Why Progressives Should Support the Draft and Why Aren't People Protesting McCain's Lack of Patriotism?

If you want to know why McCain is called a patriot, it's because in the all-volunteer military era he can claim special exemption from common sense in the name of past service.
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If he becomes president Senator McCain has promised he will:

* Further weaken the military by continuing the Iraq war indefinitely against the advice members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the commanders of the Army and Marine Corps who are stating our military is overstretched to breaking point

* Bankrupt our country with a war costing United States 3 billion a week

* Make us a debtor nation in hock to the Chinese and other governments

* Jeopardize the economic future of the United States

* Continue the Bush administration policies based on the misinformation and outright lies which McCain has embraced, in his words; "now [that we can] look ahead to the genuine prospect of success [in Iraq]..."

* Do nothing as America's international credibility slides into oblivion

* Empower the Iranians who are the only actual winners in the Iraq war

* Fail to fight Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and put us at risk from more terror attacks.

Why don't people protest McCain's lack of patriotism? Because, the all-volunteer military means that civilians have to play the game of military hero worship. Most civilians never volunteer, and so they are hesitant to be critical of military policy articulated by military heroes like McCain. (Of course that didn't stop Bush/Cheney from ignoring the best advice of our military leaders when it didn't suit them.)

Since my son joined the Marines (in 1999) I have written books and articles about and supporting the military. Since the publication of these books I have gained a backhanded insight into how the military community feels about the civilian world. I keep hearing from military and former military personnel who compliment me on "getting it," or on "not being like most civilians."

One of the books I wrote, this one with a co-author, Kathy Roth Douquet, who formerly worked in the Clinton administration, was AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of the Upper Classes From Military Service and How It Hurts Our Country. In that book Kathy and I wrote about, and agreed about despite our different politics, the need for military service to be broadly spread throughout our society. Ultimately, however, we disagreed about bringing back the draft: I was pro, she was con.

Kathy and I never did resolve our argument, but I have continued to learn more about the military family. What I didn't know when I started to write on the subject of the military was that I would find that some people in the military perceive themselves as having been forgotten, underrated or disparaged by the larger society, even while at the same time there is a sense of superiority. I can't help noticing a real "we" against "them" edge, even a chip on the shoulder. For instance, in the midst of an email to me in response to one of my Washington Post pieces, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel wrote this to me:

"Problems [in the military] are only exacerbated by the propensity of Congress to micromanage and meddle, by media and academia seething with overt, relentless hostility, by political correctness, and by an irresistible tendency to treat the military as no more than a playpen for social engineering experiments."

The growing disconnect between the military and the rest of society has increasingly caught the attention of sociologists, political scientists and others who study contemporary society. Samuel Huntington, in his study, The Soldier and the State, said the armed services have "the outlook of an estranged minority." More ominously retired Admiral Stanley Arthur has suggested that, "The armed forces are no longer representative of the people they serve. More and more, enlisted as well as officers are beginning to feel that they are special, better than the society they serve." Thomas Ricks echoes this concern in Making the Corps, asserting that "U.S. military personnel of all ranks are feeling increasingly alienated from their own country, and are becoming more conservative and more politically active than ever before."

A recent poll found that two-thirds of armed service members think they as a group have higher moral standards than the nation they serve. The unintended consequences of the all-volunteer force also includes:

* Wars of choice have become easier

* Civilian leadership of the military is weakened as civilian leaders without military experience are hesitant to tell those with experience what to do, as is in pathetic evidence in Congress, while at the same time people in the military wonder if their civilian leaders have their best interests at heart

* Wars drag out since for most Americans, our wars -- out of sight and out of mind -- cost "nothing..."

* We are not, "all in it together." The military is no longer a level playing field contributing to the melting pot factor and integration of our society...

* We have created a military class that sees itself as more patriotic, more American and more decent than the rest of society and looks down on those who do not serve

* The all-volunteer military is in fact an all-recruited military with recruiters concentrating on the "most productive" parts of society with need-based recruiting that has less to do with patriotism and more to do with a paycheck, benefits and health insurance

* Patriotism and service have become the professionalized commodities of military "specialists..."

* The line between and all volunteer force and a mercenary force has blurred

* The democratic tradition of citizen participation is going out the window

*The use of "contractors" in Iraq, where there are 160,000 contractors as opposed to 140,000 troops, means that the mercenary aspect of our military is being formalized with a second shadow military made up of those who have served in the official military becoming freelance mercenaries for much higher pay. (It also means that actual American casualty rates are much higher than reported because our contractors don't "count").

The result of these changes is a threat to American democracy. There won't be a coup, but the all-volunteer force is a threat because fewer citizens are involved hands-on in participating in our democracy at one of the most meaningful levels -- military service. It also gives a free ride to military religionists such as John McCain who can place themselves above criticism by simple virtue of service, something that used to be widely shared and is now regarded as special.

If you want to know why the war in Iraq has dragged on, the answer is simple: it doesn't involve you or your children personally. If you want to know why McCain is called a patriot, even though he is planning to bankrupt America and kill more of our children, it's because today in the all-volunteer era he can claim special exemption from common sense (even economic reality) in the name of past service that is seen as exceptional.

The most fundamental question about our military (and how to avoid more dumb wars) is this: should military service (or some alternate form of service to the nation) be included in the circle of those civic duties that all citizens owe, like paying taxes, voting and jury duty? If not, why not? And would a draft restore sanity to calculations about when and where to use force?

If the case against the draft is that the military doesn't want one, so what? Since when is military policy determined by anyone except our civilian leaders and those they represent? What the military wants is beside the point. The issue isn't what's good for the military, but what is good for the country.

America was founded by farmers, tradesmen, statesmen (and bankers) who were military men when circumstances called for it. Washington, Jefferson, Madison and others did not want a country with a military culture, but they expected their countrymen to serve the nation when needed, when asked legitimately, without reservation.

Throughout the country's history, the story of military service has been a story of "plus-up" during crisis, and "draw-down" in the immediate aftermath of peace. The country maintained a navy and its marine corps, but not a standing army. This continued until the mid-twentieth century.

For most of this time, American citizens moved in and out of military duty when called, regardless of party and less constrained by class than today. There was no "military constituency" per se, nor could either party lay claim to it. In fact, it was popular to refrain from voting while serving in the military as a matter of principle, a way to demonstrate that all things military were unrelated to politics.

It is easy to forget how thoroughly common the experience of soldiering was among all classes once. In her diary Eleanor Roosevelt wrote: "I think my husband would have been very much upset if the boys had not wanted to go into the war immediately, but he did not have to worry very much because they either were already in before the war began, or they went in immediately..." The Roosevelt sons were in the military already, before the war began. And they were not in coddled positions. They were exposed to real risks. And so were the sons of many powerful families.

Progressives need to push for the reintroduction of the draft. It is fair, it is democratic, it will help prevent stupid wars. And that is why people who are determined to start wars don't want the draft back. A draft will confiscate their toys.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of "CRAZY FOR GOD-How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back.

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