If It Ain't Broke, Break It!

Some years ago, I got into the habit of listening to NPR on weekends. I think it was “Car Talk” that got me started, and I’ve gradually expanded my listening habits to include Weekend Edition, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, and On The Media.

Well, Weekend Edition Sunday is running a series of essays from listeners called “This I Believe.” And yesterday, a woman named Aileen Mory from Allentown, New Jersey was chosen to be featured.

Mrs. Mory took the opportunity to call for a return to the draft — and nobly offered her own two children, ages 13 and 17, for service.

How gracious of her.

And how stupid.

One of my core beliefs — and I believe it’s carried out by the facts — is that the federal government is the most inefficient mechanism this nation has ever seen. I have always said that if you want to find the slowest, most cumbersome, most expensive, most wasteful way to achieve something, make it a federal responsibility and let the bureaucrats go at it.

Of course, there are certain tasks that simply have to fall to the federal government. Most of them are spelled out in the Constitution — roads, mail, censuses, and whatnot. Chief among them is to “provide for the common defense.”

The US military is no exception to the wasteful rule. Senator William Proxmire used to annually hand out his “Golden Fleece” awards for the most atrociously egregious wasteful military spending. The Pentagon bureaucracy is legendary for its inertia.

On the other hand, the US military has routinely achieved the impossible.

Right now, the US military is the mightiest force the world has ever seen. I would put our armed forces not only better than any other military force in the world, I would give them decent odds against every other military force in the world. We have built this tremendous juggernaut, and — more astonishingly — we have ingrained its obedience to the civilian leadership to the point where a coup is inconceivable.

At the same time, we took one of the most stubbornly racist and (pardon the term) militantly segregated bodies in our nation and forced it to become an embodiment of Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream — where people are judged not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character. I cannot find a more egalitarian institution anywhere in the world, anywhere else that is such a pure meritocracy, where excellence is the norm and superlatives quickly lose their meaning.

One of the biggest factors in the success of our military came about, I think, almost by accident.

For most of our history, the military was filled with conscripts. Folks who had no interest in serving went in anyway, courtesy of the draft. And the thought of doing without that was unimaginable.

But then Viet Nam happened, and the anti-war faction managed to defeat the hated draft.

I have to make a confession: had I been politically aware at the time, I most likely would have supported the draft. My political forefathers were among the draft’s most staunch backers, and those I routinely oppose are the heirs of those who killed it.

They were right, but for the wrong reasons. (That happens a lot.) The arguments they made — that the draft was innately unfair, that the unfairness was aggravated by favoritism and elitism and selective enforcement, and so on — were accurate, but I doubt very many of them (or anyone) could foresee the consequences of that decision.

After the draft went away, the military was seriously hurt for a while. Enlistments dropped, and a lot of key positions went unfilled.

But then things started changing. The military started filling back up, with people who wanted to be there. Who saw service not as a burden, but a calling. We replaced the masses of warm (if often unwilling) bodies with professionals, men and women who were where they were because that’s where they wanted to be.

That attitude kept building and feeding itself, those who didn’t really want to serve were shoved out and more and more people found themselves competing for what they saw as a privilege. And as the costs of training troops kept rising to keep up with advances in technology and tactics and whatnot, it behooved the government to keep raising the standards to get in.

So, what would Mrs. Mory’s plan achieve? Quite a lot, and little of it good.

There is a powerful esprit de corps in the military today. They consider themselves “the best of the best,” and with damned good reason. There is plenty of grumbling in the ranks, but most of it is more tradition than actually sincere. Enlistments and re-enlistments keep meeting quotas (one division currently in Iraq met its annual re-enlistment quota about two months early), and the status of a veteran among the general populace is (rightfully) very high.

So let’s fix that problem by stuffing the military with a bunch of people who don’t want to be there, have no incentive to pay attention during the very expensive training they will undergo, and will count the days until they can get out. Let’s stick alongside our professional class a bunch of malcontents who consider their service a burden or punishment — and will loudly proclaim that belief at every opportunity.

We know it will happen, because that’s exactly what did happen before — and it ended with the ending of the draft.

So, what is motivating Mrs. Mory’s plan to wreck the military? She’s up front about it:

I was against the war from the start, although my opposition never translated into a protest march in Washington or a letter to my congressman. It remained no more than a quietly held belief…. (i>f every parent does not have to fear losing a son or daughter — if every politician does not have to face that fear in his constituents — decisions to go to war will continue to be too easy. I believe that a true democracy comes from shared responsibility for our collective choices. If that choice is war, we must all share in its tragedy.

That’s right. It’s all about Mrs. Mory’s opposition to the war in Iraq, and thinks that the best way to end it is to cripple the military. This is all about her sense of guilt in not opposing the war more strenuously, and now she is willing to “sacrifice” her own two children to end it.

Thanks, but no thanks, Mrs. Mory. Speaking as a citizen and taxpayer of the United States, I don’t want your chlidren to serve in the military — unless they want to, and they are willing to prove they are capable. Within a year, your oldest child will be of age to enlist, should he or she do so.

Here’s a radical thought, Mrs. Mory: why not let them decide if they want to serve? Why not let them enjoy and celebrate your philosophical forebears fought so hard to win, the right to choose whether or not they wish to join the military? Why treat the military as a form of punishment?

I’ll need a better reason than “to assuage your conscience for not fighting against this war more successfully,” Mrs. Mory, to risk wrecking the efficacy of the United States armed services. Go find another way to make yourself feel better than to offer up the freedom of your children — and everyone else’s.

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