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Comments by YACCS
Friday, April 16, 2004

Fear of a GOP Draft

Fear of a GOP Draft

Ralph Nader is running around campuses telling kids that Bush is going to reinstate the draft. My Congressman, Charles Rangel wants to reinstate the draft to "balance" who serves in the military.

Both are dead wrong.

First of all, the modern, lottery-based draft is no more fair that the exemption based draft which existed after WW II. Why?

It all breaks down to who serves and who takes the most risk. While a draft would have a flood of middle class kids, few would serve in the combat arms. The most balanced formation, in terms of social class, ever in US history is the modern National Guard infantry platoon. More middle class soldiers are serving in combat today than in any time in American history.

What a draft would do is simple. The poor kids who get advanced technical jobs in today's military would be shunted into the combat arms (infantry, artillery, armor, combat engineers). All those vaunted middle class kids would be, if they didn't get medical exemptions, given all those rear-area jobs, or join the Navy or Air Force, avoiding combat.

Besides the fact that Bush would be chased from office if he tried to pass a draft, and the fact that the military wants nothing to do with it, tthe draft is not a social leveler. It never has been. The most socially balanced US army was the Continental Army, which had nearly 25 percent black soldiers, percentages which it would not see again until Vietnam.

The composition of the infantry has remained remarkably consistant for over 250 years, according to Charles Moskos: the poor and lower middle class led by middle class officers. The US is one of the few nations on earth who's generals grew up either poor or working class. The reason many went to West Point is that it was the only way they could afford a college education.

The myth of the draft as a class leveller comes from WWII, where it was only true for about six months. And the reason for that was the ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program), which took oridnary soldiers and trained them in various skills in colleges. As infantry casualities hit 90 percent for units in Normandy, these programs were emptied out and stocked with these educated young men.

But for most of the war, the infanty was those unwanted by other branches.

The reason we think the draft was a social leveller comes from two sources. One is the GI Bill. We forget that the men who basically changed America were poor before the GI Bill and middle class after, with their low interest houses and college educations. The benefits were the same if you typed on Governor's Island, survived Bataan and years as a guerilla in the Philippiines or landed on Utah Beach. Everyone who served and was discharged honorably was eligible to participate. It literally created a middle class where none existed.

And while the middle class willingly served in the Cold War draft, most avoided service in the infantry. Why?

The Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT). That one test, which determines the range of careers you're eligible for in the military, seperates the stupid from the smart. If you do poorly, well, I hope you like driving trucks, traditionally, the job of the stupid in the military. If you do well, any job you want is yours. The infantry requires some reasonable intelligence.

Also, many of the draftmongers don't get that the military can increase their ranks by changing enlistment requirements. The military is a third smaller than it was in 1991. This isn't the WW II or the Vietnam army where you can take people from the street and train them for a few months and send them into an infantry platoon. Infantry operations are far more complex these days and requires vastly more training.

A draft would do nothing for Iraq, because it would take two to three years to build a new division. If you think we'll be in Iraq in two to three years, fine, but it wouldn't help the current military. It would be, if a draft passed in 2005, churning in the second cohort of draftees into those new divisions in 2008. You would lose a cohort (the first draftees) in the formation of those divisions, and the second cohort would fill them out.

Also, the military wants nothing to do with a draft because of all the losers they would have to take. As it stands, if someone doesn't work out in the military, they can leave with little stigma, a draft army won't work that way. All the mental lightweights, social misfits and general losers who would now be shunted out of the military would have to be accepted.

Right now, anyone in an infantry unit volunteered to be there. There is always a pool of young men eager to see combat. The idea that policy would change because middle class kids are filing papers in division headquarters is silly. There will always be 18 year olds willing to shoot other people, at least until they actually have to.

Also, the job of the military is to provide national security, not make a fair, socially balanced military. If that was the case, the current reserves and National Guard provide that balance. Americans have never rushed to send their sons in the military. Not in any war. The Civil War was fought by the poor, working class and former slaves. Harvard and Yale had their boat race without a pause in 1864, while black former slaves served in the bloodiest battles of the war.

The draft is, for the most part, a tool of the past. Our military is too expensive to use the bodies created by the draft, the task of infantry combat too delicate to accept the unwilling in their ranks. Only the committed can do the most dangerous of jobs.

If you want social equality, fund schools equally. Nothing else, especially not a draft, will spread the burden of war across society. In reality, the military has served as tool of social promotion. The 7th Cavalry in 1876, the men who died at Little Big Horn, were mostly immigrants and ex-Confederates. The Army was the employer of last resort, even then.

The draft is technically possible, but the realities of it mean it would be less efficient than simply raising military salaries. Draft or not, the men who become 11 Bravos will not change. Rich kids, through education, medical care or luck, will avoid the burden of combat service, just like they have for nearly 250 years.

posted by Steve @ 9:22:00 AM

9:22:00 AM

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