In Praise of the Citizen Soldier

 

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.

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There are 34 comments.

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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor

    It’s not quite the same, but I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of requiring everyone to put in two years of national service. I think that would have been a good thing not only for me, but for many people I know. Good post, Old Bathos.

    • #1
    • May 26, 2019, at 8:07 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  2. EJHill Podcaster

    No matter what you do to gather troops you’re not going to get anything other than the greasy pole brass climbers. Every flag officer gets appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate and that whole process makes them very attuned to the politics of the day.

    I share my son’s attitude (and the only one that counts for me). His MOS is a behind-the-wire one, but if the you-know-what hits the fan, he says he wants to be surrounded by guys who want to be there and are the best at what they do.

    @susanquinn I am personally against the idea of “national service” as I presently understand it. (Charlie Rangel keeps reintroducing the draft to scare off people with kids voting Republican.) The idea that the government is going to pay every kid between 18 and 20 to work, some 20 million of them, to clean up roads or plant trees or some other domestic chore is preposterous.

    One, it will kill Armed Forces recruitment as getting shot at vs driving old people to the mall is not exactly a choice any sane person would make. Even making that the alternative to military service for those physically unable to perform military duties is going to put more people in uniform than the services want. In WWII we only had 12M in uniform or about 9% of the population. At that percentage you’re putting 29.5M into service.

    • #2
    • May 26, 2019, at 8:57 AM PDT
    • 12 likes
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor

    EJHill (View Comment):

    No matter what you do to gather troops you’re not going to get anything other than the greasy pole brass climbers. Every flag officer gets appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate and that whole process makes them very attuned to the politics of the day.

    I share my son’s attitude (and the only one that counts for me). His MOS is a behind-the-wire one, but if the you-know-what hits the fan, he says he wants to be surrounded by guys who want to be there and are the best at what they do.

    @susanquinn I am personally against the idea of “national service” as I presently understand it. (Charlie Rangel keeps reintroducing the draft to scare off people with kids voting Republican.) The idea that the government is going to pay every kid between 18 and 20 to work, some 20 million of them, to clean up roads or plant trees or some other domestic chore is preposterous.

    One, it will kill Armed Forces recruitment as getting shot at vs driving old people to the mall is not exactly a choice any sane person would make. Even making that the alternative to military service for those physically unable to perform military duties is going to put more people in uniform than the services want. In WWII we only had 12M in uniform or about 9% of the population. At that percentage you’re putting 29.5M into service.

    You make very good points, @ejhill. I need to re-think my suggestion!

    • #3
    • May 26, 2019, at 9:06 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  4. mildlyo Member

    Very interesting argument in favor of the draft. It all ended when I was a kid, and I’ve never heard anything but the “slave soldiers” criticism.

    Thanks for the new perspective.

    Makes me wonder what a military with jury duty soldiers and automation replacing career brass would look like.

     

    • #4
    • May 26, 2019, at 9:55 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  5. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member

    EJHill (View Comment):
    One, it will kill Armed Forces recruitment as getting shot at vs driving old people to the mall is not exactly a choice any sane person would make. Even making that the alternative to military service for those physically unable to perform military duties is going to put more people in uniform than the services want. In WWII we only had 12M in uniform or about 9% of the population. At that percentage you’re putting 29.5M into service.

    I’m beginning to think that armed forces recruiting might be doing a bit better in the future as colleges and universities become more expensive and, more importantly, more whackadoodle. You can learn some decent skills in the military, and not just skill with a firearm.

    • #5
    • May 26, 2019, at 10:43 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  6. PHCheese Member

    I was drafted in 1968 at the age of 23. I had graduated from college and although I had other plans felt a responsibility to serve my country. Because of a physical problem I could have received a medical discharge but instead fought to remain as non combatant. During my service and after I felt it was a good thing that there was so many draftees. My idea was that it perhaps constrained the misuse of the military. Now I am not so sure. The all volunteer Military so far seems very successful although worn out. Seeing how the rank and file of the FBI did not revolt against its leaders during a coup against our President , I doubt a bunch of draftees could have revolted against military leadership. No easy answers I guess.

    • #6
    • May 26, 2019, at 10:54 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  7. Old Bathos Member
    Old Bathos Post author

    The criteria to succeed in the military in peacetime and wartime tend to be quite different. George Armstrong Custer was the last in his class at West Point and largely incapable of subtle strategic thinking but of extraordinary contagious physical courage. He may have altered the outcome of Gettysburg by driving away JEB Stuart’s superior force.

    Grant and Sherman displaced officers who were far better at schmoozing political heavyweights and rose mostly by displacement of failed predecessors.

    We had to shake out unsuitable officers in both WWII and Vietnam. On the other hand, MacArthur, Patton, George Preston Marshall and Nimitz were career men and genuinely outstanding.

     

    • #7
    • May 26, 2019, at 11:16 AM PDT
    • 11 likes
  8. KentForrester Coolidge

    I was drafted into the Army in 1958. After I had put in my two two years and had returned to college, I was called back in because of the Berlin Crisis and spent nine more months in Fort Lewis, Washington.

    My son spent 4 years in the Air Force. He graduated from the Armed Services language school (in Chinese) in Monterey, California and spent some of his time as a high-altitude spy on the edges of China.

    We were both civilians at heart, but we were also changed for the better as a result of our time in the Service.

    • #8
    • May 26, 2019, at 11:59 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  9. Arahant Member

    So much in here. It’s like a bouquet of flowers. I could comment on each bloom, but would prefer to see them as the integral work of art they are.

    • #9
    • May 26, 2019, at 1:23 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  10. Arahant Member

    Thinking about this, I keep going back to what my father always said that his drill sergeant told him and the other recruits in the army, “I’m going to peench your head off!” Apparently his drill sergeant was an extremely large Puerto Rican, and they believed he could and would do it.

    • #10
    • May 26, 2019, at 1:48 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  11. Petty Boozswha Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    It’s not quite the same, but I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of requiring everyone to put in two years of national service. I think that would have been a good thing not only for me, but for many people I know. Good post, Old Bathos.

    I think two years is too much to ask, but I would strongly support an ending of government student loans to be replaced with a six month commitment to national guard or army basic training in return for reasonable tuition and fees. I worry we are developing a military caste with the all-volunteer service that has the potential to be very damaging — I don’t think we would have invaded Iraq if we still had a draft or quasi-draft, for example.

    • #11
    • May 26, 2019, at 1:52 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  12. Arahant Member

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):
    I think two years is too much to ask, but I would strongly support an ending of government student loans to be replaced with a six month commitment to national guard or army basic training in return for reasonable tuition and fees. I worry we are developing a military caste with the all-volunteer service that has the potential to be very damaging — I don’t think we would have invaded Iraq if we still had a draft or quasi-draft, for example.

    The other factor would be to get more people familiar with firearms. We had firearms in school. I was on the Jr. ROTC rifle team in high school. We had a range in the basement under the gym. It was great. None of us were afraid of firearms. (We respected them, though, except that one guy…) None of us would be fooled by terms like “assault weapon.”

    • #12
    • May 26, 2019, at 1:58 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  13. Old Bathos Member
    Old Bathos Post author

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Thinking about this, I keep going back to what my father always said that his drill sergeant told him and the other recruits in the army, “I’m going to peench your head off!” Apparently his drill sergeant was an extremely large Puerto Rican, and they believed he could and would do it.

    My first day in basic, when we arrived are were rushed into formation, our drill sergeants walked slowly down the lines making uplifting comments. One paused in front of the tall, kinda funny looking guy next to me and said “I like you, you’re the only man in the Army uglier than I am.”

    Then he towered over me, his hat brim almost touching my forehead. He then shook his head slowly and said, “We gonna kill you, squirrel.” Inspirational. 

    • #13
    • May 26, 2019, at 2:26 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  14. Skyler Coolidge

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    It’s not quite the same, but I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of requiring everyone to put in two years of national service. I think that would have been a good thing not only for me, but for many people I know. Good post, Old Bathos.

    People often think that is a good idea, but in my opinion it’s a terrible idea. I’m a big fan of the all-volunteer service. I’m not overly concerned that most political leaders have no military experience. I would be content with political leaders that simply had business experience, and I don’t mean corporate business experience where lobbyists protect an industry from competition.

    The problem with conscription is that it has the effect of convincing military leaders to have contempt for their men, and it sows the seeds of dissension among them. Military life is harsh enough without having a bunch of malcontempts hanging around.

    I do not worry about not having enough people to serve when needed. If we can’t convince men to fight for the country, then perhaps the country is not worth fighting for. So long as the pay is reasonable, and it most assuredly is nowadays, then we have no problems.

    I also don’t think having military service makes anyone special as far as political service goes. There are plenty of people in the military who are not admirable and who abuse their rank to receive inappropriate privileges. I don’t automatically support a politician simply because they were once in the military. One’s value as a politician should be weighed without reference to any military service, but that military service might help him in some ways if he’s already virtuous.

    • #14
    • May 26, 2019, at 3:19 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  15. Petty Boozswha Member

    Skyler (View Comment):
    The problem with conscription is that it has the effect of convincing military leaders to have contempt for their men, and it sows the seeds of dissension among them. Military life is harsh enough without having a bunch of malcontempts hanging around.

    Believe me there are plenty of malcontents in the volunteer service, especially during wartime [like now] when the services are scrapping the bottom of the barrel to fill quotas. Both Beau Bergdahl and Bradley/Chelsea Manning were let in on waivers despite numerous red flags due to the troop shortage. Bergdahl had been involuntarily discharged from the Coast Guard for being a loon and a screwup.

    • #15
    • May 26, 2019, at 3:24 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  16. Skyler Coolidge

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    The criteria to succeed in the military in peacetime and wartime tend to be quite different. George Armstrong Custer was the last in his class at West Point and largely incapable of subtle strategic thinking but of extraordinary contagious physical courage. He may have altered the outcome of Gettysburg by driving away JEB Stuart’s superior force.

    Grant and Sherman displaced officers who were far better at schmoozing political heavyweights and rose mostly by displacement of failed predecessors.

    We had to shake out unsuitable officers in both WWII and Vietnam. On the other hand, MacArthur, Patton, George Preston Marshall and Nimitz were career men and genuinely outstanding.

    Here is a lengthy, but very good look at the difference between generals in WWII and Vietnam and since. Essentially, WWII generals were much quicker to get fired. And forgiven. Since then, generals and all officers have succumbed to the desire for people to be perfect and transgressions unforgivable.

    • #16
    • May 26, 2019, at 3:26 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  17. Skyler Coolidge

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    The problem with conscription is that it has the effect of convincing military leaders to have contempt for their men, and it sows the seeds of dissension among them. Military life is harsh enough without having a bunch of malcontempts hanging around.

    Believe me there are plenty of malcontents in the volunteer service, especially during wartime [like now] when the services are scrapping the bottom of the barrel to fill quotas. Both Beau Bergdahl and Bradley/Chelsea Manning were let in on waivers despite numerous red flags due to the troop shortage. Bergdahl had been involuntarily discharged from the Coast Guard for being a loon and a screwup.

    I don’t think you know that they were admitted on “waivers.” Enlistment waivers are private information, so far as I know. And I don’t know what waivers would have indicated a lack of concern for possible future treasonous behavior.

    • #17
    • May 26, 2019, at 3:29 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  18. Basil Fawlty Member

    Skyler (View Comment):
    The problem with conscription is that it has the effect of convincing military leaders to have contempt for their men, and it sows the seeds of dissension among them. Military life is harsh enough without having a bunch of malcontempts hanging around.

    D-Day must have been disappointing for those military leaders.

    • #18
    • May 26, 2019, at 3:30 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  19. Petty Boozswha Member

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    The problem with conscription is that it has the effect of convincing military leaders to have contempt for their men, and it sows the seeds of dissension among them. Military life is harsh enough without having a bunch of malcontempts hanging around.

    Believe me there are plenty of malcontents in the volunteer service, especially during wartime [like now] when the services are scrapping the bottom of the barrel to fill quotas. Both Beau Bergdahl and Bradley/Chelsea Manning were let in on waivers despite numerous red flags due to the troop shortage. Bergdahl had been involuntarily discharged from the Coast Guard for being a loon and a screwup.

    I don’t think you know that they were admitted on “waivers.” Enlistment waivers are private information, so far as I know. And I don’t know what waivers would have indicated a lack of concern for possible future treasonous behavior.

    I can’t guarantee it, but it’s been widely reported and I know a substantial percentage of enlistees require waivers, ask any recruiter in your town how much of his workweek is preparing waivers. Thirty seconds of listening to Bergdahl or his nitwit father on TV would have convinced a sober person that this guy shouldn’t have a weapon or responsibility.

    • #19
    • May 26, 2019, at 3:42 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  20. Skyler Coolidge

    Basil Fawlty (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    The problem with conscription is that it has the effect of convincing military leaders to have contempt for their men, and it sows the seeds of dissension among them. Military life is harsh enough without having a bunch of malcontempts hanging around.

    D-Day must have been disappointing for those military leaders.

    Yes, a lot of incompetence on the American beaches with landing craft getting lost, tanks sinking, and generally bad generalship. But we’re not supposed to talk about how that all came about, or that the British landings went smoothly in comparison.

    But I didn’t say conscripts were useless, they’re only generally not as valued.

    • #20
    • May 26, 2019, at 3:45 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  21. Basil Fawlty Member

    Old Bathos: 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.

    My drill sergeant used to assign unpleasant tasks by first asking who was a draftee (US) vs a volunteer (RA). He would then assign tbe unpleasant task to a volunteer, on the grounds that the volunteer had asked to join the Army.

    • #21
    • May 26, 2019, at 3:46 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  22. Skyler Coolidge

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    The problem with conscription is that it has the effect of convincing military leaders to have contempt for their men, and it sows the seeds of dissension among them. Military life is harsh enough without having a bunch of malcontempts hanging around.

    Believe me there are plenty of malcontents in the volunteer service, especially during wartime [like now] when the services are scrapping the bottom of the barrel to fill quotas. Both Beau Bergdahl and Bradley/Chelsea Manning were let in on waivers despite numerous red flags due to the troop shortage. Bergdahl had been involuntarily discharged from the Coast Guard for being a loon and a screwup.

    I don’t think you know that they were admitted on “waivers.” Enlistment waivers are private information, so far as I know. And I don’t know what waivers would have indicated a lack of concern for possible future treasonous behavior.

    I can’t guarantee it, but it’s been widely reported and I know a substantial percentage of enlistees require waivers, ask any recruiter in your town how much of his workweek is preparing waivers. Thirty seconds of listening to Bergdahl or his nitwit father on TV would have convinced a sober person that this guy shouldn’t have a weapon or responsibility,

    You need a waiver if you need glasses. Having a waiver is not very notable at all. I don’t know of any test for future treasonable activity. So what was the waiver that these traitors received that shouldn’t have been granted?

    • #22
    • May 26, 2019, at 3:46 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  23. Basil Fawlty Member

    Skyler (View Comment):
    But I didn’t say conscripts were useless, they’re only generally not as good.

    Very few draftees get to be generals. Lots of volunteers do.

    • #23
    • May 26, 2019, at 3:54 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  24. Petty Boozswha Member

    Skyler (View Comment):
    You need a waiver if you need glasses. Having a waiver is not very notable at all. I don’t know of any test for future treasonable activity. So what was the waiver that these traitors received that shouldn’t have been granted?

    Bergdahl had already had one bite of the apple and had washed out of the Coast Guard.

    According to Wikipedia, Manning suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, had a history of refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance from an early age at her Oklahoma schools and had a history of banging her head against walls for attention.

    • #24
    • May 26, 2019, at 3:58 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  25. Old Bathos Member
    Old Bathos Post author

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Basil Fawlty (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    The problem with conscription is that it has the effect of convincing military leaders to have contempt for their men, and it sows the seeds of dissension among them. Military life is harsh enough without having a bunch of malcontempts hanging around.

    D-Day must have been disappointing for those military leaders.

    Yes, a lot of incompetence on the American beaches with landing craft getting lost, tanks sinking, and generally bad generalship. But we’re not supposed to talk about how that all came about, or that the British landings went smoothly in comparison.

    But I didn’t say conscripts were useless, they’re only generally not as valued.

    I would argue that there is probably more concern about conscript casualties than professionals for reasons of the political implications.

    Americans were a quick study in WWII. Kasserine Pass was a humiliation but it caused Patton to be given charge of the North African theater, a rather significant upgrade. 

    • #25
    • May 26, 2019, at 4:11 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  26. Old Bathos Member
    Old Bathos Post author

    Basil Fawlty (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    But I didn’t say conscripts were useless, they’re only generally not as good.

    Very few draftees get to be generals. Lots of volunteers do.

    Volunteers who just happened to attend West Point are rather prevalent.

     

    • #26
    • May 26, 2019, at 4:12 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  27. Steve C. Member

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Yes, a lot of incompetence on the American beaches with landing craft getting lost, tanks sinking, and generally bad generalship. But we’re not supposed to talk about how that all came about, or that the British landings went smoothly in comparison.

    But I didn’t say conscripts were useless, they’re only generally not as valued.

    It’s called friction. Or to use a more common professional military phrase, “stuff happens”

    • #27
    • May 26, 2019, at 4:15 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  28. Petty Boozswha Member

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Yes, a lot of incompetence on the American beaches with landing craft getting lost, tanks sinking, and generally bad generalship. But we’re not supposed to talk about how that all came about, or that the British landings went smoothly in comparison.

    But I didn’t say conscripts were useless, they’re only generally not as valued.

    It’s called friction. Or to use a more common professional military phrase, “stuff happens”

    .

    The British landings didn’t run into thousands of German troops who had been missed by intelligence analysts.

    • #28
    • May 26, 2019, at 4:18 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  29. WI Con Member

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    You need a waiver if you need glasses. Having a waiver is not very notable at all. I don’t know of any test for future treasonable activity. So what was the waiver that these traitors received that shouldn’t have been granted?

    Bergdahl had already had one bite of the apple and had washed out of the Coast Guard.

    According to Wikipedia, Manning suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, had a history of refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance from an early age at her Oklahoma schools and had a history of banging her head against walls for attention.

    Manning isn’t a ‘her’.

    • #29
    • May 26, 2019, at 4:43 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  30. Skyler Coolidge

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Yes, a lot of incompetence on the American beaches with landing craft getting lost, tanks sinking, and generally bad generalship. But we’re not supposed to talk about how that all came about, or that the British landings went smoothly in comparison.

    But I didn’t say conscripts were useless, they’re only generally not as valued.

    It’s called friction. Or to use a more common professional military phrase, “stuff happens”

    .

    The British landings didn’t run into thousands of German troops who had been missed by intelligence analysts.

    They also didn’t get lost and land in the wrong places. They had plenty of enemy to contend with. 

    • #30
    • May 26, 2019, at 6:53 PM PDT
    • 1 like
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