National Service/Draft effect on society
June 12, 2007 8:15 PM   Subscribe

DraftFilter: Help with debate over National Service/Draft and it's effects on society and unpopular wars

My brother and I are having a friendly debate over National Service and/or the draft. While not trusting the government to run a candy store and not liking big government I cant shake the intuition that if we had some form of National Service, we would have enough troops to fight, win and hold a so-called "good" fight, say Afghanistan and defeating the Taliban/Al Quaida, while at the same time making EVERYONE so vested in a "bad" war, say Iraq, that a bad war would end sooner. Theory being that every high school and university would erupt, Washington would have permanent protest camps, parents would make opinions known; vocally, monetarily via less campaign contributions, and via the vote.

My brother feels that (while noting there have been exceptions in the past such as Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones drummer, a few writers), National Service would destroy the creative spirit of vast majority of artists, musicians, and poets.

Is there any evidence to either side or are we both just staking out opinions?
posted by Kensational to Society & Culture (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
that a bad war would end sooner

your thesis is essentially proven by the arc of the Vietnam conflict, 1965 - 1971.

We went into that war with a draft policy that exempted college kids, but as more dead drafted kids started coming back to Main St, opposition to the war increased.

People who are trying to lie with statistics only say 30-40% of the Vietnam KIA were draftees, but they are counting aircraft pilots and army officers in that total, which skews the true situation, namely that during the height of the Vietnam war draftees were doing the bulk of the ground-level fighting and dying in Vietnam.

Over the course of the war, there were 33,235 total E1-E4 Army KIA in Vietnam, and 16,989 army draftee KIA, that's a draftee KIA rate of ~51% (the USMC had 683 draftee KIA out of 13,901 total enlisted KIA).

Looking at the rifleman MOS (11B10 and 20), here are the KIA breakdown by year:

11B10:
1965: 53% of the KIA had been drafted (64 selective service / 57 regular KIA)
1966: 61% of the KIA had been drafted (473 selective service / 305 regular KIA)
1967: 77% of the KIA had been drafted (1135 selective service / 343 regular KIA)
1968: 79% of the KIA had been drafted (1982 selective service / 514 regular KIA)
1969: 73% of the KIA had been drafted (1384 selective service / 499 regular KIA)
1970: 72% of the KIA had been drafted (591 selective service / 232 regular KIA)
1971: 69% of the KIA had been drafted (194 selective service / 89 regular KIA)

11B20:
1965 51% of the KIA had been drafted (56 selective service / 53 regular KIA)
1966 35% of the KIA had been drafted (148 selective service / 273 regular KIA)
1967 73% of the KIA had been drafted (632 selective service / 231 regular KIA)
1968 72% of the KIA had been drafted (1022 selective service / 383 regular KIA)
1969 76% of the KIA had been drafted (968 selective service / 304 regular KIA)
1970 74% of the KIA had been drafted (494 selective service / 170 regular KIA)
1971 61% of the KIA had been drafted (108 selective service / 68 regular KIA)

The 50-odd US KIA at Hamburger Hill in May 1969 was the definite turning point in the population/media's willingness to "stay the course" in Vietnam. LBJ went into this war saying American boys weren't going to be fighting in the place of Vietnamese, but 5 years later the US Army was still sending a draftee army toe-to-toe with entrenched PAVN forces.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:31 PM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


I remember reading that one reason so many people (not just students) protested the Vietnam war was because of the draft. The draft sent people from all neighborhoods to war, everyone knew someone who was fighting and dying.
During the 1930's the government implemented the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) which only lasted a year, but 15,000 works of art were created.
posted by Sailormom at 8:44 PM on June 12, 2007


You're both right! Isn't that great!

War sucks. What sucks worse is that you still have to prepare for it, despite its suckitude.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:18 PM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is one f***ed way to end war. Having a draft will kill more kids than not having one. You give the warmongers the bodies and they will throw them into the fight, sacrificing a significant percentage. Sure, at some level the disgust of the public will put an end to their carnage, but the net effect is more dead soldiers, as well as civilians in the target country. The morons who advocate a draft just to put pressure on the president are going to end up being responsible for more deaths than the president if they succeed.
posted by caddis at 9:19 PM on June 12, 2007


It would be difficult to use Vietnam-era numbers to prove a thesis about the Iraq war because the style of warfare we use now makes casualty numbers so different. We lost nearly 60,000 Americans in 6 years in Vietnam. We've lost about 3,400 in four years in Iraq. That's because even though warfare is just as deadly, we fight wars differently now, with more machines and fewer men as the proverbial "cannon fodder." Because we deploy far fewer troops in infantry positions, we're never again going to see thousands of people each month returning in body bags. That's a good thing, but it also means that it would be difficult to replicate the Vietnam-era fear and anger that led to the end of that conflict, even with a draft.

In a modern draft, drafted men (and women, because I hope that any draft we'd institute today would at least remedy the sexism of past drafts) would be more likely to be placed in support rather than combat positions, because they're not needed in large numbers for combat. Our current military leaders, in fact, are against a draft because they say they don't actually need many more troops for the kind of jobs men were drafted into in past wars. That means that you'd have all of the anti-freedom elements of the draft--taking away people's rights (including, but not limited to artists' rights) to determine how they live their lives--but without any significant improvement in military might and without marshaling much additional public anti-war sentiment.
posted by decathecting at 9:37 PM on June 12, 2007


You may want to note, by the way that the positions you and your brother are arguing over are not mutually exclusive. It would be possible for the draft to both end bad wars and stifle art. And even if both of you were right, that wouldn't say conclusively whether the draft would be a good idea. Those would merely be possible points in the yes and no columns respectively, to be weighed along with other points in those columns. So yes, I'd go with "both staking out opinions." But that's usually going to be the case when you're arguing about the hypothetical effects of nebulously defined policies.

This is definitely the first time that I've heard anyone argue that we shouldn't pursue a particular policy based on the lack of music, art, and literature produced in the late 1960s. Is our cultural memory really this short?
posted by decathecting at 9:50 PM on June 12, 2007


I prefer the current situation, which is one in which you're only likely to get killed if you CHOSEN to join the military and taken what is an indentifiable and obvious risk. While I feel terrible for those who have lost their lives in a pointless and terrible war, I do feel better about the fact that they all chose to take this risk, rather than being forced into it.

It's tough to argue that national service negatively affects art and creativity - most major wars have provided evidence to the contrary. War is usually a wonderful stimulant to a culture's creativity. Sad but true!
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:57 PM on June 12, 2007


I want a national service where working Americans are drafted into a corps of teachers; essentially, you train a weekend per month to become a better teacher, then for two weeks a year you go into a school somewhere in your (or another) community and teach kids about what you do, and what you know. Help raise respect for career teachers, not to mention give 'em some assistance and get some real-world (ie not-career-teacher) worldviews tossed around in the classroom.

Is this relevant? Not entirely, so here's something that is: all other things being equal, the existence of a draft would raise the consciousness of a large portion of the citizens about the wars we fight, which has to be a good thing. The bad thing: being sent to fight a war against your will.
posted by davejay at 10:16 PM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


decathing has got it exactly wrong. This is an infantry war--the difference is in the medical care. The ratio of wounded to killed is 16 wounded to 1 killed in Iraq. In Vietnam and Korea there were fewer than three people wounded for each fatality. In World Wars I and II, there were less than two.

That means that if this was Vietnam, we would have something on the order of 15,000 deaths and 40,000 wounded.

Instead we have 3,500 deaths and 50,000 wounded.

This war is going far, far worse for us than most are aware.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:53 PM on June 12, 2007


Teacher draft? Last thing we need is to subject kids to unprepared teachers. I like the spirit, but in practice, it wouldn't be sustainable. Teach for America is about as close as we can or should get.

As for national service, I'm really opposed to any compulsory program. Not because it would stifle art or whatever, but because the state doesn't own me or anyone else. I think in a time of dire national crisis -- where the option is, everybody fights or the country goes under -- it's a necessary evil. But certainly not just because killing a few thousand conscripts might end a war I didn't like sooner.

However, if you want an example of how it might work in practice, I believe Israel has such a program -- maybe see how theirs is going. Of course, their society is much different from ours, and while we're dealing with terror, terrorism is much more of a daily thing over there. They are always in something of a national crisis, it seems. (Saving the argument over the reasons for another day, please.)
posted by SuperNova at 10:56 PM on June 12, 2007


You give the warmongers the bodies and they will throw them into the fight, sacrificing a significant percentage.

On the contrary there are some theories which suggest that its exactly because we have an all volunteer army that the US is increasingly willing to mobilize and use its military assets (soldiers) in conflicts of choice rather than those which are seen as necessity.

The idea is that both the public and our civilian and military leaders are less sympathetic to enlisted citizens because they made an individual choice, "knowing the risks" of active duty, to join the military. Increasingly the military is seen as a "career choice" rather than a service, thus just as we revere our police officers we still don't hesitate to call 911 even if doing so would put them in harms way. Cynically we say to ourselves and each other, "They are paid professionals. They knew the risks..."

If you doubt this just look at the complete disregard we have for private security firms which hire Americans to provide para-military services in Iraq. This is the type of for-profit, private army that our military has moved toward (though not yet attained) since going all volunteer.

This isn't the case during draft times where the perception is that Americans are called upon and compelled by law to serve (and die) for their country. The idea of compelled service and sacrifice are powerful motivators for extreme oversight by the public. This motivation is diminished when entire segments of our population are segregated from military personal (i.e. our volunteer army comes from working class environs where our elites or leaders seldom tread) by the economic nature of the voluntary military force.

Upper class elites (and increasingly the middle classes) simply don't know anyone who is enlisted, thus the idea of the military becomes an abstract. Something you see on TV.

We are moving toward a warrior class in this country... which is frightening in several ways and has repercussions both for the world and our democracy.
posted by wfrgms at 11:11 PM on June 12, 2007


The US military as it exists now can't really be staffed by a draft. Soldiers and sailors need to be trained much more heavily than they did 30 years ago and that isn't possible using 3-years-and-out people.

In fact, it isn't even possible using 6-years-and-out. Some volunteers serve only one term, but the real backbone of our current force is those who do two or more terms.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:19 PM on June 12, 2007


Oh and Dee Xtrovert's comments are exactly what I'm talking about:
I prefer the current situation, which is one in which you're only likely to get killed if you CHOSEN to join the military and taken what is an indentifiable and obvious risk. While I feel terrible for those who have lost their lives in a pointless and terrible war, I do feel better about the fact that they all chose to take this risk, rather than being forced into it.
Dee's reasoning is dangerously myopic.

I will say that "choice" seldom happens in a vacuum and that outside factors must be taken into account for why people choose to join the military.

For some it is a method of attaining status within their communities (communities which value military service.) For others there is an economic incentive. In communities where this is little work, or options for higher education the military can be an attractive option.

Where fate has made higher education unobtainable, choosing between a dead end job and military service doesn't seem like much of a choice to me, Dee.
posted by wfrgms at 11:29 PM on June 12, 2007


National Service would destroy the creative spirit of vast majority of artists, musicians, and poets

Huh? I can't begin to see the logic behind this one. Is he saying that if Lou Reed had been drafted to fight in Viet Nam, there'd have been no Velvet Underground? If so, how does he arrive at this conclusion?

As for the general subject of the effect of a draft on national policy, Noam Chomsky (anti-war guy going back like five decades) has the following to say. He distinguishes between a "citizens army" (military with a universal draft) and a "mercenary army" (military with only "volunteers."):

In my view, if there's going to be an army, I think it ought to be a citizen's army. ... the top brass, they don't want a citizen's army. They want a mercenary army, what we call a volunteer army. A mercenary army of the disadvantaged. And in fact, in the Vietnam war, the U.S. military realized, they had made a very bad mistake. I mean, for the first time I think ever in the history of European imperialism, including us, they had used a citizen's army to fight a vicious, brutal, colonial war, and civilians just cannot do that kind of a thing. For that, you need the French foreign legion, the Gurkhas or something like that. Every predecessor has used mercenaries, often drawn from the country that they're attacking like England ran India with Indian mercenaries. You take them from one place and send them to kill people in the other place. That's the standard way to run imperial wars. They're just too brutal and violent and murderous. Civilians are not going to be able to do it for very long. What happened was, the army started falling apart. One of the reasons that the army was withdrawn was because the top military wanted it out of there. They were afraid they were not going to have an army anymore. Soldiers were fragging officer. The whole thing was falling apart. They were on drugs. And that’s why I think that they're not going to have a draft. That's why I’m in favor of it. If there's going to be an army that will fight brutal, colonial wars, and that's the only likely kind of war, I’m not talking about the militarization of space and that kind of thing, I mean ground wars, it ought to be a citizen's army so that the attitudes of the society are reflected in the military.
posted by Clay201 at 1:21 AM on June 13, 2007


there are some theories which suggest that its exactly because we have an all volunteer army that the US is increasingly willing to mobilize and use its military assets (soldiers) in conflicts of choice rather than those which are seen as necessity.


they are nothing more than theories, and quite shaky ones at that
posted by caddis at 4:10 AM on June 13, 2007


Where fate has made higher education unobtainable, choosing between a dead end job and military service doesn't seem like much of a choice to me, Dee.

First of all, this entire thing is major chatfilter: we're just debating the idea of a national draft. That's been done before.

Second, re: above, WTF? It's still a choice. Suggesting that people choosing to go into the military to obtain the benefits it offers1 is not actually a choice is insulting to them.

1Aside from blown-off limbs and death, that is.
posted by WCityMike at 8:08 AM on June 13, 2007


as a military officer i agree with wcitymike. many of my fellow officers/enlisted don't choose the military for it's benefits (believe me a few thousand dollars in student loans is a hell of a lot easier that a few tours in Iraq). Choice is always an option. I chose ROTC believing that serving the US is an honorable and right thing thing to do (granted the GW is driving all of us the military figgin' crazy), and I took a few thousand dollars in aid. But my time in Qatar and Iraq is not worth 15K in and of itself.

Regarding a draft vs volunteer service, I would say we absolute need a volunteer service - the army/AF/Marine/Navy need talented, educated, and most of all motivated people to run the equipment and rigorous training to succeed in the 21 century battlefield. Back in Korea or Vietnam we just need warm bodies who could handle a M-16 and a few grenades. Now even the basic grunt is needing to know diplomacy (i.e. one dumb GI shoot a few "rag heads' could alter the strategic environment of the area), use the weapons of his MOS, and utilize satellite communication, and a myriad of other equally essential factors to consider. A draft would fill bodies, but that isn't the war we're fighting. 3,500 GI's dead breaks my heart by in historical standards isn't a rounding error in WWII or Vietnam. It's the technical capabilities and training that separates a E-2 Marine from a Taliban or Iraqi extremist.
posted by aggienfo at 8:58 AM on June 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


I've always seen a volunteer army as a more democratic method. By enlisting, you're saying, "I care enough about [current war] to devote--and risk--my life to it." We're not seeing many new enlistees, so maybe that should be a sign. (Of course, plenty of people wouldn't sign up even if we were directly attacked...)

And aggienfo's last point is a good one: if we force people into the military against their will, are they really going to do a good job?

Of course, I'll admit, there's a fatal flaw to all of this: what if we have a more "legitimate" war (e.g., one in which we're under attack and have to defend our homeland), but no one signs up? I suppose our apathy would be our downfall.
posted by fogster at 9:24 AM on June 13, 2007


Excellent empirical study: Shouldering the Soldiering.
posted by j-urb at 1:24 PM on June 13, 2007


Of course, I'll admit, there's a fatal flaw to all of this: what if we have a more "legitimate" war (e.g., one in which we're under attack and have to defend our homeland), but no one signs up?

In that case our nation and our culture will have proved that it doesn't deserve to survive.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:26 PM on June 13, 2007


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