Many years ago, my drill sergeant theorized that draftees made better soldiers because they just wanted to get it done and go home and did not care about career advancement and Army politics. This hypothesis was offered just a couple of years before the draft ended.
I saw some confirmation of his theory while stationed at Ft. Huachuca. Enlisted drafted PhD physicists and engineers reworked the communications technologies they were assigned to study and made them perform way beyond the limitations of the manufacturer’s specs. At Walter Reed at the AFIP I knew several enlisted medical lab technicians who had far stronger academic credentials than the officers directing their work.
But I think my senior drill over-simplified an important truth with his ‘draftees are better’ hypothesis. The important truth is that the American spirit of innovation, combined with an instinctive hostility to bureaucracy, classism, and elitism is what we need to keep the military both fully functional and fully American. As long as there is geographic, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity and a broad patriotic tradition, we are in good shape.
It may be that American society needs contact with military experience as much as our armed forces need that diverse infusion to preserve a citizen-soldier tradition. The values of duty, honor country. The sense of mission. The experience of bonding with others in uniform. That needs to widely distributed in the country.
I feel fortunate that every generation in my family has military experience. My father was in the Navy in WWII, several veterans of WWI before him, including a Canadian Black Watch sole survivor of a mining attack on his trench. A distant cousin was a career Army nurse who was for a time the highest ranking female in the Army.
On the opposite end, there are Irish immigrant draft-dodgers who evaded the Union press gangs by jumping out a barn window and breaking a leg and an ankle respectively and thinking that outcome terribly funny. And on the other side, two hanged as horse thieves for taking back animals borrowed without permission by General Sherman.
As for me, I never saw combat but spent a year at Ft. Huachuca AZ, presumably deployed there in case the Apaches got out of line during the Vietnam War. They did not. You’re welcome, America.
I think it was a watershed moment when a President of the United States demonstrated he had never before heard or used the word “corpsman”. The thought of being ruled by an elite that has had no real-world contact with the military is disturbing.
Many years ago, a couple of stereotypical hippies called me a “baby-killer” as I walked down the street in dress greens. I pointed to the caduceus insignia on my lapel to explain that I was not allowed to shoot people while applying bandages or doing blood tests but that they should be very afraid of the guys who have the tell-tale dead-baby insignia because those guys would likely kill them on the spot if insulted. I wonder where those two are now? State Department? Tenured professors of PC? Brookings?
For me, the nightmare scenario would be a professional governing class directing a professional military class in actions done with complete indifference to the values, interests, and will of everybody else. We should treasure the connections, cultural cross-pollination and sense of commonality and accountability that exist in a culture that produces effective citizen-soldiers. A broadly shared connection with the experience of military service is key for both the military and American civilian life. My old drill sergeant was onto something important.Published in