulation of a policy devoted to freedom to be exciting and compelling. But why are his own children NOT inspired to serve their country? This says something that I think conservatives would rather not deal with: a kind of elitism in which conservatives support military action, but are not willing to make any real commitment to participate in that action.

I'm going to tie Dan's drafting of nurses and Phil's comment on the Bush twins together, if I may.

Personally, I have divided feelings on this issue and I was responding to what appeared to be some odd logic in Cole's post. We have a professional military. I've done some research and it far outclasses in skills the armies of past wars that were based upon conscription in just about every measure other than personal bravery. Nature of the beast- it is an elite standing army. Conscription will ruin it and that's more or less why the JCS oppose a draft or even a large-scale flood of volunteers.

I am opposed to a peacetime draft and I respect the arguments against even a wartime draft though I don't necesarily agree. Service to your country in wartime is either an obligation or it isn't. If it is then we should all be eligible up to the mid-forties. If it isn't a duty, then expecting the Jonah Goldbergs of the world to enlist while excusing the Michael Moores on political grounds does not make all that much sense - particularly when paunchy 35 year old enlistees usually make second-rate infantry.

As for women, Bush twins or nurses, I can't think of any good reason to exempt them from service obligations if men are being drafted given the wide range of military positions they currently fill.

As for war supporters who should enlist I've known three, all slightly younger than myself, all with prior military experience who tried. All three were rebuffed from active-duty combat-related enlistment slots due to age and encouraged to apply for Army reserve/NG support unit positions instead. One got around the military by becoming a contract employee in Iraq for a USG agency and basically became a soldier with a different paycheck.
This is a case where the argument is obsolete for two reasons. First as a professional war making army we don't need conscription - volunteers make for a more motivated force. (If we suffer from a lack of volunteers we make the offers more appealing - capitalism still works you know.) Second the need for a 'sys admin' force is obvious and probably inevitable barring worst case scenarios. As Barnett points out that sys admin force would be made up of more mature and experienced recruits. People like you and me may find this appealing from a sense of civic duty or simply a personal yearning without disqualifying us due to our age and physical condition.

As to the moral position of critics of the war... In Israel a disproportionate number of combat soldiers and officers comes from the Kibbutz movement (which tends toward the left side of the political spectrum). As combat veterans they tend to belong to the 'peace camp' and are not questioned as to their patriotism. Unlike the Left in the US, they know what they are talking about. You also find that some of the most right wing groups in Israel are exempted from military service and not highly regarded. It is ridiculous to say that a conservative must serve in order to have the moral authority to advocate war any more than a liberal must have credentials to advocate peace. But anyone who has served has to be seen as having a credible voice.
Hi Stuart,

I used to envision the Sys Admin force as another type of uniformed service, sort of a guardian-peacemaker force but after outlining the differences I saw with " Leviathan" Tom said that I still had more " trigger-puller" elements in the Sys Admin concept than he had intended in PNM.

So, from what I am now inferring now from Tom's brief is that Sys Admin is more of a *rubric* covering a stabilizing military-police peacekeeping type force coupled with a range of para-civilian NGO, governmental and international agencies for development, nation-building and civil society organizing. A rubric that can evolve toward a more formal organizational entity.

Tom also recommended that I read the new Francis Fukuyama book on nation-building since he seems to be drawing on some of Fukuyama's conceptualizations.
I hadn't thought of the sys admin force as being very military in nature (although Tom makes it clear that it does have that component). When I think of what images came to mind from his descriptions I think of 'Doctors without Borders', the Peace Corps, lots of contractor style 'units' that build infrastructure like networks and business incubators. My point is that with a Leviathan and a sys admin there will be a home for both ends of this spectrum. The anti-war activist will have no serious argument against participating in a peace-making force. I have been combat soldier - it helped me grow, I can see myself also serving in the sys admin force. It would be good for the soul. The key is for us to actually go THERE. (No fair teleworking, you miss the sensations.)

Thanks for the Fukuyama reference.
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