Patch Blog: Why The All-Volunteer Army is Wrong for America (Part I)

An all-volunteer army is not an appropriate instrument in our democracy for fighting wars of our collective choosing.

In 1999, as war swept through the wreckage of what was once Yugoslavia, I bobbled my three-year-old son Matthew on my knee while together we watched a television newscast that quite unexpectedly began broadcasting images of a burned-out civilian bus accidentally targeted by a NATO missile.

Matthew was too young to be upset by any of this, but I was upset in the way that a new parent is upset whenever certain harsh realities intrude upon their children. I was still at that early phase of parenthood that had me marveling at the length of Matthew’s eye lashes, the crystal depth of his hazel-brown eyes, and the soft feel of his feet and hands. He was everything lovely and innocent in a child—and I just couldn’t square that innocence with the horror unfolding in front of us on that TV screen.

What I felt was shame and embarrassment, as if I or my adult world had been found out, and revealed in its immorality and imperfection. And looking at Matthew, I wondered how I could ever “explain” any of this to him.

A few short years later our country found itself involved, yet again, in another war, the conflict in Iraq. As was my habit at the time, I would go at dusk to sit in the wooden stands down in the Arroyo where a cool breeze seemed always to gather no matter how hot the day, and together with several other fathers, watch our sons play baseball. The smiles were always easy, the banter good-natured and generous, the kind of peaceful, small-town ritual that gives small towns and fathers a good name.

I don’t think any of us sitting there in that golden light ever imagined that our young boys who were only nine or ten at the time could possibly be exposed to the fighting in Iraq, but five or six years later as the conflict dragged on, that notion was no longer an abstraction.

I knew at least one, slightly older boy who had joined the National Guard seeking direction and benefits only to find himself facing live-fire in Iraq. And though I never asked, I often wondered, which of those fathers who had watched on countless nights their sons running, throwing and gliding across grassy fields would press for their sons to fight in Iraq? Who among those fathers would not literally move a mountain to keep their sons safe and away from the killing ground of that war?

As an American citizen, I am certainly aware of the point of view that represents war as a regrettable necessity in an imperfect world. I would not argue that the flawed and aggressive history of mankind has not been steeped in war, but I would never celebrate any of the so called virtues of war without first acknowledging that at its core, no matter what the cause or justification, war represents not the greatest test and virtue of mankind, but its greatest failure.

That being said, I would also never advocate for the unilateral disarmament of our nation, which must, after all, and despite its best inclinations, exist in a world that largely rejects my premise, celebrates military prowess, and tends to war at will.

But there is, at least for me, a rub. If in a democratic society the people, who are not compelled to fight by a dictator or by laws not of their making, embrace war as an acceptable means for the settling of disputes among nations, then those same people cannot in good conscience hold that position without simultaneously and assertively making themselves and their children available to fight. In our democracy the current arrangement of an all-volunteer army is not an appropriate instrument for fighting wars of our collective choosing.

Rather, it is a convenient and immoral act of self-deceit, which enhances rather than deters the possibility of future wars. It does so by placing the vast majority of citizens at a comfortable distance from the bloody effects of the war policies they support. And it does so by undemocratically distributing the pain and suffering of war among a willing, yes, but unacceptably small segment of our society. In the roughly 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan less than 1 percent of the adult population of the United States has participated in the fighting. 

Check back Sunday for Part II of this blog post. 

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Elliot Kwock May 27, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Cheers for the United States Self Defense Force. We will yell at you until you go away.
R. Ray Morford May 28, 2012 at 02:13 PM
War is Hell. It is destructive to many families. However, brave founding Fathers went to war to help form this great Nation. I agree many citizens are tired of defending Americas values. We now allow anarchists to occupy our streets and teach our youth in schools and colleges. The present establishment turns a blind eye, thus endorsing such behavior. We now have a social war with high unemployment and thousands living off the government food stamp programs. We elect public officials who readily endorse such behavior. Those that are forced to fund such evil programs, through higher taxation, are becoming fewer by the day. Our government is making every effort to KILL the American will to succeed, both on a State and National level. As long and the masses can continue to feed at this free trough, they will continue to elect the same bodies to office. It's known as control the masses.
Patricia May 28, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Either we all sacrifice or we have no business in war. Right on, Robert!
MoJoMoon May 28, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Our forefathers fought for the right for us to make our own decisions. War is no longer necessary if we are as evolve as you war-mongers woul'd like to think. Evolve dammit. Has history taught you nothing?
Steve Lamb May 28, 2012 at 07:13 PM
If a war can not be conducted through a draft because there is no popular support for it, it should not be fought in the first place.
Steve Lamb May 28, 2012 at 07:14 PM
MoJo Moon? Huh? War, fought by others to protect each of our rights to choose is what allows you to believe you have evolved.
Maggie Freed May 28, 2012 at 08:44 PM
Thanks for posting this. I have felt that if we had a draft it would change the conversation about war.
Margarito Martinez May 29, 2012 at 10:11 PM
I agree. The draft would change things...IF it was applied equally. Women included. I hope all who voted for Obama out of a desire for peace now realize the folly of thier ways. I said it then, I'll say it now, Obama's administration is no different than a McCain's would have been on that score. Obama is not much different than W. Bush for that matter. In fact on the war they are nearly identical. If you believe in Peace, as I do, I urge all to vote Green. At least you'll be putting your vote where your mouth is!
Bill C. May 29, 2012 at 11:09 PM
Nicely said.
MellowMaverick May 29, 2012 at 11:11 PM
What does "voting Green" mean exactly?
Bill C. May 29, 2012 at 11:25 PM
Well Robert, nicely written. i would argue though that since the branches of our military have actually raised the qualification bar to join, with one nephew having just returned from Afghanistan and one still there I know this to be true, that people entering any armed service is doing so with a little more thought toward the dedication needed and the risks that will present themselves. Many families, mine included, have a tradition of military service and it's those with free choice and willing to serve that seems to me best suited to complete the tasks they are assigned. If someone doesn't want to work a certain job but are forced to take it, the odds they'll be less productive are greater than the ones who want that job. I understand your point but the volunteer military seems to be, in my opinion, the best choice we have to protect our nation. As a dad and grand father I would echo your hopes for world peace but sadly it's just not going to happen.
Gary Edwards May 30, 2012 at 05:39 AM
@ bk.... voting green means voting w/ ur heart not ur head.
MellowMaverick May 30, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Thank you Gary...I rather hope that both of those organs have some involvement in my voting :)
Margarito Martinez June 02, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Hellooooooo!!! Voting Green means registering as a Green Party Member and then voting for Green Party Candidates. Ron Paul is NOT Green by the way. Just like voting for Dems or Repubs...simple!
Janet Cartwright June 02, 2012 at 09:35 PM
Thank you, ignorance abounds around here....
MellowMaverick June 02, 2012 at 09:45 PM
So does hubris. :)
Janet Cartwright June 02, 2012 at 10:13 PM
Uh huh...


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