Sergeants ain’t social workers

With Congressman Rangel’s latest excursion into silliness — the reinstatement of the draft — I find myself having to write a piece I never thought I would have to write. It seemed so simple and fundamental that it was one of those things that didn’t need saying, but apparently there are people out there (see the comments on Kim’s piece for some prime examples) who don’t grasp some true fundamental facts about the military.

1) The military’s sole duty is to protect America, Americans, and American interests. Everything it does should revolve around those basic points, and anything that does not fit into that category, by definition, detracts from those obligations.

2) The primary tool of the military to achieve those goals is force. Not necessarily violence, but force — the determination to use violence if necessary, but also any other means to achieve its goals, if those means will achieve the goal more efficiently than violence.

3) The end of mandatory conscription — the “draft” — and the institution of an all-volunteer military was, like racial integration, a severe shock to the system of the services — but, ultimately, one that proved a tremendous advantage to the military. By limiting service to not only those who were willing to serve, but eager and had to prove themselves worthy, we increased the efficiency and morale of the armed services geometrically. Thanks to advances in training, weaponry, support technology, and doctrine, I think it is safe to say that a single US soldier of today is worth at least a dozen soldiers of World War II vintage in combat — and today, the notion of “a single soldier” (or “An Army Of One”) is as obsolete as a Colonial-era musket.

4) The biggest problem our military has ever experienced has been the good-intentioned idiots who see the military as a social laboratory, or a “representative” of America, or a social agency. Far too many times the military has been sent into situations where its primary duties simply don’t apply — recently, I’d have to cite Somalia. It’s been well over a decade since the Battle of Mogadishu, and I still don’t understand what the hell our forces were doing there in the first place, from the CNN-covered amphibious landings up until the White House-ordered retreat in the face of the enemy.

The military is NOT intended to be “representative” of America. Rather, it should be representative of both the best and worst of America — simultaneously an exemplar of our finest citizens (and, occasionally, non-citizens) selflessly serving our nation, and a concrete example of the full power and fury at our command. These are the true heirs of The Greatest Generation, the men and women who saved the world from Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan — but did so by killing literally millions of people, including women, children, and other civilians. The deaths of the innocent was hardly the goal or intent, but a simple, brutal necessity.

5) Under current conditions, we have passed the point where wars are won or lost based purely on numbers of bodies in uniforms. Since World War II, we have invested tremendously in the concept of “force multipliers” — elements and factors that increase the effectiveness of military units.

For example, flying fuel tankers that can re-fill aircraft in midair. Suppose you have a target you need to attack. Your bombers only have a range of 500 miles. That means that only air bases within 500 miles can be used. But toss in some tankers, and suddenly bases 1,000 miles or more away can take part, because their bombers can refuel to and from the attack without having to land.

One example has been the use of the Stealth bombers. They are flying their attacks from halfway around the world because they can refuel to and from the target as needed.

For another, greatly improved communications. One small group of soldiers can do the work that used to take several squads to perform, if they can readily communicate with scouts and other surveillance units. Five groups of enemy approaching? If we can locate each precisely, that one group can take them on — and take them out — one at a time, then move on to the next with little fear of being ambushed.

In the above-mentioned Battle of Mogadishu, the casualties were staggering — the Somali attackers suffered over 1,000 killed and 3,000 wounded, while we suffered 19 killed and 82 wounded. Our force of 160 stood against literally THOUSANDS of attackers — and for every one of ours we lost, they lost over 50.

And the military is doing pretty good at meeting its recruitment goals. Some months are better than others, but overall they’re doing all right.

Most importantly, the people who would know the best — the military themselves — don’t want the draft. There are still a few “lifers” who remember the bad old days when the services were chock-full of members who simply didn’t want to be there and were counting the days until they could get the hell out. They were bad for morale, and led to a LOT of disciplinary problems.

For the vast majority of today’s service members, they see their service as not an obligation, but a duty and a calling. They are in the armed services because they WANT to be, and they have worked damned hard to get there and stay there. To listen to the motivations behind those who advocate the draft, it is clear that they see military service as a burden — and want to use it to “punish” those who they call “chickenhawks” — those who support the current war, but do not serve themselves. One factor they never seem to take into account is the perception of those currently serving — they understand the underlying contempt for the military behind that attitude, and want nothing to do with it.

The fundamental notion behind those who are calling for the return of the draft is simple: they want the war in Iraq over, and are willing to do pretty much anything to achieve it. If that means inflicting catastrophic damage on our armed services by burdening them with tens of thousands of unwilling inductees, destroying the 30+ years of progress by our Professional Military, then that’s a small price to pay for ending the war.

And it’s more than a little ironic: during the Viet Nam war, the anti-war side cited the ending of the draft as one of its major goals. Today, their heirs are the ones calling for its return, again in the name of ending a war they oppose.

It took years for the military to overcome the shock of the end of the draft the last time, and even longer for the determination that it was, ultimately, for the good. Lord knows how much damage its return would cause, or how long it would last, and how long it would take for us to recover this time.

I don’t think we will have to find out, but I’ve been wrong before.

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23 Comments

  1. Mac Lorry November 20, 2006
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