Draft Protests


Christopher Carr

Christopher Carr does stuff and writes about stuff.

Related Post Roulette

23 Responses

  1. Avatar ktward says:

    perhaps the existence of a military draft is a necessary check on hasty participation in war.

    Maddow has also spoken to this idea. Which reminds me, I really must read her book.Report

  2. Avatar MaxL says:

    Interesting piece, I have a couple thoughts: I didn’t see it mentioned in the article you linked to, but I am fairly sure that the Viet Nam War protests ended with the draft.. The war continued for awhile after the draft and the protests died down.  I am almost sure that is the case, but I was already somewhat cynical towards the Baby Boomers and their 60s nostalgia when I came across that nugget;  it fit right into the frame..

    In any case, does this make anyone else more inclined to support a national service requirement and/or military conscription?

    If the draft automatically went into effect when a war was declared, I am sure that there would be a lot fewer of them.    I also like the idea that national service requirement and conscription  force contact and connection between classes in a stratified country like the US.  A conscript army simply has every kind of person in it.   To the extent that modern military training techniques aren’t completely effective, I think having a broader range of mindsets and personalities in a military squad is good idea.


    • There is something fiercely ironic about people who will never be involved in a draft advocating that other citizens be conscripted in order to have a more representative military (I do not know if you or Christopher are in fact outside those demographics, but I know Maddow is).  To wit, a conscript military does not have “every type of person in it;” it includes only the young, and most often, only men.  It is no more surprising that 50-something anti-war activists seek to advance their agenda over the fractured dreams and broken bodies of other people than it is that similarly aged chicken hawks do likewise.  If it is so important such people, I am happy to google their closest military recruiter. Until then, I kindly ask them to cease threatening my civil liberties in order to push their foreign policy agenda.Report

      • Avatar MaxL in reply to James Vonder Haar says:

        I am not sure I follow you entirely – but yes, a national service requirement would be an imposition.  And certainly the military option for that service would not be possible for everyone.  There are physical requirements for military service that not even all young people can meet.   Either way, I think its much more dangerous to have a fully professional, standing army and to remove the experience of war so far from the ordinary life of the vast majority of it’s citizens.  On this point, I agree completely with our founders; nothing threatens our individual liberties so much as a standing army.  Certainly no democracy has survived having a large, professional standing army in the past.

        FWIW,  I was never in the military but I remember registering for the selective service every time I moved from one state to the next. .   I did volunteer for the Peace Corps and continue to work with NGOs in Central America.Report

      • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to James Vonder Haar says:

        While it is true that as a 51 year old desk jockey I am not ever going to be conscripted for anything.

        However my 21 year old son would be, and the prospect to me, and millions of other mothers and fathers, of seeing our beloved children being sent off to fight for a dubious cause would galvanize the voting bloc that votes and participates in the process far more effectively than college students themselves.

        I am not ready to endorse conscription, but the idea that we should all have skin in the game is a valid one.

        As it stands now, there isn’t anyone in the ruling class or the voting class that supports them who has made even the tiniest bit of sacrifice towards the “war effort”.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Liberty60 says:

          I believe that there are a lot of voters for the ruling class that have made sacrifices, if we view having served as a sacrifice. Which we may not, in which case I’m not sure what a draft would solve.

          In any event, I stand by my earlier comment. A draft would change the way we go to war, but would not lead to an outbreak of not going to war. We’d just stop trying to clean up the mess we leave behind.Report

  3. Avatar James Hanley says:

    Additionally, the British navy’s problems with mutiny dramatically declined after they stopped pressing sailors.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to James Hanley says:

      I believe this is part of the reason that military leaders oppose the draft.  I’d love to have many fewer wars, but there must be a better way to ensure this than the draft, which is a really serious abridgement of freedom.Report

    • To be fair, outside of the Nore and Spithead, mutinies weren’t terribly common place. Desertion was a much bigger problem, one that wasn’t actually solved even as they moved to a voluntary system of employment.

      National service is a lovely notion, one that was embraced by a lot of conservative reactionaries in the 19th century as a way to weaken the grip of democratic radicals and give the “people” a buy-in, but they found for the most part that participation was mostly theoretical and there were always ways to sneak past it. The wealthy, even the middle class usually found some way to pawn off the burden to the lower classes, either through explicit means like the buying of replacements or implicit ones like university exemptions.Report

  4. It’s been extremely interesting, over the last ten years or so, watching the left (which I know Carr isn’t exactly a part of, but this is a perspective I see more associate with it) change gears from “Bush is going to institute a draft!” to suggesting that perhaps we all should (for the reasons put forth here).

    Logistically, I believe a draft makes a lot less sense with the modern military than it did in years past. Drafts are for when you mostly need warm bodies. These days, we seem to need something more.

    I don’t actually think that having the option of a draft would actually lead to less wars. It would just lead to a different style of fighting them so that we wouldn’t need them (or wouldn’t need them on the front lines). We initially toppled the Taliban pretty quickly, and ditto for Saddam Hussein. The personnel-intensive part has been trying to clean up afterwards. My guess is that we would start seeing a lot more quickie-wars without any sort of attempt to clean up the mess. Along the lines of “Who cares who replaces Saddam. If they’re bad, we’ll just topple them, too.”

    I also feel the need to point out that the common perception that the average enlisted soldier is staffed with people from underprivileged backgrounds is largely mythical (or at least I have never seen it supported, and I have seen the notion that enlistees actually tend to disproportionately come from the middle or higher supported) (Which is not saying that rich kids are serving, but rich kids tend to be able to avoid drafts, too.).Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Will Truman says:

      There are studies showing a disparity in family SES in the military over time, and some data showing that this continues (even the Heritage study from a few years ago showed this), but that the middle class is becoming better represented.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

        The Heritage Society data tends to focus on neighborhood incomes, which is not the same as family income, but it shows a comparatively favorable profile of the SES backgrounds of those who enlist*. Can you point me in the direction of something that shows the disparity you refer to?

        * – Which, to be honest, I find bizarre and not remotely corresponding to my personal experience. I went to a wealthy school and nobody I know (including the ROTC people and military freak sorts) joined the military. Meanwhile, the military is a popular option in the run-down town where I substitute teach. But, absent something supporting, I have to assume my observations are skewed somehow by something I am not seeing.Report

        • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to Will Truman says:

          Launching from my personal experiences, the military should be almost entirely African-American, but according to THS, they’re only marginally overrepresented.Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to Will Truman says:

          This is the study I was thinking of initially, showing the long-term effect:


          The Heritage study of the ’99 military, and another study of neighborhoods from ’03 or ’04, showed a similar pattern: most below the median, a slight underrepresentation of the extremely poor and a slight overrepresentation of the poor and lower middle class. The Heritage study, for example, shows that household incomes from 20-50k are overrepresented, if I remember correctly. I’ll look up the actual studies later (if I can remember who did the ’03/’04 one).Report

          • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

            I’m looking at the Heritage Society’s 2006-07 study right now (if you’d like, or can’t find it, I will send it to you). The neighborhood representation is startlingly different from what you’re saying the 2003-04 says. The middle, next richest, and very richest quintiles are the most overrepresented ($65k and up being the most represented of all). According to another chart, 75% come from $40k or more. Almost 50% come from $50k or more (which is 40% of the population). This is not representative of the actual family incomes, however. It could be that for some reason being at the lower end of the economic spectrum of a higher-income area induces military enlistment?

            I’ve glanced over your Syracuse document (thanks!) and am rather hopelessly confused by it. It does assert that family income is negatively associated with service, but does not demonstrate it in a manner that I can understand. Here is the pertinent section:

            A closer examination of the relationship between family income and military service reveals that the family incomes of those who have never enlisted in the military are somewhat higher than those who have served at the low end of the distribution (56.25% higher at the 5th percentile, 42.85% higher at the 10th percentile, and 28.57% higher at the 25th percentile), are no different between the 50th and 90th percentile, and are substantially higher (140%) at the 95th percentile. Therefore, among the working class, those who have served in the military have tended to come from poorer circumstances, while there is low representation of the children of the very rich.

            I do not understand what is being said here. I mean, I understand the assertions, but I do not understand the statistics used to prop them up. Why are we comparing incomes at specific percentives, which is what it seems to be doing, rather than simply comparing the 5th percentile to the 25th to the 75th and so on? The next part…

            Indeed, additional analysis (not shown here) finds that the highest income quartile was significantly less likely to have served than the lowest, while the second and third quartiles were not significantly different from the lowest quartile in their likelihood to serve. In sum, the economic elite are very unlikely to serve in the military.

            What it seems to be saying is that the top quartile is less likely to serve, but that the other three quartiles are about equally likely to serve. Which means that the middle 50% is just as likely to serve as the bottom 25%. The only aberration is the top 25%. This makes a degree of sense to me, but saying “the wealthiest aren’t serving” is different from saying “it’s poor people that are serving.” I mean, they’re serving more than the wealthy, but it seems to me that they are doing so with equal frequency to the second wealthiest quartile.

            There is a table, but all it says is that there is a -.003 correlation with a SE of .001, which seems kind of small (statistically significant, I’m sure, but not statistically powerful)? It’s much higher among Hispanics at -.011, though with a higher SE. Interestingly, among Hispanics, it states:

            When standardized achievement test scores are included in the model, however, the effect of family income disappears, indicating that achievement test scores may impact the selection of recruits by family income.

            It doesn’t say whether this is true of everybody. I can’t quite figure out how one would affect the other. I mean, you’d think that higher test scores would correspond with higher incomes and vice-versa, but the impact on test scores with service are not straightforward (math scores positively and reading scores negatively correlate with service, most likely due to the gender imbalance).Report

            • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Will Truman says:

              The supply and demand curves for military recruiting in 1999, 2003, 2006, and today are significantly different from each other. 99: low demand (post-cold war peace), low supply (good economy) 03: high demand (war), high supply (patriotism, middlin economy), 06: high demand (war peak), low supply (unpopular war, decent economy, now: low demand (budget cuts) high supply (weak economy). The recruiting classes in the middle of the decade were really poor, the Army lowered its standards (allowing up to 20% non-high school graduates, for instance) to meet its quotas. (in contrast in 00, the numbers were something like 5% for the Army, and even less for the other services – I believe the Air Force was zero).

              To Mr. Blue’s point above, African American enlistment rates, which were significantly overrepresented from the 80’s to the 00’s, are now just about on par. Combination of the unpopular wars and decades of the trope ‘there ain’t no place for the black man in the white mans Army’ taking seed and sprouting. The outlier? African American women. (though women as a whole make up less than 20% of the military due to deliberate policy).

              The other tidbit is that non-whites are further underrepresented in combat units and ‘combat’ job titles. (and women are still excluded entirely from many of them). A good chunk of everyone enlists to get a way to pay for college, but whites tend to be overrepresented of the group that joins for the ‘ooh-rah’ adventure adrenaline junkie side of it..

              (keep in mind also that the Army is churning through every year about twice as many people as the Navy and Air Force, and over three times as many as the the Marines – but high retention and the eye toward future drawdowns has cut the recruit numbers this year considerably)

              Also, I think Mr. Truman is onto something above. A draft wouldn’t make a war less likely or hasty, but it does provide political impetus to end it (or end our involvement in it) as soon as possible.

              A draft these days is a terrible idea anyway, even putting aside the forced labor aspect of it. We don’t need and can’t use cannon fodder anymore, the tools and the job are too complex. There was a story the other day that the partnering units going to Afghanistan next cycle are going to be exclusively senior NCO’s and mid-grade officers. Which makes sense in terms of mission accomplishment, but the big problem is that you’re eating your seed corn doing that – i.e. the only way junior soldiers and officers become decent NCO’s and senior officers is by doing, not by sitting back at Bragg when everyone that knows anything is overseas.Report

    • Avatar MaxL in reply to Will Truman says:

      Those are all good points. I definitely agree that we have come some distance from the type of military that would find cannon fodder useful and we tend only to engage in the sort of conflicts that a very specialized military would be expected to undertake.  As you mention, that is not at all the same thing as saying that is the only type of mission that exists or the only method of doing it.,

      After reading your comment, I am on the fence as to whether the draft would discourage war in general or just make wars shorter,  I suspect it might do both.  In the 25 years years between the end of Viet Nam and 9/11, we were all registering for the selective service while going through the longest stretch of peace since 1916.   One could argue that It took a terrorist attack, a wildly incompetent underestimation of the time and force required, and an assurance that it would cost little and that there would be no draft to rouse us back to war.

      There is one more reason to consider the value of a national service militia and that is the corrosive effect that a massive standing professional army always bears on a democracy. That is a separate debate, but worth mentioning.Report

  5. Avatar Murali says:


    As the only one among all of you who is actually a conscript, what is my take on this?

    1. A purely voluntary army is a luxury that small countries (like Singapore switzerland and Israel) cannot really afford. Of course, once we can get something like this:

    We won’t need all that many bodies anymore.

    2. The problem of the upper classes having lots of go arounds such that they can avoid conscriptions can be solved by making the process more strict. i.e. there are fewer kinds of conditions that would allow someone to avoid the draft. For example, if one is not combat fit, one could still serve as a clerk or a storeman in the army. Only the most extreme cases could be excused from serving in one capacity or another.

    3. The thesis that having an army where everyone’s sons are at risk makes wars a lot less popular and therefore less likely sounds very attractive. Certainly Singapore and Switzerland don’t go around attacking anybody. Only problem with the thesis is Israel, which goes to war fairly often.

    4.  Individual freedom and choice is replaced by being told when and what to eat; when to sleep and when to wake up;

    This is true in a certain kind of way. You don’t really have the freedom to laze around if you want to. And it is even truer in basic training. But, like at any job, there are designated lunch hours, punctuality is a requirement etc etc. In many ways being in the army is like being in school. Instead of your mom shouting at you to wake up, its your seargent. Instead of your mom telling you to make your bed, its your seargent. Instead of your mom asking you why your hair isn’t combed its your seargent. Also, you wait for your meal by standing in line at the cookhouse very similar to how you would do so in an american highschool cafeteria. Alternatively, there is a canteen where people can buy their own food if they want (i.e. you are not told what to eat)

    It the military method would occur in civilian life, it would be immediately labeled as a human rights violation…

    No, it would be like living wih your mom…

    5. Absolute unquestioning obedience to one’s superior officer results in the ultimate loss of individuality

    Only someone who has not been in the army thinks that this accurately represents what actually happens. The army is just a great big bureaucracy. The bureaucratic aspects can be soul-killing, but that is not profoundly different from other soul-killing stuff people do in the civilian world.


    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Murali says:

      On your number 2,  even with eliminating stuff like college deferments and substitutes, there’s still going to be ways of gaming the system.  For example Volunteering for assigments (and entire service branches) before you’re voluntold for other less desirable ones.

      The only way to make it ‘fair’ is to actual randomly assign people so that everyone has an equal chance of being a ‘grunt’ as being a REMF.  But that’s a very poor way of assigning personnel, certainly if one wants to maximize everyones skills and overall fighting effectiveness.

      (and frankly, Switzerland’s best conscripts are the Alps, and Singapore’s best conscript is the idea that everyone’s best interest’s are served by it being an independent state next to a strategic waterway, and not part of any rival power).Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Kolohe says:

        In Singapore, your vocation during national service is assigned to you. (presumably based upon your performance during basic training)

        The only way to make it ‘fair’ is to actual randomly assign people so that everyone has an equal chance of being a ‘grunt’ as being a REMF

        Before basic training, it really is like that. I come from an upper class family, but I am a grunt. I’ve got lots of friends who come from working clas families who were clerks etc.Report

      • Avatar Lyle in reply to Kolohe says:

        Unless you have a world war like WWII, there will always be emigration as a way of beating conscription. Recall that a good number of the german immigrants to the US came to beat the draft in their german states. Also during the civil war moving to canada was a way to beat the draft, as indeed was moving to California since it was so far from the battle that troups from CA other than some volunteers were never drafted. Now in WWII it also appears that if from the Northern Ireland you avoided conscription as well.  It turns out that the historians in league with governments suppress what really happened in the past in order to reduce history to a pale imitation of itself.Report

  6. Avatar Liberty60 says:

    Criticism of the draft as being an abridgement of freedom is true, but misses a larger point, that war itself inevitably leads to an abridgement of freedom.

    Wars are always expensive, and lead to non-productive spending. As as the saying goes, to spend is to tax.

    And the security needs of a state at war lead, again inevitably, to the need for greater surveillance and control of the people and the economy.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *