Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The D[r]aft

I truly don't understand the love affair some people have with the military. Perhaps the most heartless deflation of the uniform-droolers I ever read was from Skippy, who last year wrote:
All that need be said on this one is that the only person I've met who murdered his own mother in cold blood was a soldier. The only person I've ever met who offered to kill someone's landlord, for pay, over a rent dispute was a soldier. And the only person I've ever met who got a buddy to beat up his pregnant girlfriend in the hope of inducing a miscarriage was a soldier, as was the buddy who did the deed. As a matter of fact, I've never personally met a violent criminal who wasn't a soldier, and that's to say nothing of the minor crooks.
The latest example of "we should all wear a uniform" comes from the new journal Democracy, where Kathryn Roth-Douquet argues that progressives need to be more military-friendly. Because apparently Clinton hated the military, except for when he wasn't using it. You know, never.

Basically, Roth-Douquet's argument revolves around three claims: One, the left has been hostile to the US military since Vietnam. This claim is simply untrue - what passes for the American left (roughly, the liberals in the Democratic party) continually supported the military, as do the denizens of DailyKos today. They simply don't serve, which wasn't a problem until Iraq - the military had plenty of bodies. Indeed, the US military was turning people away post-9/11. More importantly, so what if Vietnam turned us off Big War? Should it not have?

Ah, this brings us to claim two: There's virtue in national service. Fine, no argument. But the article is titled "The Progressive Case for Military Service". Is the Peace Corps morally suspect compared to the Marine Corps? How could it possibly be?

Claim three: The rift between the elites and the military leadership threatens the Republic. This is one of those perennial worries that surfaces, but there's not a lot there, there. Yes, Colin Powell lead the military's cowardly opposition to openly gay servicemen and women. But there's no evidence that we've ever been close to "Seven Days in May" here. The Army hated Roosevelt and Truman - famously so, in the case of MacArthur - but they obeyed orders.

Besides, you wonder who the present-day military commanders wish were in charge today: the military-hating Clinton, or the soldier-fetishist Bush?

There's more to the article that I disagree with, but this part was just silly:
Additionally, a number of aspects of military culture reflect progressive ideals unrealized in the larger culture. It is egalitarian, with the highest-ranking general earning no more than 11 times the lowest-ranking private. Moreover, military communities feature low-cost, quality, licensed day care for as little as $37 a week, with drop-in care at $3 an hour. High-quality after-school programs cost $5 for the year. Health care is universal and free.
Um, I've got an idea. Instead of us all joining the military to get free health care, why doesn't the government just give citizens the free health care that soliders already get? Isn't the implication of the status quo that only soldiers are true citizens? Isn't that an inherently militarist ideology?

Now, I'd get behing some kind of mandatory national service, provided that there was no compulsion to serve in the military. There's one excellent reason for this, and two good ones. The excellent reason is simple: Professional militaries don't want a return to the draft. Period. The countries that still have mass armies are all abandoning them, and we shouldn't go backwards.

The other two reasons are a bit more complicated: First, armed forces are not the only big-ticket item that national governments provide. Health care, education, infrastructure, are all expensive and could potentially be cheaper with some kind of low(er) cost labour provided by the state. A broad, open-to-all form of national service could (in the Canadian example) provide education and care to the northern communities, rebuild our roads and bridges, staff our schools, and tend to the sick in our hospitals. I don't believe mandatory national service is necessary for these aims, but it's one possibility.

Second: The world needs less militarism, not more. Exalting the status of soldier-citizen misses the point of the American founding fathers' intent: Not that we have a permanent nation in arms, but that when the citizens stop fighting, the government would have no more army to call on. The ideal of the citizen soldier was supposed to lead to less war, not more.

Another possibility to mention: As our PM has recently announced, Canada's immigration is a huge strength to our country. Why not make national service a guaranteed path to citizenship? Say a Canadian citizen must serve 3 years of their life in the national service corps. Why not say to anyone who wants to live in Canada that, if they agree to serve all of those three years up front, they can automatically become citizens? It seems fairer than the hoops in our current system. It would also give the government an incentive to make sure that professionals from other countries could practise their trades here, to make the best use of their talents.

Oh, and credit where it's due: Harper is spot-on to reject the advice of his fellow-travellers who would have us close our borders. I don't get to cheer this government often enough, but that was a good thing for Harper to say. (Yes, immigrants are a big voting bloc, but he still could have pandered to the nativist vote and didn't. Good for him.)

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