Thursday, November 23, 2006


Even the most harsh critic of the neocons: Chaney, Pearl, Wofowich, Rumsfelt would not say these men are dumb. But, obviously, based on history and fact, they were wrong. Deposing Saddam didnot bring even a relative peace to Iraq nor the Middle East. We pursued a failed policy and all but the zealots agree that we are in a mess. So, it is surely possible to be smart but dumb and wrong at the same time.

One of my semi heroes and, it pains me to say this, as us Southerners have a view, "do not speak ill of the dead"-- Milton Friedman, already mentioned at another time but based on an article in Newsweek, warrants additional comments. It is his philosophy about the Volunteer Army that is wrong. Nothing personal, Milt. He said, "a military draft is undesirable and unnecessary. We should man our armed forces with volunteers." What is often left out of Milt's saying about the draft, however, is an "add on", "a military draft is undesirable and unnecessary. We can and should man our armed forces with volunteers as the United States has traditionally done except in major wars." ARE WE IN A MAJOR WAR? Yes, the war on terrorism.

I would love to have talked to Mr. Friedman because I agree with Newsweek, he is definitely one of the most influential men of the last hundred years. Often, I am not so sure that someone like Friedman, God bless his soul, is wrong, rather he is not right. Or, maybe we need to approach the same issue in light of new data or in our case, a new time, i. e., the war on terrorism.

What about our Volunteer Army. 2 questions? Is it successful and is it a good Army. Absolutely, it is successful in terms of fielding a military and a good one. On the surface, the present military is probably as good as any we have ever had. The first question, is it successful? From that point, it is a matter of perspective. The Volunteer Army simply is not representative of our American free society and this is what makes the Volunteer Army morally indefensible.

A very relative factor is always left out of the equation and it is somewhat definitional: when I say the Voluteer Army, I mean, all the "forces." However, much of the volunteer military has always been voluntary: the Navy, the Marines, the Air Force, and all of the elite forces such as Green Berets, Navy Seals--an entire Division, the 82d Airborne Division has always from its inception been voluntary.

Milt railed against the draft from a position of his time that really didn't make sense but also, because of the inequity of the draft. Who can interpret this Friedman statement: "the draft is wasteful because determent of students, fathers and married men jams colleges, raises the birth rate and fuels divorce courts." What in the hell does he mean? And, I love this one, "universal national service would compound the evil--regimenting all youth to camouflage the regimentation of some."

To give Mr. Friedman his due, I think one big point is that the draft was inequitable because it was not administered fairly. Where I think he is off the mark is that Universal Service simply provides an opportunity to serve. The fact that it is compulsory is simply an update on the times. Youth, if forced to serve, no exceptions, will do it and when it is over, my prediction is they will say, "I did it, I gave back and I'm the better for it." Friedman didn't like the draft, universal service, price controls, minimum wage standards. He's consistent.

Well, in life, I think there have to be some controls and restrictions. To me, youth serving their country is not so much a control as a freedom to serve.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Military Draft or Universal Service

Congressman Rangel, I applaud your commitment to reviving the draft and certainly agree with it. However, I don't think it will fly. For the last 12 years or so, I have been promoting the idea that we need Universal Service. We need something unifying and what better to do it than requiring those 18-26 to give 18 months to 2 years in service to this great country. As you can imagine from your own experiences, mostly I have been a voice "crying in the wilderness."

My basic theme has been simply that it is immoral to ask such an infinitesimally small number of Americans to fight our wars. Columnist Ben Stein put the perfect idea on it, "In the old days, the rich, the famous, they all put it aside to fight. Now who fights for us: "Southerners, Hispanics from New Mexico, rural men and women from upstate NY. Small town boys and girls from the Midwest. No children of the powers on Wall Street go off and fight? They 've left the burden of defending an affluent nation to those who enjoy less of its affluence. They don't want to fight for a system that made them rich or a way of life that made them princes of finance."

I would add, and not original with me, "the kids who are in the military today are those whose economic prospects are less than stellar. They are high-school graduates who're not going to college because of costs, many young parents who need a regular paycheck and health care for their families."

According to DOD statistics, soldiers come from households earning between $32,000 and $33,500. " (The median American income is $43,300.)

The difficulty, in my opinion, with selling the draft is simply too much opposition to the military, war, etc. Few can argue with universal service. From various reports, we've got lots of activism: students are getting involved in Teach America and there's been a resurgence in the Peace Corp. And, many students went to help in Katrina.

Without a draft or any sort of Universal Service, kids by in large don't have any incentive to serve. I talk to parents of kids who are draft eligible with great regularity and simply unless there is an unusual circumstances, they don't think about it. Thinking has changed and more and more parents of eligible kids see the advantage of a Universal Service. Having a choice is the selling point. I started a blog called AllServe and constantly get comments about what a great idea this is.

What would a Universal Service do for America's kids? Lots of things, something like a common interest and experience, something that is nonexistent in our culture. Universal service would make a difference in changing our fractured America--a youth culture built around service. What I am discovering is that many Americans will go for Universal Service if youth is given an option. If they didn't want to choose from a list, let them define their own. American kids are smart and creative, we might be surprised at what they come up with and how willing they are to serve.

Universal Service could be phased in over ten years and promoted among our youngsters now. A success story and the way AllServe could work is an organization I've read about: Teach America. I only know what I've read. They are getting top graduates who could be in medical school or Wharton business or wherever--yet choose to do something meaningful before they start their careers. Teach America sends graduates into poor rural and urban schools for two years. For many, it has become a next step after graduation. These kids want to contribute to improving society while keeping their options open. At Yale for instance, Teach America, drew applications from 12% of the graduates, 11% at Dartmouth, and 8% at Harvard. All told a record 17,350 applied in one year.

Are our present kids a post 9-11 generation ready to opt more aggressively for public service? I think so. Many of those volunteering for Teach America don't know what they want to do. The thought is that not knowing what to do, why not take some time to do something meaningful for a couple of years and think about the future. The military is only one of the options. Universal Service will work.

Congressman Rangel, I applaud your efforts now as I did when you offered the bill on the draft once before. We missed our greatest opportunity for our kids after 9-11. Now, as I see it, we have another chance. With our "changed" Congress, Universal Service will fly and I hope and pray it will and think you are just the one to make it happen.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Milton Friedman just died. Who is he? Wake up and smell the roses, he was a famous economist and bigtime promoter of free trade. But, his big claim to fame is that he was the first to suggest to Richard Nixon that we have an All Volunteer Army. Mainly his reasons were that if it were voluntary, those who chose it would stay longer. They would be better trained and have more esprit. Well, Milt, Dicky took your suggestion and the voluntary army has been successful only in numbers. There is no evidence that it is better trained or has higher esprit or that people stay longer.

The present day military is as good as probably any we have ever fielded. However, there's no real way to measure the Voluntary Army. What we have discovered and it doesn't take a Harvard scholar to know this, based on present leadership, the military is woefully undermanned with much of the expert knowledge and experience residing in the active military, leaving the Reserves and National Guard woefully inadequate for its fighting role. Granted the Guard and Reserves have done a good job catching up but when the history of the Iraqi war is written, I think that most of the issues of lack of experience and training will be at the feet of the Reserves and Guard. Think about it, by in large, the Guard and Reserve soldiers join up to play army, show up once a month, deal with a six pack or two, escape the wives/husbands. Suddenly, a war shows up and because we have reduced the size of the military to scandalous levels, we must deploy the Guard and Reserves. What did we expect? That being said, the Guard and the Reserves are to be commended for doing their duty and coming around.

So, Milt, although your idea was good, it overall has been a dismal failure, especially in terms of representing our democracy. We have chosen to let a small portion of Americans fight our wars and this just ain't right. SHAME ON US.