It’s been 40 years since the US stopped relying on a draft to fill its Army, although males and not females are still required to register and face significant disadvantages if they don’t. In that time the predicted rise of a hereditary warrior class has in fact taken place and is coming close to being completed. DOD says that 57% of active troops have parents who are either current or former members of the armed forces.
Here’s an article about this very pattern right down the road at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The negative effects of this development should be obvious, but for those for whom it’s not, let me list a few:
– On the crudest, most realpolitik level, it is not good for equality or democracy when any one group, and the smaller the worse, has a monopoly of violence. And having a home arsenal of some long guns does not constitute any kind of real resistance, not once you have seen what even one leetle, teensy-weensy mortar round can do to a house supposedly made impregnable by a clutch of semiautomatic weapons and 1,000 rounds of ammunition. That kind thing may give a SWAT team pause, but not anyone with any actual capabilities.
– Non-combatants start all wars. “If women went to combat, there would be no war” – that’s off a t-shirt that doesn’t exist but that I would like to see.* Historically this has been gendered – historically all the most warlike societies in North America, the Five Nations, the Tlingit – were female dominated. But it’s not gendered any more. The percentage of men who have never served is approaching that of women. And of course there is a small percentage of women in the nation who have served, and that narrows the gap too.
– “I have people for that kind of thing” Hear the classism in that one? And also, having a military class is a form of disposability, and overwhelmingly it is male disposability. You hear people say when veterans’ affairs are brought up “Didn’t we pay those people for that?” It’s so astonishingly ignorant and nonsensical that you hardly know where to start, but nonsensical or not, it makes perfect sense to a lot of people. People make sincere show of gratitude on Veteran’s Day, but it doesn’t really get much beyond some ceremonies and speeches and music – it is shallow and transitory and that’s not really any fault of theirs.
– Pedestalization – Speaking of Veteran’s day, I see two things going on when it comes around. First there are civilians who exult in an opportunity to get some appreciation for their service member relatives – WWII veteran fathers, Vietnam War veteran fathers and so on. But then there are those who almost seem to be Othering veterans like some kind of cartoonish super-hero action figures. No good comes of that. That’s the basis for expecting veterans to be superhuman when it comes to dealing with injuries and other service-related conditions.
It’s a conundrum because 1) a volunteer force is superior in almost every way to a gaggle of draftees, and also 2) because the armed forces just don’t need that many people, and in a population of 310 million, the right size of a force is bound to be a tiny fraction of that population. But it is still a problem.
*This brings to mind GEN William T. Sherman’s remark when he was criticized at some point for the rather minimal damage he inflicted on a thoroughly deserving population in open rebellion. He said that civlians had started the war and it was time they started to suffer too. As he said “This war differs from other wars, in this particular. We are not fighting armies but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.”
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