Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Draft

WARNING! In today's post I am (again) intentionally not pulling any punches when it comes to certain "bad" words. So be forewarned. If ye be of delicate disposition, or are easily upset, come back tomorrow. Perhaps I'll have calmed down by then. Odds are, it's going to be a while before that happens.

Selective Service Drawing, BITD
So the other day I was involved in a bit of a brouhaha over on Facebook. Oddly enough it wasn't in some public forum (where any old yahoo can chime in) but it was in a private group. This group is (as most tend to be) a collection of fairly like-minded folk. Similar interests, etc., etc.

One member of the group wanted the opinions (write that down Hortense, the word "opinion" is key here!) of the group as to reinstating "the Draft". The idea being that as this particular group has a rather large collection of prior and current military members, the discussion/comments should prove elucidating. (The group contains airmen, soldiers, sailors, Marines and, I do believe, there may be a Coast Guardsmen or two. We also have beaucoup civilians who when they say "I Support the Troops", it ain't just lip service, they really mean it.) All that aside, it's something the group does from time to time. Someone throws out a topic, then the members chime in. This can be most entertaining. It seldom gets nasty.

The other day, it came close.

I don't spend a lot of time on Facebook. It's kind of a shoot-from-the-hip, toss something out there for consumption environment. I know there are those who will spend a lot of time in preparing a post for Facebook, but for most it's point and shoot. (Perhaps type and hit enter is more accurate, just not as lively sounding.)

I enjoy reading people's "point and shoot" comments, sometimes they are very entertaining. But as I said, I don't spend a lot of time on Facebook. In addition, I like to ponder my contributions to the public discourse before hanging it "out there". With a blog that's easy to do. You can spend hours writing your posts, carefully handcrafting them, checking the grammar and spelling and really going to a lot of effort to put forth what you have to say before you hit "Publish". (Then discovering ten minutes later that you misspelled something or the grammar in one paragraph is, shall we say, cumbersome.)

Anyhoo, like I was saying, one member posted a link to an interesting article talking about "the Draft". His post was so interesting, here it is, verbatim:

The author argues that ending the draft has been bad for America in more than one way, though disengagement of the citizenry being the biggest.

I'd care guess there is an opinion or two here on this subject....

"An enormous gap has opened between the all-volunteer U.S. military and the citizens of the country it serves, according to a new book by military analyst Andrew Bacevich, “Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country” (excerpt below)....
Bacevich, a Boston University professor and retired Army colonel whose son Andrew Bacevich, Jr. was killed in Iraq in 2007, traces the separation to Vietnam, a war he served in.
Bacevich argues that the gap has created a nation that has an abiding appetite for war waged by an Army that’s not capable of achieving victory.
“As Americans forfeit personal direct responsibility for contributing to the country’s defense — abandoning the tradition of the citizen soldier — then the state gains ownership of the military,” Bacevich told Here & Now. “The army becomes Washington’s army, not our army. And Washington has demonstrated a penchant for using the army recklessly.”
Oh yes, here's the link to that article.

So I entered my opinion in the comments. Keyword there, "opinion". My comment was "The draft is a bad idea. Period." Short, sweet and to the point. No extraneous commentary, no frosting on the cake, just my opinion. Informed by 24 years of military service. Most importantly, the majority of the group knows this about me.

For the first time, that I can recall, another member of the group took umbrage at my comment. His comment (much abridged) was along the lines of -
"cogent argument, you really contributed to the discussion"
It was a "WTF" moment pour moi. Where's the "just kidding" part?

I mean "Seriously?" My opinion was solicited, I gave it. I had no idea that I was presenting an argument before the Supreme Court. I felt really flummoxed that this fellow got his knickers in a twist over my opinion. But after a time of agitation and cogitation, I decided to more fully address the question of "the Draft". (Quick aside, I keep saying "the Draft", in quotes, because in reality it's more formally known as Selective Service. A draft makes it sound like everyone has to play. In reality it's "selective", as in "You over there, by the window, yes, you, you're screwed. You, over there by the watercooler, on the other hand, you can stay home.". Not everyone has to go.)

So Selective Service. Why do some want it and some don't? My opinion. If it's not "cogent" enough for you, well then, gomen nasai.

If one wants to have a rather large military and there are not enough people willing to sign up to be a part of that military, then you have to force people into the military.

That's right, I said "force". I also said rather large military (because apparently the American people have an abiding appetite for war. Sorry Colonel, I'm throwing the bullshit flag on that one. Who the hell are you hanging out with?)

One way you do that is via a draft. Sort of a "You, you and you. Welcome to the Army. The rest of you, don't wander off too far." Not everyone goes, it's not reasonable (nor is it workable) to have everyone be a part of the military. After all you do have to feed, clothe, house and train all of those people. Otherwise you just have a collection of people who have been labelled as "soldiers" but aren't really.

Sort of like the old Communist way of doing things (the Soviets and the North Koreans did do this, there is proof of this, my late father-in-law had the pleasure of hiding out in the hills with other young men of his village while the In Min Gun rounded up everyone else. Some they conscripted, some they shot).
As the People's Army passed through a locality, all of the men capable of self-mobility were rounded up and were told "Welcome to the Army". "But we have no uniforms, no guns!" they said. "Don't worry," they were told, "those will become available during or after the next battle. If you survive, just take stuff off of those who did not." Bingo, instant soldiers. On-the-job training at its most basic. It works, but only if you have lots and lots of people. And you don't care if they live or die.

So no, we don't actually do things that way. Our system is much more organized and, wait for it, "selective". We won't take just anyone. You have to be reasonably healthy, sane and somewhat educated. The sick, the crazy and the stupid need not apply. Still want to serve your country? Go into politics.

Why healthy? The military is not an easy life. Things tend to get strenuous. The ability to live outdoors is highly prized. Also carrying heavy things (like rifles and equipment) over long-ish distances is a requirement. Oh and digging holes. Did I mention digging holes?

Why sane? Crazy people aren't all that amenable to discipline. They tend to be hard to control. Also they might just go off and start shooting the wrong guys.

Why "somewhat" educated? While the military will train you to do the job they want you to do, they don't have time to teach you to read, write and "cipher". You at least have to have some rudimentary ability in these areas. No one expects you to cure cancer, but they will expect you to be able to read field manuals and the like. And sign your name. (Don't worry those field manuals will be written at something like a fifth-grade level. You'll be fine.)

Oh, and if the platoon leader says "Take three guys, run over there and draw their fire." You really need to understand the concept of "three". Again, don't expect to have to solve a system of differential equations. But you should be able to count and do simple arithmetic.

The military also prefers young males around the age of 18. (Sorry ladies, you are not welcome. I don't make the rules. By the way, for those who are paying attention, this is part of why the Old AF Sarge considers the draft a "bad idea". Write that down! If women don't have to go, neither should males. I have no problems whatsoever with the ladies volunteering. If they can do the job, have at it!)

So why 18-ish, healthy, sane, somewhat educated males? (Two key points there, "18" and "male".) Well, at age 18 you are, for the most part, physically mature. Field experience with younger troops (as young as 13!) showed that they got worn out and sickened quicker than their older peers. So you're "all growed up now". Welcome to the Army. Oh, one more thing, males of this age are rather malleable, i.e. fairly easy to train once you break them. Somewhat like horses, I imagine. Once they get older, they tend to think for themselves and aren't so easy to change into what the military wants.

Yes, I did say "break them". The military wants you to think and act a particular way. First they assist you in getting rid of your silly civilian ways, they're breaking your ingrained habits. Then they'll train you up in their way. It's a proven system. Over literally thousands of years. It ain't for the faint of heart.

Males are desired because they tend to be stronger. They can carry more stuff over longer distances. In general. Yes, there are some ladies who are stronger, tougher and more athletic than their male counterparts. That tends to be the exception, not the rule. To keep things simple, just draft the males.

Another point, when you want to draft people into the military you need only consider two branches of the military to place your draftees.

The Army - draftees are needed to carry rifles and get shot at (think cannon fodder, oh, and dig holes, lots of holes, to protect you when you're getting shot at) we always need a lot of those. The more complicated jobs will be performed by the folks who volunteer for the military. Expect to spend all of your time in the Army in the field, training. Or getting shot at. Or digging holes.

The Navy - draftees are needed to chip paint, paint over what they just chipped and polish the brightwork. Again, the more complicated jobs will be done by the volunteers. Ships at sea require a crap ton of care and maintenance. "What's that you say? What about shore duty?" Sorry, those things are for the volunteers, the folks who want to serve. Not the ones forced to serve. Expect to spend all of your time in the Navy at sea.

What about the Marines? I know that some Marines in WWII and Vietnam were draftees. Doesn't make sense to me. The Marines are supposed to be an "elite" force. If you draft people, you get draftees wearing marine uniforms. Only in rare cases will you get an actual Marine. If you want Marines, look for volunteers. (Unless you need a really, really big Corps, then... Well, see "The Army" above.)

What about the Air Force? Sorry, the Air Force is pretty technical and complicated. They want people who want to be airmen. Draftees are far too "hit or miss" a proposition to entrust them with the care and maintenance of aerospace vehicles. And operating those aerospace vehicles? Sorry, volunteers only. College-educated volunteers as a matter of fact.

I suppose the Air Force could use a few draftees. Someone has to paint stuff (if it isn't moving) and salute stuff (the things that are moving).

Okay, another reason I think the draft is a bad idea. Charlie Rangel thinks it's a good idea. In fact, before we go into Syria (not if, by the way) Charlie says we need to re-instate the draft.

Say what?

At any rate, if Charlie wants the draft, it's probably a bad idea. When a doofus thinks something is a good idea, then odds are, it's a bad idea. But that's the political, right-leaning part of me talking.

Who knows, maybe Charlie's on to something. After all, if we bomb Syria, that will tend to piss them off. Maybe piss off their friends as well. The Russians are friends with Assad. Putin has balls, oBummer does not. Things could get, come si dice, interesting?

Hhmm, maybe Charlie ain't as big a loon as I thought. (Which frightens the Hell out of me!)

Back in the day, I had one of these -

No, for those of you wondering, that's not my draft card. Same year of birth though, which means I would've registered the same year as Mr. Warnick. I don't know where my draft card is though. (His is on the Internet!) Probably in a box in the basement. I seldom throw things out. Oh wait, the Missus Herself does throw things out. So maybe it's gone. Could be at The Olde Vermonter's house though. There is stuff in the basement of the ancestral manse that haven't seen daylight since I was a boy. (And that was a long, long time ago!)

Another thing I had back then was an expectation of going to Vietnam. Pursuant to that expectation I went to a military school. Didn't get a ROTC scholarship on the first try, figured I'd try again later. Point being was, if I was going to have to go to Vietnam, I wanted to go as an officer. Looking back on it, I probably was not the brightest bulb on the tree. Probably my second choice would have been radioman. I had more cojones then sense back in the day.

But in the draft lottery of '72, I received a fairly high number. Company commander told me that the odds of my being drafted were slim to none. Perhaps if the Viet Cong somehow landed in Massachusetts, then I might get called. Otherwise, probably not. (Though it does seem that friends of the VC actually did take over Massachusetts. But I still wasn't drafted.)

Which leads me to my last real point as to why I think the draft is a "bad idea". (Though there are many reasons hinted at above, I haven't really enumerated them. But I am sometimes guilty of not being "cogent". And I've never, ever been accused of being concise. Well, maybe once or twice. But I digress.)

The main reason that I think the draft is a "bad idea" is that it is never equitable. Some can pay to avoid it, our own Unpleasantness of 1861-1865 provides multiple examples of that.

Later wars it wasn't so obvious, but if you do your research you will find, that if the "rich" don't want to go, they don't have to. (Bear in mind, politicians make the rules. To stay in office they need money. Who has money? Rich people. I'll let you take that next logical step on your own. While I, no doubt, am oversimplifying and while there are multiple examples of the well-off fighting and dying for their country, it's still part and parcel of the system. If you've got the cash, you can get out of the draft.)

I also recognize that there are certain groups of people who should be exempt from the draft. Folks in critical industries (gee, do we still have any of those?), people in essential services (police, fire, medical, etc.) and their ilk have important jobs here on the home front. Again, we can't just send everyone off to war. Someone has to "keep the home fires burning".

While I have not read Colonel Bacevich's book (perhaps I should and perhaps I will) one statement from that book concerns me a great deal.

"An enormous gap has opened between the all-volunteer U.S. military and the citizens of the country it serves..."
Sorry Colonel, that gap has always been there. Those who have not served will never understand what it's like. The "enormous" gap he is no doubt referring to is a result of World War Two. Literally millions of Americans served in that war. On the home front there was rationing and loads of government propaganda to remind everyone "there's a war on". We were fighting two powers who were truly despicable and perhaps even evil. (But before we get two self-righteous, one of our allies was also truly despicable and perhaps even evil.)

But still, lots of people served. Nearly everyone had been in or knew someone who had been in. The draft was "necessary". (Hhmm, remember that, we were fighting a global evilness and we still had to force people into the military? Methinks that's an underlying problem there.)

Then came Korea, we didn't need as many troops as World War Two. Fewer troops means that gap between "military and citizens" grew. (What the military aren't citizens? What? That's the implication of that statement above. I read it as "those mercenaries who are in it for the money or the college tuition". Seriously, I've heard that fucking argument before. Pardon my French, I'm getting wound up again.)

Then came Vietnam, again we didn't need as many troops. However, courtesy of the nightly news, we had the war live and in color every single night. And skewed news coverage which intentionally made the troops and the government look bad. If not downright evil. (I'm thinking John "The Traitor" Kerry's testimony before Congress here. Hey, isn't he from Massachusetts?)

So post-Vietnam we went to an all volunteer military. I suppose it was that or just invite the Soviets in and ask them if we could rename the States ourselves or would they do that for us? The People's Commonwealth of Massachusetts! The Democratic People's Republic of California. The United Socialist States of America (USSA). Good times!

So the gap is really a World War Two phenomenon. Want to close the gap? Create a big military. Make a high percentage of the population serve in it. Can we pay for it? Well, it won't be as expensive, you don't have to pay the draftees the same as the regulars. Oh, and you can give them crappy equipment too. That's cheap, right? So what if the Russian military is being revitalized. So what if China has her eyes on everything around the Pacific? Cheap army, less trained, less motivated troops with crappy equipment, what can possibly go wrong for us?

Something else the good Colonel said also bugs the Hell out of me. (By the way, he's a professor at Boston University. In Massachusetts. Hhmm. "Me No VC?")
“As Americans forfeit personal direct responsibility for contributing to the country’s defense — abandoning the tradition of the citizen soldier — then the state gains ownership of the military,” Bacevich told Here & Now. “The army becomes Washington’s army, not our army. And Washington has demonstrated a penchant for using the army recklessly.”
Guess what Colonel? The State has always owned the military. It has always been "Washington's Army" (and I don't mean George). What planet have you been living on?

The American people "forfeit personal direct responsibility" when they vote idiots like we have now into office. (Sorry guys, both sides of the aisle are made up of primarily self-serving morons, who play games on their cell phones instead of paying attention. There are exceptions but they are damned few.)

When the politicians "use the army recklessly" you vote them out of office. You don't draft the kid down the street.

And that "citizen soldier" crap? Seriously? Again, are we in the professional military not citizens? Do you think "Washington" imported us from Hesse-Cassel? No, we're not Hessians. (Many of those settled in Pennsylvania after the Revolution. So some of us might be descended from Hessians.) Begging the Colonel's pardon, you can shove that "citizen soldier" crap where the Sun, she doesn't shine.

If Americans are unwilling to do their political duties (stay informed, vote intelligently) what makes you think they'll be good soldiers? Oh wait, that's right, we'll make them do it.

What makes us think that this nation is still worth defending if we have to force people to defend her?

The All-Volunteer force is doing very well thank you. We have one of the deadliest, most effective military forces to ever walk (or sail, or fly in the skies of) the planet. Given the right support and weapons, we can kick anyone's ass. Anywhere, any time.

Sure let's replace that with a bunch of ill-paid draftees.

Fucking brilliant.

Yeah, the draft. Bad idea. Period. Any questions?

Is that cogent enough for you?

Fucking conscripts!
(Attributed to an unknown sergeant in the Napoleonic Wars.
Traditionally we sergeants use bad language for emphasis.
And because it's expected.
In case you were wondering.)

(Author's Note: I will cut the good Colonel some slack. He lost his son, Killed in Action in Iraq. I know that would unhinge me to the point of demanding that everyone's kids need to serve. The Colonel also has daughters. Does he extend his draft to his daughters, to women in general? If not, why not? To me, the Colonel's argument is fundamentally flawed. Perhaps I really should read his book. But not if those two quotes are a representative sample.

My CV: I'm an amateur historian (meaning I don't get paid to study history, doesn't mean I'm not good at it.) I served 24 years on active duty. My kids all served or are serving - one son, two daughters and a son-in-law. I have a LOT of skin in the game. I'm what you might call a fucking expert. Damnit, another rant. Perhaps the Friday Flyby will calm me down.)


  1. Good post.

    One day when I lived at Newport, I went up to Boston to pick up my parents at the airport. We had drinks with old old friends of theirs from the 22nd Field Artillery who laughingly told me what it was like as young draftees in the place I was born. A German farmer caught them stealing food and made them work for him for a day back in 1960 and then filled their car trunk with food.

    He was a Harvard professor and still married to the same incredible lady.

    There should never be a draft and there should be no exceptions. My uncles and FIL were drafted because they were MDs. They all served at the pleasure of the State. High school, college, medical school and then drafted.

    1. I don't like doing anything for the pleasure of the State.

      Good story about the German farmer.

  2. From my last blog entry.

    I will always be in favor of universal, compulsory, military service for both sexes, if only for a few months. Nothing else comes close to building a sense of national identification and unity.

    My opinion.

    1. It's not a bad opinion WSF. But you know the politicians (in and out of uniform) will screw it up.

  3. Very nice post, Sarge. Not because of my position on the argument but because it's well-written and reasoned, cogent-like. I must have missed all the brouhaha on FB (lucky me!) but it seems like it always has to happen occasionally - some idiot has to attack another group member for their opinion. You disagree with me? How dare you?!

    The funny part is that I remember this issue coming up a few times over the years at Lex's. But at least then we had Lex to settle people down. It's a miracle that he put up with all of us for so long.

    1. Thanks Michelle. It was a very minor spot of brouhaha. But it annoyed the heck out of me, hence this post in all its cogent glory. (Or something to that effect.)

      Yes, Lex was a superb referee. And yes, it's amazing he put up with us.

    2. I really don't do FB at all. All evidence to the contrary. I really don't.

      Lex was the best of us. He was not complex. He took joy in the day, always.

      An awful lot of people don't understand the importance of taking joy in life,

    3. Life is a gift, a precious gift. It's meant to be enjoyed.

  4. I'm with WSF, if you don't want to serve in the military, then do CCC or something similar; but I believe EVERYONE should get the discipline and do something productive for the country.

    1. You know I really get where you and WSF are coming from.

      Have you ever read Starship Troopers by Heinlein? That's what I'm thinking. That would work for me.

    2. no no.

      Perhaps you have not seen the drones of the urban core. They don't speak a language you understand, they don't respond to tasking, they don't abide orders, they flee from accomplishment. 30 years ago, we in the navy had Bottom Blow which was a program to rid ourselves of this type with no question asked. No captain's mast, no admin, just show them the world and be done with them.

      The military is elite. We don't take the dregs. At a minimum we want a high school diploma. Some of them are bad enough. I don't even want to think about taking losers who cannot finish school.

      The draft broke the army. It took decades to fix.

    3. Ouch, yeah, the urban core. How could I have forgotten them? We had a few left over after Vietnam in the USAF. Not fun to be around, didn't pull their weight.

      I still like Heinlein's concept, you didn't serve, you don't vote.

      The current Low Information Voters have no skin in the game. All they want is hand-outs.

      I fear for my country. I really do.

  5. One thing I'll say for the draft: the Air Force got a LOT of high-quality recruits with low draft numbers during the Vietnam unpleasantness. I knew more than a few of those types... good troops who did their four years and got out. The Air Force was better because of those guys and those guys were better off than than they would have been having to hump through the bush (not that there's anything wrong with that).

    One other thing, mentioned above: universal service works VERY well for the Israelis. I wouldn't have a problem if we had something similar. The problem, as you so ably mentioned, is that our "Selective Service" system was too damned selective for all the wrong reasons.

    My bottom line: I'm ambivalent on the issue as it stands. I don't think there's a serious movement afoot to re-institute the draft. Katy bar the door if and when that happens.

    1. no thank you.

      I do not want them. PERS treats them all the same. You need a warm body in your tech field and we have sent you a warm body. It's a totally useless untrained body with a serious bad attitude who hates everything and us more than most and doesn't know the first thing about fire control systems or engineering. WARM BODY says BUPERS.

      I'll pass. Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt.

    2. Buck you were from an earlier period than myself, though our careers did overlap. However, like I mentioned above, I did get to see some of the draft-fleeing recruits left over from the Vietnam era. Low life scum in many cases, enlisted in the USAF to avoid humping a rifle and a ruck in the bush.

      Perhaps the flightline attracted more of those because we did have a lot of "grunt jobs" on the line. You would probably not have seen those in the radar world. From experience (aircaft radar) you need smarts to do that type of job.

    3. Oh, forgot to mention, Cap'n - your point about BUPERS, holy crap yes. I've been in the "you needed someone, here's a warm body" situation in both the military and in my current gig. That never turns out well. And it always hurts.

  6. Yes, his comment was a bit snarky, deserving of some cogent snarkiness back. Well done. Any chance of you posting this on that Facebook thread? I'd like to watch the fireworks! I expect you'll cut him some more slack though. I wonder if the loss of his child has influenced his belief in reinstating the draft.

    1. I posted a link to this post on Facebook but nothing in that particular thread. My last comment on that thread was to the effect that I'd said (to the snarker) all I was going to say. Perhaps he was just having a bad day. Yank my chain once, I'll get over it. Yank it again, I shan't be as forgiving. But I'll let it pass, for now.

      As to the Colonel losing his son, I did mention that in the fine print above. I'm not sure what it did to the Colonel but I'm pretty certain something like that would cause me to nearly completely run off the rails. You're a Dad, I saw your interactions with your son (a fine lad by the way) in Shakespeare's. We both love our children fiercely and totally. So yes, I do cut the Colonel some slack. After all, he is stating an opinion, his opinion. And in all honesty it is an informed opinion. I just don't agree with his opinion. But I can still respect the man.

  7. As a one hitch and out enlistee, I don't have a dog in this hunt, but I want to acknowledge this post (and the previous post re: Syria).

    Good job.

  8. Funny true story about the WW II Draft: In 1940 my Father was teaching HS in the little town of Wood River, Illinois. In those days society was a lot less mobile than today and he was the only out-of-town "adult" of draft age in the city. Came the 1940 "OHIO" Draft (Over-The-Hill-In-October, the draft was supposed to be for 12 mos only) Turns out the quota for Wood River's draft board was ONE (1) person! Dad said he didn't even wait for the telegram/letter to start packing, lol!

    Of course they extended the draft anyway (natch) and Dad, not wanting to spend all his time painting barracks, went the OCS route to a commission and ended up forming the newly revived 42nd Rainbow Div., sailing to the ETO with the entire 15, 000 man Div in a troop convoy in Aug 0f "44 as an O-3 rifle company CO. But that's a whole 'nother story..

    1. And that's sounds like an awesome story VX. You should share it, like maybe over at Buck's place?

      Just sayin'...

  9. PS: Well, I will add this little bit of "intrigue." Turns out that my Mother's first room-mate out of college, (Aunt "Evie") was by that time working for the OSS in NYC. She let Mother know when Dad sailed (a TS deal, of course) by mailing her a piece of thank-you-note flimsy (no return address, lol) with nothing on it but the date and in her hand-writing the sentence: "They sailed at mid-night."

    I still have that piece of paper..

    1. Now there's an awesome bit of history right there!

  10. Excellent post. Very thoughtful, very thought provoking. Although I'm old enough to see the damage to the Military caused by Vietnam in its entirety (to include the draft), I think I'm a skin in the game guy (my version of Heinlein is no income tax, no vote). I'm in absolute total agreement with your statement that politicians will screw it up, so I'm leery of jumping on that return the draft bandwagon. Maybe a talent/potential assessment, and those assessed as lower talent work for the CCC. I know, Racist!
    I haven't had enough Rum yet to arrive at the obvious solution, so I'll postpone further discussion til you make your way down to Texas and I can show you how fighter pilots really shoot their watch!

    1. I like the "no income tax, no vote" idea.

      Texas? Learn how to properly shoot my watch? Now that would be epic!


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