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.


rangeragainstwar said...

At my 40th college reunion it was just the opposite. All my non-ROTC classmates were drafted and did their duty. Only 1 of us didn't serve and he was a ROTC grad/finished the program but his heart was enlarged and ergo no service/call up.After all big hearts are not needed on AD.
At unit level i knew a lot of draftees and i liked them a lot. Everybody had a story and were just marching in place which is what Armies generally do.
I DO NOT FAVOR A PRO MILITARY, and even ROTC has become a lifer type organization with a separate cmd structure under TRADOC. The rotc cadets are lifers before they get into ms 3, and i've written on this at RAW.
Is the dude in the shorts and boots one of the village people?

FDChief said...

You like that look?

My wife calls that my "Honduran queerbait" look. I was the hottest thing in Tegucigalpa.

And no argument about the problems inherent in a professional military in a republic.

rangeragainstwar said...

I'm apologetic-i didn't know that was you in your glory daze.

basilbeast said...

If I ran the country and what I said goes, I'd have some sort of national service requirement for any type of post-secondary education. The pay-back would be some sort of federal or state funding for continuing education, or start-up $ for business or whatever. Military or service overseas, Peace Corps, Service to America, something where an individual could get to see how others in the country or world live, for a couple of years.

Since he's smart, I agree with Jim about the "pro military".

This country is too full of ignorance, so too the rest of the world, but they could follow our lead.


Lisa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisa said...

[bad typos what made me delete ...]


I do agree with you about the inherent fairness of a draft. Not to be pro war, but as you say, the republic demands many things of us.

In fact, in the service of preventing senseless wars, a draft would be most beneficial. I also agree with basil re. a compulsory, 2-yr. post-secondary national service. A broadening experience in the way that, say, a family trip to Saint-Tropez would not be. Also, would it not serve a national need?

BTB, I think you look smashing :) Cutoffs were de rigueur in the 80's - 90's, and I have always loved wearing boots with shorts.

Ael said...

Boy, you folks sure resort to slavery awful quick.

I volunteered for the army and I met a lot of different types of people. It improved me as a person in many different ways. However, that doesn't mean that I want to push my kids and their peers into involuntary servitude in the vague hope that it will improve them (and society in general).

Might there be some other way to get people to meet others outside their own "class"? Lets try them before pulling out the whips and chains.

FDChief said...

basil: When I think back to my own young-adulthood I'm sorry that I wasn't required to put in some sort of 2-year "service" requirement. I don't know if I would have chosen the Army, though I think I would. But instead I went to college WAY too callow, spent the first two years dicking around and ended up with a C-average that hurt me badly when looking for work. I think if I'd have been more mature I would have done a lot better - my experience with grad school tends to suggest that I would.

Again, I don't suggest this lightly; I tend to agree with Ael that forcing citizens to do things is evil with a small "e". But I think that since the 1950's a combination of social forces has fragmented American society to the point where we've all but lost the sense of community needed for ANY society. We've always tended to be a "dog-eat-dog" society - and the rich dogs have always eaten the poor dogs, and we have seldom bothered to do anything to moderate that. But now I think it's gotten to the point that we will either have to FORCE ourselves to re-integrate...or we're going to DISintegrate. And that's not going to be pretty, and it may be even worse, given the economic hard times we're going to face.

Lisa: See? Told ya' I was Mister Sexytime of Tiger Island. Go ahead, I will do my Barbie Girl Dance if you stuff twenties in my cutoffs...

And as noted above, nations sometimes have to do things against individual good to benefit the public weal.

Ael: OK, I'm game. Tell me those "other ways", and why as a nation we've not just ignored them but actively evaded them.

I'm watching my country become ever-more stratified by wealth and class. Even in the "People's Republic of Portland" we have an entire region of the city that is increasingly mired in under-education, under-employment, under-hope and under-everything...and the reaction of the middle- and upper-class has been to flee it and ignore it.

As East Portland becomes ever-more dark-skinned, poor, inbred, neglected, and hopeless, our local elites sit happily in their enclaves like Laurelhurst and the West Hills. Even in the public schools their kids go to the plush Grant, Lincoln, and Wilson while the sad-sack East Portland kids get run-down Madison or the blackboard-jungles of Parkrose. The kids of the Southwest and Beaverton go to Reed or University of Portland while the kids from East County get shuffled into Portland Community College.

Try and find an East Portlander in the City Club, at the Portland Development Commission. Look around the New Century Club and see if you can meet someone with a Lents zipcode. Or at the trustees at a Ducks game.

The military draft was never as egalitarian as it could and should have been...but it was one of the few places where a kid from a "good family" could rub shoulders with a kid from the projects. They didn't have to like each other...and they often didn't...but at least they got to see that one wasn't a poof and the other wasn't a brute.

Now? We're segregating back into a Gilded Age level of social division - almost a semi-feudal society, and show little or no interest in these "other ways" of returning to a more egalitarian level. That's BAD for a democracy, and I'd consider whips and chains a very modest proposal to reverse the trend.

Lisa said...


Please! This is not an etiquette or moral trial; it is a question of fairness and democracy. It is also a question of national need. With a crumbling infrastructure and a dearth of jobs, why not national service? It worked once, and well.

If you look at university today, volunteerism is all but compulsory, not only for admission but as a graduation requirement. Call it socialism, call it slavery -- it's here in the finest academic institutions in the good ole USA.

Do you object to your offspring doing weekend duty with the unwashed in Habitat for Humanity? Then why begrudge the training when it goes the other way?

On a personal level, having participated in a Habitat build, I can say it was rather peculiar to have the folks whose house we were patching sit inside watching t.v. Sweat equity in your own home is not slavery. Two years of national service remunerated in some fashion is not slavery.

Lisa said...


Alright Mr. Tiger Island, how about I just seduce you over a latte with my effervescent wit ;)

I think this is a profound observation, and have a few thoughts on the topic I may develop:

"But now I think it's gotten to the point that we will either have to FORCE ourselves to re-integrate...or we're going to DISintegrate"

Of course, AEL will think it's all whips and black garters, but I really do think something's gotta give, lest we flow into a middling mucky state.

FDChief said...

Lisa: I guess I'm a little shocked - I thought that Habitat REQUIRED the future homeowners to pitch in. I think if I was out hammering siding or stapling shingles in the 100-degree heat while the layabouts were inside watching "Dancing With The Stars" I'd be tempted to use the nailgun on their effing skulls...

And my dear, you wouldn't need a latte...or black garters. A book or poems underneath a bough...and your dark hair shining above your shining eyes.

"Love is too young to know what conscience is,
Yet who knows not conscience is born of love?
Then gentle cheater urge not my amiss,
Lest guilty of my faults thy sweet self prove.
For thou betraying me, I do betray
My nobler part to my gross body's treason,
My soul doth tell my body that he may,
Triumph in love, flesh stays no farther reason,
But rising at thy name doth point out thee,
As his triumphant prize, proud of this pride,
He is contented thy poor drudge to be,
To stand in thy affairs, fall by thy side.
No want of conscience hold it that I call,
Her love, for whose dear love I rise and fall."

Placetne, magistra?

FDChief said...

"I really do think something's gotta give, lest we flow into a middling mucky state."

I'd opine that we're ALREADY in that "middling mucky state", our treasury depleted, our honor lost, our national character a sorry mess of ambition, distraction, uglification, and derision. We have willingly given our nation to the malefactors of great wealth and now wonder why we are in such a sorry state, begging for largesse from the Great and Powerful Oz - whose charlatanism, greed, and foolishness are not hidden behind the threadbarest of curtains - while being content to receive his boot in our face instead and snivel our gratitude for his contempt.

While we've never been the nation of proud yeomen and mechanics that the Founders imagined, we're well on our way to becoming the nation of milling serfs at the bottom and idle rich at the top that nearly exploded at the turn of the 20th Century. So I fear not so much the mucky middle as the murky bottom, the America of the 99%, and the alternatives of violent revolution or dismal disenfranchisement.

Lisa said...

Dear Chief,

Re. Habitat, it depends upon the build. If a future homeowner is having a full consrtuction, then yes, they put in sweat equity. In our case, it was simply home repair of an already existing structure.

...per your verse, very much so:) {eliciting a sigh, and a sly smile}.

Per the middling state, yes, we seem to be fast approaching a nosedive from which we will not achieve altitude, again. The bifurcation of society was forseen a few decades ago, and the dismal disenfranchisement is here. In the place of revolution will be fighting amongst one's group.

In my neighborhood (not a bad one), we've had two car burglaries and a stolen vehicle in one week. These are new behaviors.

Lisa said...

Dear Chief,

Re. Habitat, it depends upon the build. If a future homeowner is having a full construction, then yes, they put in sweat equity. In our case, it was simply home repair of an already existing structure.

...per your verse, very much so:) {eliciting a sigh, and a sly smile}.

Per the middling state, yes, we seem to be fast approaching a nosedive from which we will not achieve altitude, again. The bifurcation of society was foreseen a few decades ago, and the dismal disenfranchisement is here. In the place of revolution will be fighting amongst one's group.

In my neighborhood (not a bad one), we've had two car burglaries and a stolen vehicle in one week. These are new behaviors.