The Draft

The Disconnect between the U.S. Military, Its Wars, and the American Public

There’s a new push to reinstate a Selective Service draft again. Two mainstream authors familiar with military history have put forth the reasons a re-instituted draft could solve a major problem facing this country – mainly, the loss of connection between the American public and the architects of our policies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya.

The professional all-volunteer military, journalist Jeff Shear states, is what rendered the military independent of civilian control and oversight. He argues that switching to a draft is necessary because the volunteer forces have made it “easier for the U.S. to go to war with little public scrutiny.” Shear argues that the lack of a draft has had a shocking effect on foreign policy, making it possible to sustain war after war. “The professional military has taken the public out of the mix,” and the military is losing contact with the wider society. ((Shear, Jeff, 4-15-11, Part I, “America in the Hands of a Professional Military,” Miller-McCune.))

Shear’s position assumes that it is the drafted “grunts” in the military that will ensure more civilian control and oversight of the military. Just as the GIs ended the American war in Vietnam, so it is the average Joe and Josey who will end the current wars and bring the public back to its proper scrutinizing and discerning overview of the current wars. What Shear fails to recognize in his analysis is that it is not the lower echelons of the military that controls the policies handed down from the Pentagon. High-ranking officers, bolstered by corporate CEOs from the defense industry, make those decisions.

John Arquilla, Professor of Defense Analysis Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, also calls for the reinstatement of the draft. His purpose is to ensure the presence of more culturally, educationally, religiously, and politically diversified draftees than what comprises the current military. He states in his book ((The Reluctant Transformation of the American Military – Worst Enemy, 2008, Ivan R. Dee, Chicago.)) that “In recent years more than three-fourths of all officers have identified themselves as Republicans.” (p.192)

“In any event, the ‘red shift’ in political identity among the officer corps over the past few decades suggests that senior military leadership has been more likely to support the policies of the Republican Party. Any effort to ‘depoliticize’ the military will run into the complicating factor that officers who self-identify as Republicans are also likely to describe themselves as devout Christians.” (p. 194-5)

Arquilla asks: “How can problems of overt politicization, undue religious influence, and socio-economic segregation be mitigated?” He answers: “By restoring the draft, a process that would immediately end the notion that social elites are above military service. A draft would rekindle the sense that all Americans should be ready to accept an obligation to serve in the military when called upon to do so. In this way the return of the draft would remind all Americans of the implicit social contract that runs from citizen to government and to one’s compatriots.” (p. 195)

“…[Also] because of the wide ranging pool of recruits from which a draft would draw – which ought to include young women as well, since there are so many place where they can serve – the politicization problem will slowly be mitigated. Some percentage of this diverse group will become career officers and remain in the service.” (p. 195)

The reasoning is summed up: “If we have some mechanism that links the military to civilian society in a way that spreads the burden around when you use the military, it’s less likely to be used.” (p. 196) He continues, quoting Senator James Webb, “…Our greatest need is…to stop being afraid to ask the men of Harvard to stand alongside the men of Harlem, same uniform, same obligations, same country.” (p. 197)

The problem with this train of thought is that reinstituting the draft will neither guarantee a more democratically-controlled military nor solve the disconnect between the inner decision-making sanctum of the Pentagon and the American public. The Military Industrial Complex (MIC) is part and parcel of that circle. Coupled with this is a Congress lacking the foresight and courage to take the Pentagon under its control. In addition, the Executive Branch is comprised of too many people who not only have no experience with the military, but who are more than willing to use military force to solve worldwide problems. They are beholden to the MIC lobbying funds and to a Republican judicial system comprised of individuals who believe imprisonment, repression and intolerance should be our guiding lights.

Indeed times have changed and the “grunts” are not the decision-makers or powerbrokers in this volunteer, mercenary army and neither would they be in a drafted military; rather, it is the centralized ever-extending command in the Pentagon – those who make the decisions and create the policies: it is the commanders working along side the contractors and defense industry opportunists. There has not been an independent military, free from corporate control since the time Eisenhower warned of the inherent danger to this country of a joint military force combined with corporate interests.

With a trillion-dollar budget, major wars in four to five countries and confrontations in countless others, the Pentagon is certainly beyond civilian review. Enlarging the military and/or switching to a draft will result in a greater expenditure of funds into the coffers of military. It is not the draft that will end the disconnect between the American public and its military; rather, it requires that civilian authority regain control of a renegade Pentagon.

The military budget must be halved immediately; the economic draft whereby the military becomes the employer for unemployed youth and immigrants must end; officers must be drawn from the ranks of all political persuasions; stop loss must end; the military must be democratized; and, the Congress must reassume its power of the purse. Most importantly, we must find a president with the guts and integrity to act as commander in chief.

The main problem with both Shear’s and Arquilla’s articles is that they skirt the most important question posed by the schism between the MIC and the civilian community, namely, has the MIC rejected the basic premise that civilians should control military decisions? Has there, in effect, been a bloodless coup, wherein military “experts” and “professionals” have rejected outright the suggestion that a president, unschooled in military practice and decision-making, should have any control whatsoever regarding matters of war and militarism?

While running for office, Obama said he would close Guantanamo. The military made it clear to him that this was “not advisable,” and Obama changed his position. Obama provided a timeline within which to leave Iraq. The military said that was “unrealistic” and we are still mired in that war zone. Obama called for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, and was told in no uncertain terms that such a move would jeopardize our so-called achievements there. Mercenaries are now the majority of U.S. personnel participating in our foreign invasions, and the trend continues apace.

What is not known is what would happen if the president as commander in chief actually stood up to the Pentagon and ordered it to carry out his wishes. If he ever attempts to do that, he had better have a secure bunker hidden away somewhere that the Pentagon leadership knows nothing about.

After all, it is clear that the vast majority of Americans want an end to these wars, yet the military and our “elected representatives,” feel that this desire can be ignored. This leads to a schism between the American people and its military. To whom does the military owe allegiance?

Luke Hiken is an attorney who has engaged in the practice of criminal, military, immigration, and appellate law. Marti Hiken is the director of Progressive Avenues. She is the former associate director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and former chair of the National Lawyers Guild Military Law Task Force. Read other articles by Marti Hiken and Luke Hiken, or visit Marti Hiken and Luke Hiken's website.