The draft is stupid.

 Not sure how else to title this post after reading an opinion piece in the Washington Post about it being time to get rid of our all volunteer military and replace it with the draft. According to the WP it would seem an armed force of willing, capable, trained professionals are among a number of unnecessary traditions, ideas, and institutions we need to toss out.

 Why should we do such a thing with our armed forces? Examine this we shall. Some quotes from the article below:

“It has been too successful. Our relatively small and highly adept military has made it all too easy for our nation to go to war — and to ignore the consequences.”

  So the answer is to have a less adept military comprised of amateurs instead of trained professionals? How is this a good idea? Let’s send an army of surly malcontents to regional conflicts around the globe so they can fail. Brilliant! A nation that ignores the consequences of deploying an all volunteer army won’t ignore the conscript one?

“The drawbacks of the all-volunteer force are not military, but political and ethical.”

  If the drawbacks are not military then why alter how we recruit our armed forces? Sounds to me the problem is with politicians and their ethical decision making.

“We had a draft in the 1960s, of course, and it did not stop President Lyndon Johnson from getting into a ground war in Vietnam. But the draft sure did encourage people to pay attention to the war and decide whether they were willing to support it.” 

  No, it was questionable reporting by our news media who were able to televise the war for the first time. From what I can tell most Americans agree the failure of Vietnam was one of political will.

My father told me a few stories about his experience in Vietnam dealing with drug abusers. Some leaders ignored the problem, my dad was one of those who went after them. He told me about two separate incidents where they tried to frag him. Once by tossing a hand grenade in his hooch and another grenade when they were interviewing a druggie they had caught. Both times he just happened to step out before the attack. I suspect these types of incidents do not occur as often in an all volunteer force and not by drug offenders.

“A nation that disregards the consequences of its gravest decisions is operating in morally hazardous territory.” 

  How is it better to have this morally hazardous territory navigated by conscripts who are there against their will? In what fantasy world does this scenario end well?

“If there had been a draft in 2001, I think we still would have gone to war in Afghanistan, which was the right thing to do. But I don’t think we would have stayed there much past the middle of 2002 or handled the war so negligently for years after that.” 

  It wasn’t the military who handled the war negligently but politicians. Hmmm… perhaps the answer is to conscript lawmakers? We have jury duty after all. Why not Congressional duty?

“Resuming conscription is the best way to reconnect the people with the armed services.” 

  I would suggest the author is the one who is disconnected from the armed services not American citizens. (Before anyone points out that the author is a fellow at the Center for a New American Security and has written books on military command, I’d suggest these things do not mean he has any connection to troops on the ground who are making things happen.) Everywhere I go people thank me for my service or pick up my tab at a diner. Ask the families of service members how disconnected they are. If memory serves it was during the era of the draft when returning vets were spat upon. How are the people disconnected with the one government institution they have the most confidence in?

 As a matter of fact, it seems to me the draft is a great way to make true the erroneous notion our ranks are filled with rapists, the uneducated, the immoral, the desperate, and a general lower class of citizen. If the issues are political, ethical, and morally hazardous how is fiddling with a military that actively instructs its members in moral and ethical behavior the solution?

 It’s like realizing our architects have created lousy blueprints.  Then we decide the solution is to fire the carpenters guild in order to hire a bunch of dudes with hammers and no desire to build. Huh? Is it me or does this sound like it would compound the problem?

Here’s a military maxim to take with you: A poor plan executed well is better than a good plan executed poorly. 

 If we look to Vietnam as the writer suggests, it was a time when the armed forces was rife with drug abuse, race division, and poor leadership.  All in all this suggestion seems Orwellian in nature and quite disturbing. At a time when our military is being drawn down and only the very best are being retained, are we seriously considering replacing proven professionals with conscripted amateurs? It seems all too easy to make America weaker – and to ignore the consequences.

Semper Fidelis!
America’s SgtMaj

My shipmate, NavyOne, has some thoughts on the same article over at the Mellow Jihadi.

UPDATE: I don’t mean to imply above the draft causes an influx of drug use. As I point out in the comments, my point in using the druggie story was to illustrate a less professional, frankly criminal, element creeping in with the draft. Drugs continue to be a societal issue the military deals with. The two are not necessarily related but I have never had to protect myself from drug offenders during my tenure. Unlike my father, who related he and a buddy had to stand guard over each other when they used the head or showers. 

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  1. SGM, I agree. We need to maintain a “Professional” force…not a “Forced Force.” Even after the draft stopped in the 70’s, we still had a lot of drug problems in those days.
    Fast forward to the current times…the Soldiers, Marines and Saliors I worked with in Iraq were some of the BEST people I had ever worked with. Smart, dedicited and professional- even the “reserves”…when I was there, 60% of the forces in Iraq were reserves.
    We do need something to get the general public connected to the action going on around the world…but if you took the “average” American and asked them:
    1.) Where is Iraq?
    2.) Where is N. Korea?
    3.) Where is Iran?
    etc….most couldn’t find them on the map.

  2. According to the SSS my number was 200.
    My service record say’s “never registered” as I was already done with boot camp when I turned 18 and I never bothered to fill out the paperwork.

  3. I went to boot camp with some draftees who volunteered for the Corp and they turned out to be excellent Marines. My brother was drafted into the Army and his experience with other draftees was less impressive. I was one of those who were spit on in Frisco on the way back and it was not an enjoyable experience. The spitter didn’t enjoy his broken nose either.

  4. Re-posting this here for Zoldarmy:

    Not so fast Sergeant Major. Tom Ricks can shoot from the hip, but I expect you to assess the situation, take aim, and put two good shots downrange.
    First off, the notion of a professional military doesn’t fall under the rubric of American traditions. We have less than 40 years of experience with it and it has not been an unqualified success. The draftee forces have a considerably better track record than the current structure, but then again, they mostly had significantly better civilian leadership. We fight best with a professional cadre, a mass of draftees that includes a slice of all our communities, and a civilian leadership than respects both those cadres and communities.
    Both you and Ricks get it wrong. He says, “It has been too successful. . . .” and you immediately take the alternative to be a “military comprised of amateurs . . . .” You both read like the jackass politicians trading punchy sound bites on the two percent of facts you dispute, while you do agree on 98% of what matters.
    The point that matters you can both agree on: “The drawbacks of the all-volunteer force are not military, but political and ethical.”
    Why alter how we recruit our armed forces? Because the American people and their politicians can’t handle the political and ethical drawbacks. This isn’t a question for the military; this is a question for the Americans that involve themselves in our political processes.
    “My Pappy told me . . .” doesn’t cut it either. It took us sixty years to get my dad’s stories out and when they faulted leadership it involved GOs and political considerations. The notion that fragging stories and debating the draft go together is crap. I’ll trade you druggie stories and talk about leadership over your liquor or mine, but not in a two minute blog. My experience with two year draftees was that on average they were better than the four year volunteers you get today.
    We didn’t blow VN because of questionable reporting or a draftee force. Leadership at the highest levels, political and military, was rarely on the same page and neither was ever in the same war as the Vietnamese. There was no leadership at strategic levels, only command; not a particularly relevant consideration in discussing the draft today. Perhaps it is relevant to discussing our performance over the last decade though. Similarly, you might be onto something when you discuss conscripting politicians.
    Please don’t confuse military maxims with Marine Corps lore: “A poor plan executed well is better than a good plan executed poorly.” Get your butt back to work: no poor plans and no poor execution.


  5. 1. Mr. Ricks is just generating another controversial statement.
    2. Fielding a half-assed force like everyone else has is an invitation to disaster and, ultimately, extinction.
    3. Not fair to the force, either.
    4. Ricks knows that.
    5. Every once in awhile (Al Sharpton 2 weeks ago) one of the reverends calls for reinstating the draft.
    6. The Pentagon quakes in fear.
    7. If that happened, the minorities would find out their dirty little secret: most of the minority youth in America don’t qualify for military service for one reason or another.
    8. That fact comes to light and the howling will commence. And, come to think of it, they’ll have good reason to complain. But not about the current high force standards.
    9. When I was drafted, the force had a large percentage of minorities. In the infantry in VN, about 40-50%.
    10. Force is now manned at percentages reflecting societal norms according to DOD information.
    11. Used to be a leg up for young men coming off the farm or from the inner city. Doubt there is much of that going on anymore.
    12. Went to war with a group of people whose abilities I distrusted. Don’t recommend it.
    V/R JWest

  6. CI Roller, again those issues are more social than military. Your perspective as someone whose career spanned from the 70’s until now is probably more important than mine. Do you think the differences had to do with the times or did the draft play a role?

    Jon, has that ever gotten you in trouble? Administrative nightmares being what they are I could only imagine if it did.

    Lin, I imagine most draftees did turn out well. I asked the old man once about the spitting thing. He said it never happened to him. I suppose that was fortunate, unlike your spitter.

    Zoldarmy, welcome!
    I agree a citizen soldiery is ideal. Most enlistees depart the service after their first hitch vice making a profession of it. They are from all of our communities. I’m not sure a draft is required to achieve this.

    Mr. Ricks claims a highly adept military allows for political and ethical issues concerning our national decision making. I agree with you it is not a military issue. I think this requires a change in how the American people do things during elections not a change in how the military operates.

    My old man had plenty to say about political considerations during Vietnam but as you say there isn’t much time or room here. As far as offering “My Pappy told me…” anecdotal evidence, it’s all I have as far as personal experience of that conflict. My point using it was to illustrate a less professional, frankly criminal, element creeping in with the draft. Drugs continue to be a societal issue the military deals with. It is possible the two are not related but I have never had to protect myself from drug offenders during my tenure.

    I did not claim we blew VN because of draftees or the media. I said it was a lack of political will. You mention leadership at the highest political levels which I would submit are the ones crafting poor plans for those on the ground to execute.

    Judging by the performance of Marines it has been my pleasure to serve with there have rarely been poor plans or execution at their level. My point is their excellent performance is not the reason to change how we recruit for the armed forces as Mr. Ricks states.

    I’m on PCS leave and will get my butt back to work as my report date approaches. Ha!

    Semper Fi

  7. 1. When I was sworn in, as a draftee, at the Columbus, OH AFEES, the oath was given by an Army major.
    2. In the back of the room were several Columbus Police Officers.
    3. They cuffed and removed the five or six individuals who refused to take the oath.
    4. Presumably, they were arrested.
    V/R JWest

  8. We had a draft. It did nothing to make people “more connected” or “care” about our military. In fact it worked the opposite. No one cared, and no one wanted to be connected –especially when it came to the hand our society dealt the veterans of Vietnam.

    In the past ten years, we’ve seen the rise of the military support community. I think if anyone has made the general population “care” or “feel connected” it is due to the hard work of these men and women, who have campaigned tirelessly to fulfill personal, institutional and politically supported needs (such as funding for the VA, changes in mental health assistance and treatment).

  9. SGM, I think it was the “times”…by the time I enlisted, all the draftees had gotten out- unless they wanted to stay in. We were very short of troops for a few years after the draft- lack of planning by the Army I think. I was a 81mm mortar squad by myself- gunner, assist. gunner, ammo bearer, driver and I had an Sgt for a squad leader.
    Many of those joining were desperated and out of work- and many couldn’t even read!
    I got promoted to E4 in 13 months but got frustrated with the dumb leaders and drug use, so I got out. The troops I worked with in the last years were a million times better and impressed me a great deal.
    We have to be sure history doesn’t repeat itself– again.

  10. Looking at this from a non-millitary background, the point that the author made that a small highly professional military is kinda understandable. I think that a small highly trained professional military, scares some people. (Not me,, but some!) The history of the American armed forces has been a small core group around which the larger army was formed in times of crisis. Then disbanded to go back to the work of the day after the crisis has passed. Minutemen in the Revolution. Most Civil War armies, through our history this has been the M.O.

    Now take a person who may not come from the point of view that people who frequetly ready here. To that person, the point of view described above is the norm and well established way it should be. What we have today is foreign to them.

    Now in my 30 something’s I look around and see some of the kids that do not care about anything, and some sort of “national service” of some type, not necessarily military, is a good thing. Look at voting rates int he country. less then 50%! If people have a vested interest in things, they are more willing to get involved. A more involved electorate a better country in the future.

  11. JWest, wow. No cops around when I swore in.

    Kanani, I suppose the author’s point was that a draft would force those who would otherwise be glued to reality TV to participate. Not sure if I want them to though.

    CI Roller, yeah, the 70 sucked. I recall my dad talking about issues they had then. Though by then I was under the impression you had to have a high school diploma to enter. Was that not true?

    Mark, I see your point. The problem is making the solution to our national apathy government intervention (again). One could argue an increase in government involvement in the daily lives of our citizens (travel, taxes, diet, etc) could lead to greater apathy in our country.

  12. SGM, NO in those days you DID NOT need a HS diploma to join the Army….some had (on paper) an 8th grade education…but several couldn’t even read at a 5th grade level. The part that ticked me off—they had a HS diploma program that troops could sign up for…that got them out of work and going to the field..while those of us that had a diploma had to work.
    A few times I had to sit down with dummies and read a FM to them, then stop and explain the big words. It drove me nuts. For the driving test, 25 of us went over one morning, and 3 of us passed the written part.

  13. “For the driving test, 25 of us went over one morning, and 3 of us passed the written part…”

    …Must. Resist. Interservice humor. Must. Not. Army joke.

  14. SGM, I completely agree that government involvement in our daily lives is a no-no. But if a person has a horse in the game, they are more likely to pay attention. Military families are the best example of this, they almost always to the core true to the family member and service.

    The government is not directly involved in there lives, but it is involved in some one they love. So they are more involved in he government and making something better.

    It is this type of involvement from the general public that we want to encourage, because it HOPFULLY change that negative cycle of apathy into a positive cycle.

  15. I think (and this is strictly my opinion, having never served in the military)that with the technological advances we have seen in many parts of the military, we need to have a core of professional, and well educated people serving. It seems a little short sighted to wait until there is a crisis to realize that we are not up to speed.
    Enjoy your leave, SgtMaj.!!

  16. The population turned against the Vietnam conflict because it ran over four years, not because of the draft. Yes many opposed the draft but that wasn’t the reason for the change in support. Just as the population turned against the Iraq conflict after about four years.

    It takes roughly four years for the country to be weary of a conflict despite constant agitation from the anti-war crowd. The draft isn’t relevant to the equation except that it acts as it screws up our military.

  17. CI Roller, that’s interesting since 1) the Marine Corps generally has the all muscle, no brains rep. 2) My dad actually told me about him being worried about reenlisting because the Corps wanted high school grads. My old man actually had to teach himself how to read while he was in.

    be603, your restraint is noted.

    Mark, I agree it would be nice to tear the average American away from reality TV and into the real world with real problems. I’m not so sure the draft would do that though. Judging by the amount of support I see for troops, there is quite a large portion of the public on board already.

    Leslie, I imagine there are those in fear of an elite core of professionals in the military.

    rjschwarz, true, the American public tends to have a low tolerance or short attention span for long conflicts. Though I notice since 2008 the anti-war protester types have all but disappeared. This begs the question, what were they really protesting?

  18. Mark mentioned the old school method of a small cadre around which an army of whatever size required could be formed.

    That way, this day and age, is completely non-operational.

    The old school days, when such a military force was do-able, a soldier could be recruited and taught what he needed to know while marching to the fight.

    WW2 proved that to be no longer functional. It took way too long to build up the military *and* train the personnel up in the skills needed.

    The skills needed, and the training time to get functional, has only increased since.

    As to the disconnect, look no further than the same type source that published the opinion piece under current discussion.

    Between the, often open but most often just passive, hostility of much of or supposed news media, and some of the outrageous idiocy or blatant ignorance taught in so many of our schools…

    National conscription for either military or non military has no advantages on any scale. The idea that anything can be solved by forced labor, especially in a civilian force serves only two functions.
    1. Greater government management of the lives of the citizenry and the rendering of that citizenry to no more than serf status for a period of time.
    2. Greater expansion of the government’s needs to suck up ever more tax dollars, because all those civilian “draftees”, doing jobs while under obligation, still have to be paid something.

    Germany tried this. The end result was a bunch of kids doing jobs such as old folks home workers, for slave wages as they complied with their “social contract” or whatever it was called.

    I have heard that even the Germans have smartened up enough recently that the whole program is being reconsidered.


  19. I dunno if the draft would be a good thing for the military — perhaps but almost certainly not.

    I dunno if the draft would a good thing for us societally — perhaps but irrelevant since effects on military readiness trump social engineering.

    Getting a bunch of the current generation of dirtbags and self absorbed whiners into bootcamp where they can be IT’d, yelled at and crawl a live fire course or fight a shipboard fire?

    Worth my tax dollars even if we drop ’em right back to the street after a couple years of KP and chipping paint over the side in a bosun’s chair.

  20. Can someone please explain to a poor benighted foreigner what is actually meant by “The Draft”?

    Are we talking a reduction in the “professional” military personnel to be temporarily augmented in times of war by The Draft, i.e. compulsory conscription of eligible persons; or is it more a “national service” thing where if you’re the right age/whatever-else-is-a-factor you’re obligated to do X years in the military before continuing about your life, a la Denmark or Greece (regardless of whether you’re at war or not)?

    Or could it be either/neither/both? I’m struggling to follow the discussion.

    Re your last comment, ASM, one of my staff many years ago had a dad who’d been retired as a Colour Sgt in some bit of the Army somewhere – i met him once in the pub, he overheard someone saying “ooh, kids these days, bring back national service, that’d straighten them out” or some such, and he went bonkers. “Give me their effing PARENTS for national effing service!!! i’ll effing well straighten them out, then they can effing well sort out the effing mess they’ve made of their effing SPAWN themselves!”

    So i think he’d agree with you about keeping social experiments out of the military.

  21. We already have an elite core of professionals in the military – they are called Marines…..and the same people who are afraid of trained, professional military are the ones who you will find hiding behind said trained professionals at the first sign of danger.
    It’s a puzzle with way to many pieces for my worn out brain!!

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