Saturday, September 10, 2005

I am an American...

...fighting in the forces that guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.

That is the first article in the military Code Of Conduct, the code by which military members are expected to conduct themselves while serving.

I've heard talk here and there that there should be/might be a draft due to recruiting shortfalls, and various pros and cons surrounding it. I know a lot of people who think mandatory military service would be a good thing, and I know a lot of people don't like the idea of what appears to be indentured servitude.

I do think that military service would be a benefit to a lot of people, and would not object to mandatory military service (a draft). However, I do see a few points that trouble me.
1. Americans are free. We live in a free country, and citizenship is guaranteed if we're born here. Anything that infringes on that freedom frightens me. If we put a caveat that you're not a true American citizen until you've served, then you're putting a condition on freedom, which doesn't appear to me to be true freedom.
2. Military service will help an irresponsible portion of the country grow up. I've heard such things as "the military will curb alcohol abuse" and "people learn to be accountable for their actions." Let me debunk a little here based on my experience. I had a friend who enlisted in the military at 19. While we were in tech school, this person drank so much and so often that on more than one occasion he was unable to successfully climb into bed after a night out and just slept on the floor. I had another friend who got so drunk on the night before her upgrade exam that she forgot where she lived (and she never left her barracks building). I knew a man who bounced so many checks that he was confined to base and given a 50 dollar a month allowance to buy uniform necessities/haircuts, etc. Military service will NOT keep a person from abusing alcohol and will NOT teach a person how to not be a criminal. The punishments in the military are often quite severe, but it's still up to an individual in terms of finances/personal accountability. As for drinking, there are rows of bars outside many military installations, and most military bases have more than one place on base to get alcohol. Almost all military functions serve some sort of alcohol (ask about our grog bowl!).
Now, teaching responsibility, helping them grow up. I don't like this argument at all. I can't buy any argument advocating mandatory military service because the kids need to grow up. I'm not willing to shell out my tax dollars for a federally funded finishing school. If schools and parents are expected to be held accountable for raising their children, then why have a failsafe in mandatory military service? And why pay them to grow up?
As an aside to this: If this teaches responsibility and maturity, then why do as many as 1/4 of female enlistees not finish their first enlistment because they received a voluntary discharge due to pregnancy (especially when another 1/3 or more are unmarried at the time?)
3. Military service will make people proud to be Americans. Perhaps. But pride is an internal thing. I currently live in Texas, and there are quite a few very proud Texans, and I doubt most of them served in the Texas National Guard. It came from somewhere else. I think service can stroke the fire, but I don't think it can make pride appear.
4. Need. Do we have a need for a draft? We're not acting in response to a direct threat against the U.S. like we did during WW1 or 2, and we don't have the imminent threat of destruction of our way of life like we had from the Communists. The Taliban doesn't have an invasion plan as far as I know (if someone else has more info, clue me in), and we invaded Iraq; we didn't react to their attack on us. The timing doesn't seem right there...
5. Logistics. How many kids will graduate from high school this year? 2 million? 3 million? How do we fund the pay/housing/food/medical/dental/training/moving for an extra 2 million plus military members per year? Just for two years of service, that equates to 4 million at least that have to be accounted for, on top of however many we currently have. The current base pay for an e1 is $1235.10/month. That equates to $14,821.20 per year for one E1. Multiplied for 4 million Airmen, you get $59,284,800,000 just on Base Pay that gets charged to the taxpayer.

Now that I've layed out my problems with compulsory service, let me reiterate that I actually do favor mandatory military service.
I think that first and foremost, freedom isn't free. And I do think that service brings a closer tie between the individual and the nation. For a comparison, look at a college. There are graduates who support the football team to crazy extremes, and a lot of people who latently support their school. If that's the case, then it would stand to reason that putting your life on the line for your country would bring a closer tie between you and your country, though it might take a while before that tie is realized. I think that friendships that get made in the military can be stronger and deeper than ones made anywhere else, because you share something more significant that a room, you share a situation, a being, a "thing" that I can't quite describe. However, I think that if we impose mandatory military service, we have to not excuse anyone, illiterates, dropouts, obese, gay, and the flaming gay. Everyone would have to be given the opportunity to earn their citizenship.

What do you think?


Michelle said...

Steve, the pay scale you talk of, is that full time? Because if it is my god that's lousy.

Steve said...

Click on the link, it takes you to a posting of the 2005 military pay scale for the U.S. military.
That number, $1235.10 is the base pay for an e1 (lowest enlisted pay rate) with less than 4 months active duty. It also doesn't take into consideration the cost of housing, food, medical, etc. So in reality, an e1 gets paid more than that; that's just the amount of money that goes to their bank account.

Your typical enlisted person will reach e2 no later than 12 months in, and thus will achieve two pay raises before they would finish, and the aggregate cost would be millions more.

Sam said...

I’m going to have to disagree with you on the mandatory draft.

Though the military isn’t meeting its recruiting goals, I don’t foresee forcing millions to join for two years helping out. One of the things that makes our military so strong is the fact that it is full of professionals who volunteered to be there. A compulsory service obligation would make the majority (or at least a large percentage) of the forces have very little experience; this would stretch the existing leadership as they have significantly more e1s to worry about. This would be made more difficult by the fact that the new people don’t want to be there. Would you want to try to lead a group of anti-war hippies or the people from New Orleans who jumped at the first opportunity to loot, rape and murder? During a war, people who don’t want to join the military are forced to learn what they are doing; getting killed by the enemy is an effective motivation. These soldiers, however, would do as little as possible without fear of being sent into combat unprepared (there would be no incentive to do any more than necessary to avoid court martial).

Furthermore, America’s greatest asset isn’t its military, but its economy. Compulsory military service would force people out of the workforce (by either preventing immediate entry into the job market or delaying secondary education and the eventual entry into the labor force). Every new job – from factory workers to young lawyers – will lose two-years’ worth of new workers. This harms the tax base by decreasing productive taxpayers and hurts economic output by artificially shifting the labor supply/demand dynamic away from market controls. I think that best way to increase military recruiting is by making more people volunteer; this can be done by using the free market tool of raising salary above the abysmal $14k.

Overall, I doubt the best way to make a person love their country is by forcing them into, as you said, indentured servitude. This would certainly make me dislike my country, as I would be denied the freedom I was supposedly defending. I love America because the government doesn’t (generally) make me do what I don’t want. The Vietnam era draft certainly didn’t increase the bond between the youth and the country: it was perhaps the largest factor in increasing domestic anti-Americanism. For that matter, virtually all countries that have compulsory military service aren’t exactly full of young people who are energetic supporters of their country. The only exception I can see (feel free to correct me) is Israel; unlike the US, however, Israelis live under constant threat of invasion and can see actual utility in military service.

Steve said...

Thank you for posting Sam. You have presented much food for thought.

If I were to take the arguments posted by both yourself and me and view them objectively, I would have to disagree with myself as well. I don't see a strong enough benefit from it.

Now, let's consider some of your points:

The draft took unprepared citizens between 1861-1865 and created an Army that defeated one of the greatest military minds ever. The draft of 1916 helped defeat the Germans at a time when Allied defeat looked somewhat imminent, due to the Russian surrender. The soldiers who fought and won in WW2 were not, for the most part, enlistees; they were drafted and sent to war after as little as 5 months training. The WW2 draft continued through the early 1970s. Thus, the Vietnam draft was a continuation of a pre-existing draft.
Up until the Baby-boomer generation, Americans viewed the draft, by and large, as a necessary evil to protect our freedom, and I would guess that had Vietnam been entered into differently, that emotion would have continued.

If we started a draft, then the initial generation of draftees would almost certainly resist, but then they resist many aspects of authority.
The negative effect of a draft on the economy would merely exist for 2 years, until the first group of draftees have finished their service and are prepared to return to civilian life. What does this really mean, though? How many 18 year olds are working in a field that can't be easily replaced by an unemployed 30 year old, or a motivated 16 year old? So many 18-20 year olds earn less than the military minimum, that it would arguably increase their standard of living, and give them some sort of trade, should they choose to remain in the military.
The increased strain on the command structure again is something that can be compensated for, and would be a temporary issue, as well. Once the first group goes through and the people that re-enlist (assuming that retention percentages don't drop precipitously) do, then there will be a higher percentage of command and company-level staff to work with them. The military would experience growing pains, but they will temper shortly.

As for anti-american sentiments, perhaps protesters will still protest. And perhaps people will serve grudgingly. But the satisfaction of knowing that you did something important, or that you were a part of something bigger than yourself is an intangible that you won't appreciate until later. How many of those Vietnam era draftees still harbor animosity towards America? How many hang out at the American Legion or the VFW sharing with their comrades in arms the sense of belonging, of completion that so many others can't ever appreciate?

Ten years ago, I would have vehemently opposed compulsory military service, and I appreciate that a part of my support comes from the knowledge that I would not be subjected to it (shielded support, much like Tom DeLay and the War in Iraq). Time is the best teacher however, and I know that I'm better for the time I served. I am sure that I'd appreciate the time I put in had I been conscripted, as well, though it would take longer to appreciate.

Michelle said...

Steve, that's still very poor. It equates to 17,000Au a year. I'm not 100% certain of our military scale, but i know they are on a fantastic rate of pay, together with housing, medical, low cost interest loans,they also have a discount card that is used in all the stores here that provides them with a minimum 5% off, lost cost AND when they are on active duty $$$$$$$$ goes up and when they return in addition to their rate of pay rising, they are given a huge lump sum. Most use it to buy cars or home deposits.....the businesses love it when they hear a unit is coming home!
I guess being such a prominent part of America, i was under the assumption they would be extremely well paid.

Bookworm said...

There are some people who are going to fail in any environment, and some who will succeed. However, there is a vast middle that sometimes needs structure. I say that because I've known several people (so I have an "n" of say, 4, when I write this broad conclusion) who were drifting and who found a needed external structure in the military that enabled them to develop an internal structure that carried them into the wider world.

As you know, I think a mandatory draft would be a good thing -- indeed, in terms of the "diversity" that is such a catch-word in all the little, rich, white liberal suburban enclaves, the best thing we could do to bring our children to real diversity, and really to mix and match races, and economic classes, and social classes, and you name it, would be a couple of years of service.

Steve said...

Remember, Michelle, that is just for base pay. The military, when I separated, calculated food costs to be $225/month (or so) and housing varied, but was never lower than $400/month, so according to their calculations those two plus medical and dental would bring the pay for an e1 closer to $23,000US/year.

I don't know how to link on comments, but I'm going to post an article written by Kevin Heldman about his experience as a reporter in Seoul. Bearing in mind the very liberal slant of his article (I think he tried to report on the most negative points he could find while ignoring much of the good things that happen), notice that the infantrymen he interviews stay mostly to the same racial groups. This is something I did see often in the military, Caucasians hanging with caucasians, African Americans with African Americans, etc. There were some mixes, but by and large it was like a Jr. High Dance, where the boys are on one side and the girls are on the other, with a couple dating kids dancing in the middle.
At work, you have to work with whoever's there with you, but outside of work, they would tend to clique off.