Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Real Sources of American Militarism by Adam Elkus


Adam Elkus (Georgetown SSP Alum)  takes on GEN McCrystal (and Congressman Charles Rangel and other elites) – and wins.  Conclusion:

Don’t get worked up about UAVs„ the police, or COIN if you’re looking for militarism in American life. Look no further than your local op-ed page the next time a public figure calls for national service or says that your fat kid is a threat to the national interest.
V/R
Dave

The Real Sources of American Militarism

In my blogs and Tweets, I have generally pooh-poohed the idea that  mil-style gear equates to police militarization or that domestic use of unarmed unmanned aerial vehicles is a harbinger of Predator strikes on Main Street.  In general, we can criticize the human cost and mistakes of poor national security decisions without raising the specter of 1984. Poor counterterrorism decisions abroad does not imply a dramatic transformation of American domestic life.

However, there is one national security-related political trend that should deeply disturb anyone that cares about American liberal democracy: the increasing frequency of calls for a revived draft and/or compulsory national service as a means of fixing social and political dysfunctions in American life. These calls, coupled with an obsession with social hygiene as a national security risk, suggest a troubling ambiguity about liberalism and democracy among elites. 

Across the political spectrum, critics are united in their view of the All Volunteer Force as the cause of deeper moral and political ills within American society. The World War II era of conscription is seen as the norm from which such comparisons are made. Andrew Bacevich argues that American society has become more selfish and individualistic as a result of the AVF. What was once a “duty” is now a “right,” Bacevich laments.

Jason Fritz and Dan Trombly have already written about why specific proposals for compulsory draft and service do not pass a cost-benefit analysis. Anyone interested in the specific programmic details of draft and service proposals and political specific rhetoric and justifications should consult their extensive writings on the subject. Here, I want to focus on some of the negative (and mostly implicit) ideological foregrounding of calls for compulsory service.

First, we must emphasize the relative novelty of these proposals. They are not advanced out of a sense of danger to American life that motivated call-ups during the Civil War, World War I, II, or the Cold War. It should noted that hawks are arguing that sequestration is dangerous, not the AVF. Drafts and compulsory service are not intended to make the military more effective or able to prevail in a long general war of attrition. As Dan has noted, most American wars have historically been fought by volunteers, in line with the desire of the founders to preserve a liberal political economy. Peacetime drafts were rare and correspond to national dangers. 

So a draft and/or service commitment of the kind critics propose would be a titanic shift in American political life. It would be truly without precedent. Why? The motivations for such a measure all lie within perceptions of injustice, distance between the military and civilian society, and a sense of societal anomie and lack of cohesion.

There are several reasons common to most calls for compulsory service. First, the idea that “skin in the game” will act as a break on military adventurism abroad. Second, the perception American society lacks meaningful connection with the military that protects it. An addendum to the latter worry is a sense of a problematic lack of societal cohesion that might be plausibly cured through devotion to something greater than the individual.

The idea of “skin in the game” is much less problematic than the idea of using the military as a means of promoting greater societal cohesion. Both, however, by design without precedent in American life. Conscription has been used to order to enable—to feed—war rather than restrain it and has always historically been understood as such. And the idea that harmony between the soldier and citizen should be imposed by the state smacks the authoritarian philosophies of Communism.
(Continued at the link below)


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