Saturday, January 29, 2005


Recently, Open Forum, in the San Francisco Chronicle, the featured article dealt with my favorite subject: Draft Talk Premature-An All Volunteer Military Can Still Work. My initial reaction: It has never worked. Or, it all depends on what one’s definition of "work" is. Sure a Volunteer Army can work if we continue to allow other people's children to fight our wars and we have no qualms about other people's children dying for us.

A Volunteer Army may seem to work if all we talk about are quotas and numbers. As one who has served in the military for 29 years and has been drafted and even scammed the draft board with various deferments, I see that we are at a point when the country needs a semblance of a draft more than the draft needs the country. Financially, if we continue to drain our resources in impossible situations like Iraq, a military draft may be our only course. However, there really is a much bigger issue. I can assure you, as can scores of drill sergeants. retired military, and even draftees of the Vietnam era: a two or three year hitch in the military could be the best thing that could happen to America's young men and women. We have to quit being deceived by the spin masters and those who don't "get it" about the draft.

The article touted an idea that the military is a "skills" based military and must be taught within the Army is simply false. Most of the jobs are comparable to those in civilian life, especially the ones that require science and math skills. Driving tanks and operating the complex computer systems in them are not much more sophisticated than many of the computer games these kids are playing now anyway. The article went on to say that because the military is all volunteer, there are far fewer discipline problems. I doubt it. If the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and soldiers refusing to go on missions is any indication, All Volunteer Army discipline has a ways to go.

Volunteering is nothing new in the military. The Navy, Marines, and Air Force have always been volunteer. In the Army, elite units like the 82d Airborne and Special Forces are volunteer and proud of it. Another bad idea in this article, in my opinion, is that military leaders are thoroughly convinced that a return to the draft could "only weaken the armed forces," is naive." What would we expect the generals to say? For years, when I was in the Army, I was amazed to hear the top leaders tout the success of the Volunteer Army. I was living with the volunteer Army and I wanted to say, Give Me a Break.

At the top levels of the Army, the brass is permeated with a "can do" attitude. You want a job done, you’ve got it. Rarely does someone stand up and say, "Whoa, we don’t have the resources." Rather it is an idea that we will make it succeed, regardless. And, more often than not they do by throwing money at it--taxpayers money, I might add. And, let’s face it, the top military leadership has become so politicized that we need to listen to them with a jaundice ear at best. Any general above the rank of one star is suspect. Either they become cheerleaders for various policies or simply "roll over" and say nothing. For most general officers above the rank of one star, you can rest assured that they didn't get to where they are on merit. It doesn't mean they are not good leaders, it merely means that they may or may not be the best we have.

Another false principle in this particular article was that the draft violates the hiring of people; i. e., doesn't give them a choice. Sure it does. The right to be an American ought to come with some price. It doesn’t have to be the draft, but some sort of universal service--AllServe: teaching, peace corps, a host of possibilities. We are a smart people and could figure this out. It ought to cost every American something to be a member of this great country. We squandered a noble chance after 9-11 when young Americans were lining up in droves to sign up, almost a WW ll experience. Think Pat Tillman, the NFL football star who gave up millions and lost his life in Afghanistan. Tillman's story is inspiring to the max. We have scores of youngsters out there who would be today's heroes if they were nudged a little. But, they are not going to "step up" in a Volunteer Army because they don't have too.

The Volunteer Army is an abysmal failure in terms of being representative of the American society. The spin masters in the military and in politics proclaim endlessly its success. It just ain’t so. Our Army comes from mostly a pool of kids that joined up with the idea of earning money for college or couldn't figure out what else to do and rarely with an idea of "service to country." They are a group of great kids who simply didn't have many options.

I think it was quite significant that both presidential candidates made a big point that they didn’t want the draft. Shame on them! They are denying young Americans the very best chance to truly be American and it is our loss. In the movie, Buloxi Blues, the last scene you see is this young Neil Simon, riding on a train, returning home to New Jersey and commenting on his Army life. Drafted, Simon was suddenly thrown with all these strange people. Simon's story could be told a thousand times over in a draft Army. He says, "as I look back, a lot of years later, my time in the Army was the happiest time of my life. Not because I liked the Army, but I liked it for the best reasons, I was young. I didn’t like most of those guys then but today I love every damn one of them."

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