Monday, October 10, 2011

Buzz cuts, longhairs, and the bouffant puff

The last post got me thinking; why should I, or any sane citizen of a democracy, want to use the full majesty of the law to force his or her fellow citizens into the armed service of our nation?

I mean, isn't the whole point of a republican form of government - and isn't the definitive point of the United States form of democracy - that the individual citizen should have the broadest individual liberty consistent with the function and survival of the community and/or the nation?

And what is a military draft, if not the very lowest form of coercion? You and I in the form of our government are saying "You, other citizen, will place yourself under the military authorities of the nation (and in so doing be subject to a military law vastly more dictatorial, abrupt, and draconian than any possible under the civilian federal Constitution or any state legal system) and continue as such, hazard to injury or death, until such time as we may choose to release you" and if that other refuses we permit ourselves the authority to seize him/her by force and inflict punishment on him or her.

A draft is perhaps the antithesis of patriotism. It forces a citizen who may have vitally sound reasons for refusing to join a fighting service to do so, and in so doing forces others, who might have joined on their own terms, to join will-they-nil-they on the terms our government sets for them.

And commentor Ael pointed out on the comments or the previous thread: traditionally a draft has been used to build up a large standing Army, perhaps among the most reviled of the aspects of British rule rejected by the Founders and Framers. It was for this reason more than any other that drafting citizens was generally rejected during our wars prior to 1917. Only in the Civil War did the federal government finally accede to a draft and then only after all other methods of enlistment were tried and failed.So not just the intent of the nation's creators, not just the legal and philosophical arguments against it, but the weight of U.S. history weighs against the idea of a draft.

Why recommend it?

To explain myself, I need to...well, explain myself.

I'm a pretty white-bred sort of guy. Father a corporate type, mother a classic Fifties stay-at-home housewife. Raised in nice little suburbs, went to nice little suburban public schools with nice little suburban kids. Went to a nice-little-suburban-sort-of-college - actually a very small, very spendy, very private Eastern liberal-arts school known as a "safety school" for the Ivies with lots of people who were and are my intellectual and social superiors.

And then I enlisted in the Army.

I had a nice couple of hitches of nice little semi-peacetime active service and then got out and spent another nice little decade-and-a-half or so in the Reserve Component back when the RC really WAS a "reserve component".Here's the thing.

I've noticed that at my college reunions I'm one of a tiny handful of graduates with service time. When I go to professional meetings, or spend time with others in my social peer group; middle- to upper-middle-class white guys with college degrees - I'm often the ONLY one who spent any time as an enlisted soldier or a noncommissioned officer.

There's usually a smattering of commissioned types - though my college alums tend to have the "courtesy commissions" of JAG and medical corps officers. But I'm often the only one in a group of 200 or so with any first-hand experience as a private soldier, a dogface G.I.Think about how odd that is.

Look back, for instance, at the so-called Greatest Generation. My father - who was and is as solidly upper-middle-class as a brushcut American could and can be - was an officer-cadet, a V-7 pilot trainee in 1945. But he was called up as a draftee in 1944. His uncle died as a draftee battalion runner in the Argonne the generation earlier, and his brother was a draftee sailor in WW2 before going career as a pilot (they like to fly, my family; dunno why it passed me by. The only use I had for the contraptions was as a taxi I jumped out of when I got to where I was going...)

This sort of stuff makes me thing that the Americans of the Forties and to some extent the Fifties had less elitist notions than we have today. The idea of young men of "good families" going into the fighting services was accepted as part of being an American. Everything I've seen, everything my parents' generation says, makes me think that the idea of a well-bred young man serving as a private soldier or a foremast sailor was considered perfectly acceptable after WW2 made it acceptable.

Take, just as an example, the servicemen in William Wyler's 1946 movie "The Best Years Of Our Lives". It's a movie, yes, but it wasn't wartime propaganda or a feel-good morale-boosting fairytale; it was intended as serious postwar drama and therefore had to be recognizably realistic enough for Forties audiences, familiar to sickness with war and soldiers and soldiering, to accept with no more than moderate suspension of disbelief.

The story revolves around three men; an Army Air Corps pilot, an Army sergeant, and an enlisted sailor.The commissioned pilot was a soda jerk before the war. Okay, we're on familiar "Officer and a Gentleman" ground here. But here's where it gets interesting; the sergeant - an E-7 platoon sergeant - was a minor executive, a loan officer in the local bank.

Can you imagine that today? A banker going to war as an enlisted troop? My friend Lisa has mentioned someone she's met who was doing Wall Street-type financial work and got called up with his Guard unit. And certainly there are still a handful of unusual "social" Guard outfits like the "First City Troop" of the Pennsylvania ARNG.

But in general the guys I served with were, and the studies I've read suggest that most U.S. soldiers still are, from small towns or the rougher parts of cities. A lot of them are from the South and interior West, with a fair number from the big cities of the West. Midwest, and Northeast. Most of them are from middle- and lower-middle-class families. Even the officers are not from the sort of place I went to college - though Franklin & Marshall had a sizeable V-12 training program in the Forties it has no ROTC today - but from ag schools, Southern and Western state colleges, and places like Brigham Young University.No bankers. None of the kids I went to college with. No congressmen's kids, or senators' daughters. No doctor's sons, no lawyer's. None.

So when I think of the benefits of a draftee versus a self-selecting Army I think of the benefit more to the country than to the Army, or to the people drafted. Of having bankers serving with soda-jerks, urban tough kids with suburban mall rats, of spreading the franchise, as it were, to a wider spectrum of Americans than we take in today.Anything that forces young people into a uniformed service, or to fight, is an evil thing. But we do "evil" things all the time to keep our republic working. We force people to serve on juries. We force them to pay taxes, to submit to regulations that deny them things they want or need to do. We don't force them to vote and as a result find ourselves at the mercy of the small percentage - almost always less the half, often WAY less than half - that do vote. And now we no longer require people to serve regardless of their social class.

Which has led to the better outcome?

I honestly am not sure I'm right about this.

But when I look around me at all the other well-bred, well-fed, well-paid, white men who, like me, have to be considered the "well-born and able" who have a hell of a lot to do with running my country and don't see anyone else with a Good Conduct ribbon on their lapel...

I wonder. I really do.

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