13 December 2010

The Best Argument Against the AVF

I have to get the last word in on the wisdom of the All-Volunteer Military.

It seems really odd that some people would still prefer conscription. For those of you younger than 25, that means that the military would draft young men and women into the armed forces involuntarily.

From both the left and the right, the prevailing logic is roughly the same: conscription compels the government to be more prudent in its use of the military, which becomes, in effect, a check against military adventurism.

Though two ideological opposites can have the same main argument, their motives would differ wildly. The left just doesn’t like the military, and they would prefer that the public at large share their disdain. In the late 60s and early 70s, popular support for the armed forces was at its nadir, partly because of the draft.

Folks on the right appreciate a capable military, but many would like to see our foreign involvements substantially reduced. They see conscription as an inducement to healthy dissent which would temper the government’s enthusiastic use of the military.

It is the best argument I have come across against the AVF.

Yet both versions suffer from two flaws. From a comment to a previous post:
“In earlier wars, the entire nation was expected to make sacrifices, but in the current situation, most of the nation blithely goes on enjoying the good life, not giving serious attention to the effects of these wars…”
The argument could be stated another way: we should make it harder to fight so that the government will be less likely to do it. Should we make other government functions less efficient for the same reason? Or should we make our weapons systems less safe so that the costs would be prohibitively high? The extension of the argument is as dangerous as it is laughable.

Moreover, it supposes an electorate that can’t properly calculate the costs and benefits of war. Whether or not you agree with our current wars, to think that the public can’t make such basic analyses at the polls is an indictment against our representative form of government, not against the arrangements for procuring labor in our armed forces.

The other flaw is the assumption that people would be protesting war if it affected them more. Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn't. People may protest homeless shelters more if they were built in the middle of their neighborhoods, next to elementary schools. That doesn't mean homeless shelters are bad.

Also, the analogy with Vietnam is a tiresome and inappropriate one. Protests against the war in Vietnam were exactly that: objections to the policy, not to the draft. Leftist protesters simply created a convenient straw man in the draft.

Finally, here is an interesting excerpt from the Gates Commission Report, which advised President Nixon in 1972 to abolish the draft immediately:
“Decisions by a government to use force or to threaten the use of force during crises are extremely difficult. The high cost of military resources, the moral burden of risking human lives, political costs at home and overseas, and the overshadowing risk of nuclear confrontation ~ these and other factors enter into such decisions. It is absurd to argue that issues of such importance would be ignored and the decision for war made on the basis of whether our forces were entirely voluntary or mixed.”
The debate between the AVF and conscription will never die, of course. I am just glad that, for now, there seems to be no movement back to involuntary servitude in the armed forces.


  1. Mr. Stowell:

    Here is an article I did a few years back, poking fun at the idea of a draft. It might be even more appropriate today...


  2. I've always felt that national defense should be a shared responsibility.

    There is no doubt that today's military is better with AVF's, but I really do believe the nation is better off with every adult of proper age expose to the possibility of being rousted from their nice warm cocoon, and called upon to carry a rifle in the defense of the country.

    I feel uncomfortable about "sending in the troops", when your loved ones aren't exposed to the damages of war.

  3. The 'draft' is a misnomer employed in reference to the selective activation of the federal militia.
    The militia is organized and regulated by Congress' Constitutional authority under Article I, Section 8. They implement that today through Title 10 USC. While all members of the National Guard and Naval Militia are part of that militia, all males between 17 and 45 are members of the 'unorganized militia' who are not members of the National Guard or Naval Militia per para 311.(b)(2) whether they like it or not. Since the first Militia Act of 1792 the franchise and the militia were basically the same which at the time was all free white males in those age brackets. The Act was modified in 1862 to include free Americans of African ancestry and followed by the 15th Amendment extending the franchise to the same. It was with the 19th Amendment that the link between franchise and obligation was severed. It wasn't servitude, but part of the contract between the people and their government manifested in the Constitutional authority and powers granted Congress.

    311. Militia: composition and classes

    (a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.
    (b) The classes of the militia are—
    (1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and
    (2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.