In his 2004 book, Colossus, Niall Ferguson argues the United States is an empire and should assume its rightful place as the inheritor of Britain’s 19th century ‘White Man’s Burden’. He decries the American schizophrenia of being an empire in denial, sending troops abroad without the intention of staying and being squeamish when GIs die. Ferguson says we should go, stay and impose our will for world order and to prevent chaos.
This may seem easy to say for a man comfortable in the Ivory Towers of Oxford and Harvard who never did military service, much less saw the harsh realities of war but he does have a point. Americans need to back their wars or not fight them and that is why I say we need to bring back the draft.
The Marxist Georg Lakac pointed out in the introduction to The Historical Novel that Napoleon democratized war by instituting the draft and taking normal working people (mostly farmers) to far away places to fight people very much like themselves. More importantly, it brought the French civil society directly into the politics of war because their sons were fighting it rather than the traditional (sic) volunteer (mercenary) armies of the past.
Every war the US has fought since WWII, even if we accept that these wars were for ‘free markets and democracy’ have been a confirmation of Clausewitz’s principle “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” The idea is to force the enemy “to conform to our will” but what is that will?
Wars are too often decided by people who know nothing of them but have a lot to win from them. Korea was Truman’s war. Vietnam was Johnson’s and Nixon’s war. Those wars became very unpopular because they were fought by ‘citizen armies’ in which grassroots citizens had a stake because their brothers, sons, fathers could be sent to fight them.
Compare those to Grenada and Reagan whose military service went no further than Hollywood movies or Iraq and Afghanistan under AWOL ‘W’. Professional armies sent to fight by people who never fought like Dick Cheney but whose friends make a ‘killing’. In the words of Vietnam Veteran Senator Chuck Hegel of Nebraska, if you send young Americans to die you had better be damned sure of why you are doing it. I don’t think many citizens would accept a war to make Halliburton rich.
Let me digress to Vietnam. More than 700 thousand GI’s deserted between 1965 and 1975 in America’s most unpopular war. It was this ‘voting with your feet’ that led the military to end the draft in 1973 but it was a citizen’s army that brought an aggressive war to an end. The Vietnamese just wanted to make our sports clothes and tennis shoes as they are doing today. We could have avoided over three million Vietnamese dead, 57 thousand US (Ferguson says 47 thousand combat deaths but total honesty is not his forte) and billions of dollars which could have been used to build lives rather than destroy them.
I am not trying to say whether the wars were just or not. But as Collin Powell put it you need to commit, you need to define your goals and allot the means necessary to accomplish them and he adds that you need an exit strategy (while Ferguson says the US needs to stay).
The point is war is serious business and should not be left to a secluded elite or privatized (e.g. Blackwater). It is the responsibility of every citizen in the country waging the war. Wars needs the democratic backing of the citizens and the physical commitment of their children or they should not be fought.
Another reason why the draft should be brought back is too many people in the US think their freedom came free. Isn’t it time that recent immigration commit sweat, and even blood, to defend the country whose earlier generations died to offer them the dream? When Major Hassan went on his shooting spree in Fort Hood, I was amazed to read that there may be fewer than 4000 Muslims in the military given the number of Islamic immigrants to the US over the past 30 years.
My father fought from Normandy’s Omaha Beach to V-E Day, was wounded twice and got the bronze star, yet he was not awarded US citizenship until 1947. He loved the US and hated war. I maintain that WWII was fought and won by an army of Citizen Soldiers (see Stephan E. Ambroise’s book by the same title) and totally supported by a country who sent their sons to fight, win and come home. Maybe the secret is they knew what victory would look like or just perhaps democracy played a bigger role in The War.