Tag Archives: draft

My Timing Is Terrible

As some of my readers know, I ran for Congress in 1980. (I even won a Republican primary–and I was pro-choice and pro-gay-rights. That wouldn’t happen in the cult that has replaced the GOP of which I was a member!)

At the time, defense policy was an issue; among the positions I took was that , if we must have a  draft, it should include women. (You are beginning to see why I lost the election.)

Well, it is now 39 years later, and a court has concluded that I was right. Not that the army is rushing to comply with the court’s ruling.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The chairman of a panel considering changes to the U.S. military draft said Monday its recommendations to Congress won’t be influenced by a federal judge’s recent ruling that the current system is unconstitutional because it only applies to men.

The military has not drafted anyone into service in more than 40 years, but American men must still register when they turn 18. Recent efforts to make registration also mandatory for women have set off intense debate in Washington.

I have my concerns about our current all-volunteer army, which depends far too heavily on “contractors” (aka mercenaries), and enlists disproportionate numbers of poor kids who have few options while demanding no sacrifice from more comfortable ones. But that’s a post for a different day.

U.S. District Judge Gray Miller declared a male-only draft unconstitutional in his ruling late Friday, but he stopped of ordering the government to make any immediate changes. He said the time for debating “the place of women in the Armed Forces” is over. Women now make up 20 percent of the Air Force, 19 percent of the Navy, 15 percent of the Army and 8.6 percent of the Marines, according to Pentagon figures.

Among the many changes we have experienced since 1980, the nature of war and the identity of the threats America faces have changed rather dramatically. It will be interesting to see whether attitudes about the capacities and obligations of men and women have changed enough to enlarge the draft as well.

The decision comes as Congress awaits a report next year from an 11-member commission to study the issue of selective service. It is chaired by former Nevada Rep. Joe Heck, who personally supports that women also be required to register for the draft.

Heck said the ruling won’t influence its report or hurry along the eventual recommendations to Congress. He described a generational divide in public comments his commission has collected about women and the draft.

“If you talk to those who would be impacted, that is males and females ages 18 to 25, they say, ‘yes, women should have to register. It’s a matter of equality,’” Heck said. “If you talk to an older population, they’re the ones who seem to be reluctant.”

The lawsuit in Texas was brought by the National Coalition for Men, a men’s rights group. The Defense Department lifted the ban on women in combat in 2013, and Miller stopped of ordering the government to take any immediate action with the draft in his ruling late Friday.

The last major decision on selective service was the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1981 that upheld excluding women because they were not allowed to serve in combat at the time.

“While historical restrictions on women in the military may have justified past discrimination, men and women are now ‘similarly situated for purposes of a draft or registration for a draft,’” Miller wrote. “If there ever was a time to discuss ‘the place of women in the Armed Services,’ that time has passed.”

My time, on the other hand, may be at hand…

 

While We’re Talking About Patriotism…

Among Monday’s Fourth of July reliable pieties were many exhortations to “support the troops.” We heard little or nothing about what really supporting our troops would look like.

A commenter on my Fourth of July post advocated reinstitution of the military draft; the comment reminded me of a book review I read awhile back, so I dug it out. In the New York Times, Matthew Crawford reviewed Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger. Junger had previously directed two well-received documentaries about an American platoon stationed in a small village in Afghanistan. In those films, Crawford tells us, we see

…the recalcitrant realities of killing. We see the joys and depravities of a cell of men released from the neutering moral regulation of American society. That society has a mission for them to do, but it cannot avow the means by which it is to be accomplished and must avert its gaze from the appalling maleness of it all.

In Tribe, Junger asks: how do you return home from such an experience, an experience where the qualities demanded of soldiers, the qualities cultivated by war, are “fundamentally at odds with our public principles”? How do you reintegrate these young people into a society largely indifferent to and unaware of the nation’s foreign entanglements, let alone the realities of combat?

In his review of the book, Crawford points out that the problems of re-entry and reintegration into society in countries (like Israel) where the burdens of national defense are widely shared–and much less remote from the collective consciousness of the general public–are much different from the problems faced by returning American soldiers.

There are strengths and weaknesses to a volunteer army. I would suggest that the weaknesses are significant–and corrosive–and that they outweigh the strengths.

Our “volunteers” are mostly recruited from marginalized populations and those who have few other educational or employment options. To be blunt (and not “politically correct”), that reality–and America’s extensive use of “contractors” (aka mercenaries)– makes it easier for lawmakers to authorize military actions. They need not come back to their districts and face constituents whose sons and daughters have been conscripted and sent into danger.

I have previously written about the negative consequences of “outsourcing” patriotism. In the concluding paragraph of his book review, Crawford underlines several of my concerns.

The self-deceptions of contemporary society that Junger elaborates run too deep to be relieved by exhortations to “support the troops.” The conclusion one reaches upon finishing Tribe is that we should bring back the draft and have universal, obligatory military service. It is hard to think of a public policy reform that would do more to heal the growing chasm of social class, affirm our shared destiny as citizens and at the same time discipline our foreign policy. A nation of 320 million will never be a tribe, but if after such a reform we still have enthusiasm for putting “boots on the ground,” those boots will belong to “us” rather than “them.”

I couldn’t agree more.