The Profound Misunderstanding the Public Has About How the Military Operates

In one of the greatest PR successes of all time, close to 100 percent of Americans believe the United States has a volunteer military. It does not. What the United States does have is a recruited military.

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WATCH: CBS Covers Immigrant Rights Rally... By Talking About Dangers at the Border

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How Dropping the Draft Helped to Turn America Into a Militaristic State

Few probably recall the name Dwight Elliott Stone. But even if his name has faded from the national memory, the man remains historically significant. That's because on June 30, 1973, the 24-year-old plumber's apprentice became the last American forced into the armed services before the military draft expired. 
Though next month's 40-year anniversary of the end of conscription will likely be as forgotten as Stone, it shouldn't be. In operations across the globe, the all-volunteer military has been employed by policymakers to birth what Gen. George Casey recently called the "era of persistent conflict." Four decades later, we therefore have an obligation to ask: How much of the public's complicity in that epochal shift is a result of the end of the draft?
There is, of course, no definitive answer to such a complex question. However, a look back at some lost history shows that today's public acquiescence to militarism was exactly what the government wanted when it ended the draft.
That loaded term - "militarism" - was, in fact, a prominent part of the 1970 report by President Nixon's Commission on an All-Volunteer Force. In its findings, the panel worried about "a cycle of anti-militarism" in a nation then questioning America's increasingly martial posture. 
Noting that "the draft is a major source of antagonism" toward the growing military-industrial complex, the report praised the fact that "an all-volunteer force offers an obvious opportunity to curb the growth of anti-militaristic sentiment." 
Nixon's commission did devote some empty rhetoric to downplaying "the fear of increased military aggressiveness or reduced civilian concern" about military actions in the event of an all-volunteer force. But the report's political conclusions were clear: By disconnecting most Americans from the blood-and-guts consequences of war, the end of the draft would "decrease dissent stemming from conscription" and "close one of the channels" of anti-war organizing.
Today, such conclusions read like prophecy. Though polls showed that many Americans opposed the Iraq War, that invasion and occupation was historically unprecedented in length and yet never generated the kind of mass protest that earlier shorter wars evoked. Same thing for the Afghanistan War. Same thing for all the forward deployments to far-flung bases and one-off missions. 
The pattern suggests that in the absence of conscription, dissent - if it exists at all - becomes a low-grade affair (an email, a petition, etc.) but not the kind of serious movement required to compel military policy changes. Why? Because as former Defense Secretary Robert Gates put it, without a draft "wars remain an abstraction - a distant and unpleasant series of news items that does not affect (most people) personally.”
The danger, says West Point's Lance Betros, is that Americans then "reflexively move towards a military solution before they will try all the other elements of national power."  
That reality has prompted some lawmakers in recent years to propose reinstating the draft. They argue it is the only way to compel Americans to truly care about the foreign policy and national security decisions of their government. 
Well-meaning people can certainly disagree about whether a modern-day draft is a good idea or not (and it may not be). But forty years into the all-volunteer experiment, it is clear that ending conscription was as much about giving citizens the liberty to abstain from as about quashing popular opposition to martial decisions. By design, it weakened our democratic connection to the armed forces - a connection that is the only proven safeguard against unbridled militarism.
David Sirota is the best-selling author of the books "Hostile Takeover," "The Uprising" and "Back to Our Future." E-mail him atds@davidsirota.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com

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Scary: McCain Wants to Reinstitute the Draft

Today at a townhall meeting, an audience member praised Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for his vow to "follow bin Laden to the gates of hell." After a long question about veterans' care, the questioner said she believed we needed to reinstate the draft, to which McCain seemed to readily agree:
QUESTIONER: If we don't reenact the draft, I don't think we'll have anyone to chase Bin Laden to the gates of hell.
MCCAIN: Ma'am, let me say that I don't disagree with anything you said.

In June, McCain said it would take an "all-out World War III" to make the draft necessary -- which seems to mean he'd consider it. In July 2006, when asked to react to Newt Gingrich's claim that "You'd have to say to yourself this is in fact World War III," McCain said, "I do [agree] to some extent."

Would John McCain Institute a Draft in January? Or Would We Wait Until February?

Maybe I've just missed it-- perhaps because of all the breathless distractions about Obama's pastor and bowling score-- but I could swear the corporate media isn't informing their audience that a vote for John McCain is a vote for the re-instatement of a military draft. Now, call me naive, but I have to believe that even his barbeque buddies would agree that most voters would be more interested in a discussion of the prospects of a draft-- something McCain's plans absolutely guarantee-- than in Obama's lack of skill on the bowling alley. (John Stewart actually showed a clip of some Fox talking head suggesting he should have "stuck to the hoops.")

Last week I was reminiscing about my very first arrest, which was for protesting against the draft in 1967. If the media is able to mislead voters drastically enough so that McCain actually gets into the White House, there will be many more arrests at many more protests all over America.

McCain's policies-- whatever the meaning about his constant rhetorical stumblings about Iraq and Iran, Sunni and Shi'a, and 100 years in Iraq-- can't be put in place without a military draft. (By the way, when I was protesting in 1967 Nixon was coming up with a strategy about how to make the American people vote for him-- by claiming to have "a plan." McCain also claims to have "a plan"-- to capture Osama bin-Laden-- so one wonders why he doesn't share this with his pals George W. and Cheney.)

Republicans are forever hectoring about how we should just do whatever the generals tell us to. That's typical right wing cynicism since generals don't make policy in the U.S.-- elected officials do-- and since every single general who has spoken out professionally in a way that didn't hew completely to Bush-Cheney dogma has been sacked. So listen to the generals? Which ones? The Bush toadies or the ones who helped Darcy Burner come up with the Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq?

Today's Washington Post mentions a hearing yesterday at the Senate Armed Services Committee in which Army Vice Chief of Staff, General Richard Cody, put his career in jeopardy, like so many before him have done, by implicitly criticizing the incompetence of the Bush Regime.
"I've never seen our lack of strategic depth be where it is today," said Cody, who has been the senior Army official in charge of operations and readiness for the past six years and plans to retire this summer.

This morning Brandon Friedman at VetVoice analyzed the session in light of McCain's aggressive military agenda.

Cody laments the "lack of balance" in today's Army, and says the "current demand for our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan exceeds the sustainable supply and limits our ability to provide ready forces for other contingencies... Current operational requirements for forces and insufficient time between deployments require a focus on counterinsurgency training and equipping to the detriment of preparedness for the full range of military missions." The stress on the fighting men and women, their families and the equipment is at dangerous levels.

Colbert's word: The Draft [VIDEO]

Today's Word: The Draft...

The Draft: No Solution to Social Inequality

"You bet your life," says Charlie Rangel when asked if he's still prepared to reinstate the draft. With the Democratic takeover of the House, the 18-term representative from New York is slated to chair the powerful Ways and Means Committee giving him a powerful seat from which to push his legislation.

As recently as August, word that the Marines were calling up their last line of reservists had reignited draft chatter for the first time since Rangel's previous draft push during the run up to the 2004 elections. "This move should serve as a wake-up call to America," said Jon Stoltz, former Army captain in Iraq and head of VoteVets.org, who called it "proof that our military is overextended," and "one of the last steps before resorting to a draft."

There's a temptation among progressives and liberals to view the draft as a potentially positive force, both in bringing about an end to the war and in evening the playing field in terms of whose children actually have to fight. Unfortunately, to the extent that it ever was true, this simply isn't the case anymore. The draft will only pull more unfortunate men and women from the ranks of the underprivileged and underrepresented.

The Vosges Mountains, Fall, 1944

They had been in classrooms only a few months ago, now they were tramping down some muddy road in a strange place, flinching from explosions. Annoyed by their flinching, someone would explain they were outgoing rounds, nothing to worry about.

Shipped overseas, sent to a replacement depot, greeted with indifference by their new platoon mates, expected to be dead or wounded in a few days, they were infantry and all their problems boiled down to surviving the German Army. Thousands would find themselves in Belgium, France, Italy, the Pacific, fighting on the front lines.

Casualties in Normandy had been higher than the Army planned for. Eisenhower was desperate for manpower. He sent one memo asking for 100,000 Marines. The Navy didn't have them, but the Army had two large untapped pools of men, the Army Specialized Training Program and the Air Cadets. Both were ended and their men sent to where the need was greatest, facing the Wehrmacht in France. The ASTP was designed to create a class of Army bureaucrats, the future administrators of ruined allied countries and the defeated Axis states, but too many had been trained. The same with the Air Cadets. The Army had overestimated the clerks they needed and underestimated the infantry required to win the war. Eisenhower was so desperate for bodies that soldiers facing court martial were often sent to front line units. Late in the war, they created black platoons to serve in white infantry units.

Most came home to start or resume educations under the GI bill, changing who ran America. Once, college was reserved for the rich and the lucky. Now, all that was required was an honorable discharge. So whether you were a Marine armorer (Art Buchwald), a sailor (Pat Moynihan), air crew (Howard Zinn, Joseph Heller) or an infantryman (Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut, Mel Brooks, Malcolm Forbes), you had a radically different future ahead of you: college, a mortgage, a middle class life after a childhood of poverty. Even if you were wealthy, combat service was a key to social acceptance and political success among the masses.

When we talk about the draft, it is through the prism of World War II and the GI Bill. We see the mass armies of World War II as leveling -- one where people served without class distinction.

This is Hollywood's fantasy.

In reality, rich kids gravitated to the Navy and Air Corps, or the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services. They didn't sign up to be Rangers or Airborne, much less infantry.

It was the GI Bill, not the army, which made for a more equal America. There isn't space to discuss the fight for the GI Bill here, but it was a struggle to extend it to every soldier, regardless or race or social background or service. And in the end, it was probably the most revolutionary legislation passed until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. No other bill did more to change the face of America.

Charles Moskos, who is a draft proponent, has stated that the class structure of the US Army has not changed since the Revolution, poor and working class soldiers led by middle class officers.

In the historical reality, immigrants and minorities have always filled the ranks of the US military.

The Union Navy was half black. The draft in the Civil War was limited by 179,000 blacks enlisting. Many of Custer's troops were immigrants; at least two Italians who barely spoke English were killed with him.

So when many people talk of the draft, they talk of the images of war movies and not the reality of the US Army.

First, class rules the draft. Howard Dean's back problem was only noticed because he had regular medical care. If his father had been a bus driver, the odds are high he would have spent a year in Vietnam. The medical exemptions for the draft will still exist and they will still be used to avoid military service. It then influences who gets what job in the military. College-educated kids would be far more likely to get staff jobs, while the poor would be shunted into the combat arms, regardless of testing. The draft has nothing to do with the assumption of risk. It is the testing which determines which jobs are open. And the poor and unconnected get the combat arms.

The vast majority enlist to find a trade and want nothing to do with combat. Before the current manpower shortage, the combat arms were very selective as to who they took. The idea of cannon fodder has never been really true in the U.S. Army and was especially untrue in the modern U.S. Army until Iraq. Those with personal issues or the excessively aggressive made for poor combat infantrymen.

Second, it creates discipline and control problems. Now, 39 percent of enlistees fail to complete their first enlistment. With draftees, they have to tolerate a far higher level of indiscipline because of the coercive nature of the draft. It is far harder to evict draftees than volunteers, and bad conduct discharges can make finding work extremely difficult in the civilian world.

People believe that a draft would limit political options and create a leveling between classes.

The first is unproven. After all, there was a draft during the Vietnam War, the other, highly unlikely for any number of reasons.

What about National Service?

Well, when Universal Military Training was proposed in 1948, it was unpopular and quickly rejected by Congress during the Berlin Airlift.

National Service would be worse than a straight draft. If given a choice of the Army or civilian work, the vast majority taken into the Army would be the poor and unskilled. The Duke Class of 2008 would be working in offices and the poor kids would be humping rifles. Anyone with an option to avoid the Army would and those who couldn't would be sent to the colors.

The military isn't a jobs program, and it isn't an easy solution for social inequality.

Why do people believe this? There are two factions, one who wants to see the risk spread to more corners of society, and others, who think that the Army can create social equality.

The problem with this thinking is that the rich and well-off just pick other services without much physical risk of injury. The Navy has long been the choice for America's upper class. All three Kennedy brothers who served in World War II chose the Navy -- Ted Kennedy was drafted into the Army during Korea, but stayed in the US.

What pro-draft people choose to ignore is that a draft only inducts people; intelligence, education, health, prior experience all influence what they do in the military. In the all-volunteer army, people have been able to choose a job suited to their abilities, which means, for the most part, happier, more effective soldiers. Of course, the promises of the recruiter and the reality of the Army are two different things, but a draft would force people into jobs the Army wants them to do.

Moskos and others have argued that having college students spending time in the Army would create a social exchange of sorts. That ignores the current composition of the Army. Before the recent personnel shortage, the number one reason for enlisting was college education. Of course, the catch was that only men (women are barred from the combat arms) who joined the combat arms (infantry, armor, artillery) would earn the most money for college. But Guard and Reserve units are filled with college students and college graduates. Most of them joined the Guard and Reserve after active duty service. The current Army is probably the most socially balanced sent into the field.

What Moskos meant to say is that the middle class would then become soldiers. However, except for the 35 years of the 20th Century draft, 1917-18, 1940-1973, generally, middle class avoided military service except in wartime, and the rich have always avoided military service. In 1864, the Harvard-Yale boat race continued without pause. The Union didn't need those men, or the men on the Western Frontier.

So how do we get a more responsive, socially representative military? Not by sweeping up the kids Michael Moore depicted in Fahrenheit 9/11, or their college-bound counterparts. Volunteer service should be cherished, not disdained. What the military needs after the Iraq War are better benefits, a real GI Bill with a full ride for college, real health care. You'll get more middle class kids who want to avoid the debt of loans signing up for that. A draft goes against the traditions, beliefs and practices of the United States.

For 201 years of the 236 the United States has existed, men and women have volunteered to serve their country. A draft may seem like a quick social solution, but it is anything but. It is unfair and would impact those who get the least from the society disproportionately, as it has in the past.

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