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Friday, March 19, 2021

For Peace ... and the Draft


In 2006, Harper’s Magazine sponsored a forum on the possibility of an American coup d’etat. Among the participants in that discussion was one Major General Charles J. Dunlap, Jr.  Dunlap was part of an interesting exchange about the composition of the military.

“WASIK: I want to address the question of partisanship in the military. Insofar as there is a "culture war" in America, everyone seems to agree that the armed forces fight on the Republican side. And this is borne out in polls: self-described Republicans outnumber Democrats in the military by more than four to one, and only 7 percent of soldiers describe themselves as "liberal."
KOHN: It has become part of the informal culture of the military to be Republican. You see this at the military academies. They pick it up in the culture, in the training establishments.
DUNLAP: The military is an inherently conservative organization, and this is true of all militaries around the world. Also the demographics have changed: people in the South who were Democratic twenty years ago have become Republican today.
BACEVICH: Yes, all militaries are conservative. But since 1980 our military has become conservative in a more explicitly ideological sense. And that allegiance has been returned in spades by the conservative side in the culture war, which sees soldiers as virtuous representatives of how the country ought to be.
KOHN: And meanwhile there is a streak of anti-militarism on the left.
BACEVICH: It's not that people on the left disdain the military but rather that they are just agnostic about it. They don't identify with soldiers or soldiering.
LUTTWAK: And their children have less of a propensity to serve in the military. Parents who describe themselves as liberal are less likely to make positive noises to their children about the armed forces.
DUNLAP: Which brings up a crucial point. Let's accept as a fact that the U.S. military has become more overtly ideological since 1980. What has happened since 1980? Roughly, that was the beginning of the all-volunteer force. What we are seeing right now is the result of twenty-five years of an all-volunteer force, in which people have self-selected into the organization.

 I was recently in an exchange with a member of a supposed resistance to war group that posted a Reason Magazine article against the draft. I am for the draft. I think the draft puts the burden of war solidly on the people. If that doesn’t happen, we soon see the military becoming a praetorian group for itchy fingered presidents. And we also see, as in the capitol riot, that exmilitary people in a self-selecting armed group veer towards the right. This isn’t just the American experience – it is the French, British, German and Italian experience. It is the experience of Latin America and Japan. The rightwing tend is only countered by the formation of “people’s armies” – basically, the draft.

There are a number of political externalities, in the U.S., that came with the draft. One of the undiscussed ones is how much the draft contributed to the collapse of Jim Crow. The military was the first government organization that officially integrated, under Harry Truman’s Executive Order 9981  issued on July 26, 1948. I think one could even argue that, given the draft, to which iall young American men were subject at the time, this order did more to integrate America and kickstart the very much incomplete march towards racial equality than Brown v. Board of Education. There is a reason that white libertarians at Reason, Milton Friedman and Reagan were all on the anti-draft side – as well as on the white supremacist side, at least in practice.

I doubt we will have Selective Service again, unfortunately. And I also doubt that the Capitol Riot is a one-off. America runs under the delusion of its own exception to social patterns in history – hence, the bizarre belief that one can spend 700 billion per year on the military and still maintain an apolitical military force. The draft was a counter-vailing force – and its abolition has had just the effects you would predict – a heightening of rightwing military sentiment, an inability to stop wars – Iraq kicking the U.S. out was a rare favor accorded to us in this respect, otherwise it would be Afganistan – and an inability to adjust to changes in the global order. It was interesting to see the neolibs under Obama try to whip up sentiment for the no good, very terrible Transpacific Trade pact by militarizing the issue – we must stop Red China before it takes over a few ten square mile islands in the China Sea! That kind of thing is a D.C. specialty, now.

You feed the monster until the monster feeds on you.

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