Should military service become mandatory?
December 29, 2002 9:49 PM   Subscribe

Should military service become mandatory? New York's Democratic representative Charles Rangel thinks so. Would this help curb the enthusiasm our elected leaders have in using our armed forces? Obviously, the details need to be explained and hashed out... but does this effort have any substantial support?
posted by cinematique (46 comments total)
We're closing bases left and right, running up trillion-dollar deficits again, and deploying our reserves instead of our regular military, and this guy thinks a draft is a good idea? How does he propose to pay for it, by rubbing a magic lamp?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:51 PM on December 29, 2002

I don't mean to I/P troll, but I think a valuable example of mandatory military service in an assymetric war is Israel. So the answer is no, it doesn't "curb the enthusiasm our elected leaders have in using our armed forces."
posted by jbrjake at 10:02 PM on December 29, 2002

What a jerkass.
posted by thirteen at 10:30 PM on December 29, 2002

Hmmm... as to where we could get the money to pay for such a thing - how 'bout cancelling the ridiculous resurrection of Reagan's "Star Wars Defense" -- that would fund about $100 Billion or so.

As a former Marine who served in Gulf War 1.0, and who now serves as an executive at a small software company, I have to say that I agree w/Rangel: I can't believe the bullshit my colleagues spout about the military/war, having never served. They'd have a lot different opinions if their friends were dead, or if they'd spent a few weeks picking dead bodies up from the desert or carting around POWs by the thousand.

For value and experience, I'd say we're missing a lot by leaving our kids out of the military. I've been in few organizations where the general run of leaders exhibit the virtues of Robert Greenleaf's "Leader as Servant," as I did in the United States Marine Corps. There are, unquestionably, plenty of drunks and cretans, but the Officer and NCO corps' are the best leaders, man-for-man, of any group in the country.

Finally, I think everyone in the military and government should read William James' brief essay on "The Moral Equivalent of War," in which he proposes a choice between military service and service in a civil function that is as brutal and difficult as military life, such as railroad building or ditch digging or mining. Living a life with small margins and bone-breaking demands knocks the childishness and pettiness of so many -isms out of people in a way that Phish concerts and Oprah specials will just never achieve.
posted by minnesotaj at 10:57 PM on December 29, 2002

Easy. Use the military to manufacture goods with forced labor. The armed forces could easily generate more revenue than our prison system.

What I don't understand is how mandatory military service will prevent wars. This joker must be the Democratic Representative from Bizzaro New York. "Me want everyone join military. Me hate war. Me so full, me could eat a dozen more hot dogs. In bizzaro world, you would eat krop... unless you are a wej." (Not a subtle Nazi reference or anti-semitic comment, just a bizarre quote.)
posted by son_of_minya at 11:10 PM on December 29, 2002

mr_crash_davis (I forget where your politics lean):

But why is the expense of a well staffed and appointed military so prohibitive when a Democrat proposes such a measure, yet military spending, tax cuts for the rich and dissembling of social programs proposed by the Republicans a deft use of tax base?

Other than that, I don't like it. It's like these democrats brainstorm and brainstorm, thinking all the while they're finally gonna pull one out of their ass the repubs can't top, only to be expertly undercut by Rove and Co. As they come to find out, the repubs have added it to their agenda where they tout it like a popular side show, drain it of meaning then drop it, so as to, god forbid, should the democrats go back over it again, make the issue moot and absurd to ever be considered again.

In principle I agree with the premise that should the military be manned by dutiful citizens, perhaps the rush to war would be much more cautious. Wage slavery is already a mantra of us on the idiotic left. We're already admonished to put up or shuddup, playing the lottery is indeed the path to the American dream, unemployment and homelessness is a symptom of laziness. To mandate service for a government and military that fights its' wars for the benefit of capitalism and ruling class gain, is to further spartanize the future of our already bleak culture.
posted by crasspastor at 11:19 PM on December 29, 2002

I served for 9 years, from 83 to 92, partly active duty, partly reserve. Part of that time, I was a basic training company commander. While I did that, probably 25 to 50% of my time was spent processing people OUT of the army who didn't really want to be there. And this was an all-volunteer force. I shudder to think what would happen if military service was not voluntary.

I think that having a conscript military is bad because:

1) I don't want to go to war with a bunch of people who didn't really want to join up.

2) Conscription sounds too much like slavery to me.

If you want to socially engineer congress's behavior (which is what it sounds like Rep. Rangel wants to do), change the law so that only people who have children in the service can be elected to congress--you would get the result that he wants without forcing anyone to do anything.
posted by stupidcomputernickname at 11:25 PM on December 29, 2002

Mandatory military service is what makes Europe such an awesome fighting machine today. Who can outfight the pubescent boys currently, and unwillingly, serving in European armies? Who stands a chance against European teenagers skilled in such combat tactics as "making your bed" and "lacing your boots"? America will never catch up with hyperpower Europe until it abandons its high-tech fighting equipment in favor of lots and lots of disgruntled teenagers.
posted by Ljubljana at 11:41 PM on December 29, 2002

"And remember - Service Guarantees Citizenship! Prepare for our next invasion: enlist now!"
posted by Perigee at 12:28 AM on December 30, 2002

Guy's a fuckin' genius.

Not only will people be against it(why? they support the war?), but they won't be able to afford it either.

Like I said, a genius.

So, who is against mandatory military service?
posted by dglynn at 12:36 AM on December 30, 2002

I have faith that rich people will continue to get special treatment and not have to serve.

They don't have to answer to crimes now, how do you expect they'll answer to duty?
posted by cinderful at 1:00 AM on December 30, 2002

> Who can outfight the pubescent boys currently, and unwillingly, serving in European armies?

Ljubljana, maybe that's exactly why Europeans try to deal with international matters via the UN and other diplomatic channels rather than using our armed forces.
posted by hoskala at 3:45 AM on December 30, 2002

The peacetime draft is pretty tough -- even though it's a law in many countries, mine included. Topic's already been discussed on MeFi a few months ago (I just can't find the link), but this idea of a hundred years war against the Axis of Evil plus Islam plus whomever will certainly require, in the long term, a few drastic measures if there isn't a big enough number of volunteers (i.e., I doubt that in the near future the US could possibly fight simultaneously on two fronts, say it's Iran and Korea).

Rangel is a weird man (he was the first to mention the "Hillary for Senate" idea, 'nuff said). But nobody can guarantee what will happen next, especially with the realistic chance of one or more 9-11 style devastating attacks on American soil in the future, maybe with chemical or radiological weapons. Who knows what the American reaction will be. And if there aren't enough soldiers to open a new front, I'd say that the Pentagon will need the draft once again (it's been abolished only 30 years ago, it's not a Medieval thing). Permanent war can really be a drag.

About curbing "the enthusiasm our elected leaders have in using our armed forces", I'd say it won't work like that. THe draft would certainly curb the let's-go-to-war enthusiasm of many, many kids who'd rather stay at home and watch tv (or read MeFi) than go to basic training and after that go fight who knows where and against whom.
posted by matteo at 3:55 AM on December 30, 2002

change the law so that only people who have children in the service can be elected to congress--you would get the result that he wants without forcing anyone to do anything And those who don't have children would be ineligible? Currently the age of eligibility for congress is in the 20s, so would be raise that as well?

Without all the facts in place, a draft would send a lot of people to a war they disagree with, and possibly a war we shouldn't be fighting in the first place.

But yes, let's go to war with Iraq for no reason other than G.W. and his buddies wanting oil, and on top of that, let's draft a bunch of people who believe this should be handled diplomatically. Let's deploy opposed citizens to the middle east to hunt down Al-Qaeda. Never mind our best and brightest military people haven't figured out whats going on, you put enough privates on the ground, and you're going to pull it off. And while everyone is off at war on two to three fronts at once, everyone will probably make a below-minimum wage in their military coersion, which will cause the economy to slump even further. But let's send unprepared, unwilling soldiers in to fight a war they are opposed to.

I mean, it worked in Vietnam, right?
posted by benjh at 4:56 AM on December 30, 2002

Should military service become mandatory?

No. Involuntary servitude = slavery. Abolish slavery instead.

Our military should be about professional career soliders, not young boys that are mostly used as cannon fodder (Hamburger Hill for you military history buffs.)

Having said that, should the draft be reinstated I'm certain the skies over Texas will be well protected by the sons of the wealthy, that is when they're not AWOL for months on end.
posted by nofundy at 5:21 AM on December 30, 2002

"I'm going to introduce legislation to have universal military service to let everyone have an opportunity to defend the free world against the threats coming to us"

Everyone already has an opportunity, and most people evidently don't want to take it. This man is stupid.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 5:41 AM on December 30, 2002

As someone that turned 18 over seas while wearing a U.S. Army uniform, I want to say that no 17 or 18 year old owes any country any debt - especially their life! It's the old timers like myself that owe, after all, we've had time to live the good life. War sucks and REAL people get hurt.
posted by LowDog at 5:42 AM on December 30, 2002

It's like the sixties never happened.
posted by Summer at 6:42 AM on December 30, 2002

I propose a Constitutional amendment to require immediate conscription into military service for any Congressman who votes "yes" on a war resolution. And by immediate I mean immediate - when they leave the chamber, an olive drab bus is waiting. If you're planning to vote Aye, you'd better bring a duffel bag to work. If you're 98 years old, they'll find you a desk job somewhere.

Why deny our expensively tailored DC hawks the supreme glory of participating in the actions they authorize?

The term of conscription would last until the conclusion of the action they voted for. If their term of office is still in effect when they muster out, they can resume their Congressional seat, and even vote for more wars if they need another vacation.
posted by anser at 7:13 AM on December 30, 2002

nofundy, your comment set off an echo in my head of my late father, a WW II veteran, who remarked sourly, "I was a political prisoner of Franklin Delano Roosevelt."

For a "Greatest Generation" participant, he was noticeably bitter about his experience. I think he would've been happier contributing to the war effort if he could've stayed at Picatinny Arsenal turning out howitzer barrels, but the draft board didn't offer him the option.
posted by alumshubby at 7:20 AM on December 30, 2002

The democrats are a bunch of crazed, confused idiots as far as I can tell. They think that attacking the republicans in the area of homeland defense will work in the upcoming elections, even though, clearly, that is the strong area for repubs. Now this. It could vaguely fit in with that agenda, and could definitely be co-opted into it if need be.

Heaven forbid they talk about social issues, or attach on weak areas. Honestly if they run on a "we're not doing enough to stop the terrists" platform I'd imagine even the republicans would be surprised at how poorly they will do. And I'm a liberal who at least tries to follow what they are doing, with the smaller amount of this crap that permeates major media viewers must be quite confused.
posted by rhyax at 7:24 AM on December 30, 2002

At the very least, this would get kids of eligible age interested in politics.
posted by muckster at 7:41 AM on December 30, 2002

Hmm. My interpretation of what the article was really about seems very different from the rest of the ideas here. Look at the end of the article:

"When you talk about a war, you're talking about ground troops, you're talking about enlisted people, and they don't come from the kids and members of Congress," he said.

"I think, if we went home and found out that there were families concerned about their kids going off to war, there would be more cautiousness and a more willingness to work with the international community than to say, 'Our way or the highway.' "

Rangel did not provide specifics of his proposal.

To me, this reads like he's more concerned about making a point, and not actually trying to pass this bill. Rather than being the war-monger people seem to be painting him here as, it seems to me that he's just expressing his distaste for the eagerness of the White House to commit to war, and doing it in a very silly manner.

Any thoughts?
posted by cohappy at 8:00 AM on December 30, 2002

muckster, I only wish it were so.

When the subject of partying and alcohol comes up at work, I tell kids, "You know, if you wanted to drink legally, you can get the ball rolling to get the law changed. Get 10,000 teenagers in this state interested in changing the legal drinking age and the legislature will listen."

They couldn't care less.
posted by alumshubby at 8:17 AM on December 30, 2002

he's just expressing his distaste for the eagerness of the White House to commit to war, and doing it in a very silly manner.

...which is par for the course for Rangel.
posted by Vidiot at 8:32 AM on December 30, 2002

"...the legislature will listen."

Probably not, actually -- wasn't the drinking age of 21 promulgated by the federal government? And didn't they say they would cut off federal highway funds to any state that said otherwise?

(Not that I don't think teenagers still couldn't care less.)
posted by Vidiot at 8:42 AM on December 30, 2002

I gotta get out of this country somehow.
posted by mcsweetie at 9:02 AM on December 30, 2002

Yes, Vidiot, you are correct. Thanks to Elizabeth Dole when she was Director of Transportation under Reagan. She basically strong-armed the states into changing their drinking age to 21 or else she threatened to withhold their Federal Highway Funds. As Bill Maher once noted, it was a mob tactic.

You better do what I say or else the road moneys might....disappear.

posted by Ufez Jones at 9:08 AM on December 30, 2002

I support mandatory military service; as long as it's optional.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:13 AM on December 30, 2002

Another idea that merits consideration is an American Service Corp, that young people would join after high school perhaps. It would consist of peace corp-like service in the US or abroad. Sending millions of Americans abroad would theoretically have a positive effect by showing this ill-informed nation a bit of the world beyond spring break in Cancun.
posted by 4midori at 10:07 AM on December 30, 2002

I dunno, I'm in the Navy right now, and although its an experience which I wish everyone had to go through (even if I hated a lot of it, and still think a few things are silly), I wouldn't like a conscription. I mean, you look across to all the guys and gals you are with in boot camp and realize 'no matter how much I hate it, no matter how much of a mistake it seems, I chose to come here.' Everyone in the service chose to do it, and although a few try to scramble away, I would rather have a small group of people who want to go through it, than a large group rushing to get out. Plus, it would take a lot of the first adult choice feeling away if everyone was made to do it.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 10:18 AM on December 30, 2002

Another idea that merits consideration is an American Service Corp, that young people would join after high school perhaps.

Already exists, despite the GOP's best efforts:
AmeriCorps (formerly known as VISTA);
Teach for America

And on the military thing, XQUZYPHYR said it better than I could have in his post above.
posted by Vidiot at 10:30 AM on December 30, 2002

anser said it best:

" I propose a Constitutional amendment to require immediate conscription into military service for any Congressman who votes "yes" on a war resolution. And by immediate I mean immediate - when they leave the chamber, an olive drab bus is waiting. If you're planning to vote Aye, you'd better bring a duffel bag to work."

Only... if "you're 98 years old, they'll find you a desk job somewhere," shouldn't be an option. If you're too old to bring anything meaningful to a war, then you shouldn't be able to vote for the use of troops. At all.

Here's the real catch here ~ when we go over to the Gulf again, and it's going to happen before the winter thaw, we're going to do so without a declaration of war. This trick has been done several times since WWII including, but not limited to: Gulf War 1.0, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Vietnam.

Coming from a male who is almost 21, and has had to wait to legally drink alcohol in this supposed land of the free, I feel that mandatory military service would end up ruining our already half-assed soldier base.

And you can't tell me that rich kids are going to have to fight if this law were to pass. There'd be some sort of way out...
posted by cinematique at 10:34 AM on December 30, 2002

It's a cool idea on some level, until you realize that it would cost a lot, and lower the quality of the military. Still, being shown what dead bodies and war, as well as nuclear explosions and WMDs are like, should be a mandatory part of public education. If so, we might have already taken out Saddam : )
posted by ParisParamus at 10:56 AM on December 30, 2002

Vidiot, Teach For America is and has been part of AmeriCorps. There are hundreds of programs under the AmeriCorps banner.

(I'm an AmeriCorps alum)
posted by jare2003 at 11:09 AM on December 30, 2002

thanks for the correction, jare2003. I have no personal experience with AmeriCorps or TFA, but I think it's a great idea and one that deserves to be expanded.
posted by Vidiot at 11:15 AM on December 30, 2002

" If you're too old to bring anything meaningful to a war..." Since you're an service member or recently released, you should know the meaning of 'Tooth to Tail Ratio' and how it can be used in your stated case.

And you must be a military type, 'cuz only a civilian < /venom> would post the following in the virtual world and not say it in a bar full of marines.

"...would end up ruining our already half-assed soldier base."

Conscription should be a means of last resort for a democracy. To bad we Americans live in a republic.
posted by blogRot at 2:18 PM on December 30, 2002

Isn't this classic strawman, with the strawman here being the implication that every non-poor person would certainly not want to have their children involved in a war action and would act entirely different if there was a chance that they might be part of the action.
That's so ignorant as to be absurd.
posted by HTuttle at 3:42 PM on December 30, 2002

Charlie Rangel is making a good point. If America is so gung ho for war, why aren't parents willing to put their own children in harm's way. Sure we have a volunteer army now, but that's only because it's been a generation since we last had a real shooting war with thousands of American dead. Most people in our volunteer army are poor, temporarily lacking in better prospects or earning tuition for college. That equation will change when things get hot. I mean it's hard to find somebody willing to write html for $40,000 a year. You think it will be easy to find people willing to die for a few hundred dollars a month?

The armed forces have already put a temporary ban on officers resigning their commissions. Wait for the mass exodus when the ban is lifted and they realize that might be their last chance to get out. A large portion of the National Guard is entering the second year of deployment. At the end of their second year they are out for good. Who is going to take their place?

World War II was the last "equal opportunity" war. Everyone under the age of 35 was subject to the draft and they even took volunteers up to age 45. The draft was so extensive that it was unusual to see any men under 35 on the streets and they were looked upon with suspicion as slackers even if they had legitimate medical deferments. Even the wealthy and famous saw fit to do their patriotic duty. For example ex-senator and millionaire Joe Kennedy lost one son and almost another in the war. Ted Williams sacrificed the peak of his baseball career and even re-upped for the Korean War. In general everyone did their part although there were still a few strings pulled, e.g. Reagan spent the war in Hollywood making army training films.

By the time Vietnam rolled around things had changed. The average American was no longer willing to serve. The draft applied almost exclusively to 18-year-olds. The average enlisted person in Vietnam was only 19-years-old compared to 26 in WWII. Never before has America been so willing to sacrifice an entire generation of young people to a pointless war while business went on as usual on the home front. I like to think of it as the American childrens crusade.

On the other hand, the wealthy and well-connected found ways to protect their young from Vietnam. In contrast to Kennedy, Bush Senior used his influence to get his son G.W. into the National Guard where he had little chance of going to Vietnam. At that time the waiting lists for the National Guard in each state were hundreds long because it was a popular way to avoid being drafted into a fighting unit. Unlike Ted Williams, Jack Kemp angled to get a medical deferment for a bad knee yet somehow managed to continue playing pro football throughout the war. (And let's not get into Rush Limbaugh who passed up his patriotic opportunity and sat out the war on his anal cyst.) Al Gore was an exceptional throwback to the previous generation's patriotism in that he volunteered and served in Vietnam despite the fact his father was a Senator.

So, yes, I think it would be an interesting experiment to reinstitute the draft. There is nothing like sitting in front the the radio as an 18-year-old, while they draw the lottery numbers that determine the direction for the next few years of your life, to focus your attention on the real meaning of war. And while they're at it, I would like to see an instant 10% surcharge on the income tax whenever we engage in war. For some people, pocketbook issues can be more motivating than morality. Then we might find out how eager Americans really are for war.
posted by JackFlash at 3:48 PM on December 30, 2002

I think a lot of it has to do with the popular perception of war being somehow bloodless...on the US end at least. Even though there were US casualties in Gulf War I, Afghanistan, Bosnia, et cetera, et cetera, the numbers were relatively small. (Especially when these numbers are compared to the much-larger numbers of enemy or civilian casualties.)

I'm no military expert, but I'd venture that this is because of the rise of bombing and reluctance to commit ground troops that mark most military actions over the past few years. I'd further venture that once body bags start coming home at WWII- or Vietnam-era rates, public attitudes toward war will change quickly.

Rangel's just tapping into this idea, IMHO, with his modest proposal. However, I don't think that introducing legislation to reinstate the draft is the best way for him to make this point.
posted by Vidiot at 4:38 PM on December 30, 2002

All I know is that I tried to enlist TWICE to no avail (high frequency hearing loss due to chronic ear congestions), once in the Navy and once in the Coast Guard. After getting denied by the Navy two weeks earlier, I got my dun notice mentioning I forgot to enroll in Selective Service. You'd think someone could tell they had already denied me...
posted by Samizdata at 8:12 PM on December 30, 2002

"mr_crash_davis (I forget where your politics lean)"

crasspastor, kinder words have never been spoken on Mefi.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:27 PM on December 30, 2002


Of course we'd be against any war with Vietnam-era casualties. There hasn't been a war like that since. The US, in our battles, uses techniques to avoid American and civilian casualties, which is why even enemy deaths are way down in recent battles.

In any case, I think the draft should be banned constitutionally. Having a *volunteer* army is what stops wars. If a war in unpopular, people don't sign up. If the war is supported as just, an army will materialize. There's not a doubt in my mind that Vietnam would have been far less tragic if we had no draft. We're a free nation - whether the army or peace corps experience is a good one is an individual choice. Anything else, the article's suggestion included, is slavery, pure and simple.
posted by Kevs at 1:17 AM on December 31, 2002

"Carrying out the administration's policy toward Iraq will require long-term sacrifices by the American people, particularly those who have sons and daughters in the military. Yet the Congress that voted overwhelmingly to allow the use of force in Iraq includes only one member who has a child in the enlisted ranks of the military — just a few more have children who are officers."
--Rangel in the NYT
posted by muckster at 2:33 AM on December 31, 2002

One point I was trying to make (and was perhaps too oblique for my own good) was that a forthcoming war with Iraq might very well have higher casualty rates than most other recent military actions. The battle plans that have been leaked so far seem to be heavy on infantry advances, and I don't think anyone is suggesting that taking Baghdad without razing it completely will be anything other than a bloodbath on both sides. (After all, I'm sure that's why the army decided to pull out of Somalia.)
posted by Vidiot at 7:23 AM on December 31, 2002

Or perhaps as someone named "stupidcomputernickname" posted on the MetaFilter Web site, a sort of electronic coffee klatch, we should only allow people whose children are in the military to be elected to Congress. That way, we get shared sacrifice without a draft.

Consider it a lo-fi Talkback

See also MetaTalk
posted by y2karl at 12:50 AM on January 10, 2003

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