War and Conscription


“Few probably recall the name Dwight Elliott Stone. But even if his name has faded from the national memory, the man remains historically significant. That’s because on June 30, 1973, the 24-year-old plumber’s apprentice became the last American forced into the armed services before the military draft expired.

Though next month’s 40 year anniversary of the end of conscription will likely be as forgotten as Stone, it shouldn’t be. In operations across the globe, the all-volunteer military has been employed by policymakers to birth what Gen. George Casey called the “era of persistent conflict.” Four decades later, we therefore have an obligation to ask: How much of the public’s complicity in that epochal shift is a result of the end of the draft? “

 Thus wrote David Sirota last year on Salon.com

“There is, of course, no definitive answer to such a complex question. However, a look back at some lost history shows that today’s public acquiescence to militarism was exactly what the government wanted when it ended the draft.

That loaded term — “militarism” — was, in fact, a prominent part of the 1970 report by President Nixon’s Commission on an All-Volunteer Force. In its findings, the panel worried about “a cycle of anti-militarism” in a nation then questioning America’s increasingly martial posture.

Noting that “the draft is a major source of antagonism” toward the growing military-industrial complex, the report praised the fact that “an all-volunteer force offers an obvious opportunity to curb the growth of anti-militaristic sentiment.

Nixon’s commission did devote some empty rhetoric to downplaying “the fear of increased military aggressiveness or reduced civilian concern” about military actions in the event of an all-volunteer force. But the report’s political conclusions were clear: By disconnecting most Americans from the blood-and-guts consequences of war, the end of the draft would “decrease dissent stemming from conscription” and “close one of the channels” of antiwar organizing.”

 Sounds like a prophecy don’t it?

I was Regular Army in the ’60s at a time when the ranks were filled with draftees most of whom didn’t want to be there.

What they gave the Army, instead of  desire for a military career was a connection to the rest of America.

Different backgrounds. Different points of view. They had lives outside the military.  Many in the ranks were well educated, successful with wives, parents and girlfriends who couldn’t wait for them to get out and come home.

When drafted they answered the call and served with honor; but they never compromised their view that there was more to life than the military. They were true “citizen soldiers” in the footsteps of Cincinnatus.

In the ’50s and ’60s every young man had to face the possibility of conscription – and so did their parents.  Those who could afford to go to college got a deferment.  Those who couldn’t had to deal with the eventuality that they would receive the dreaded “The President of the United States sends greetings” letter.

 So long as the United States was at peace parents had little to worry about.    Those who fought in WWII and Korea were in their late 40s and early 50s and for a young man a stint in the military was viewed as part of growing up.

Vietnam changed all that.

Conscription could now mean the death of your son.  Conscription makes you think about war.  Conscription is personal.

Those that could stay in college did so.  Those with influential families obtained slots in the reserves and guard units which were not being deployed.  Poor kids got drafted.

The perceived unfairness of conscription and the feeling of many that Vietnam was not worth the death of tens of thousands of young men eventually brought about massive war protest, the dreaded draft lottery and then the abolition of conscription entirely.

With the end of conscription the anti-war movement faded away.  It seemed that people would only get off of their couch to oppose war if they had to fight it.  Once  they were disconnected from war it was no longer their primary concern.

“The pattern suggests that – in the absence of conscription. Dissent – if it exists at all – becomes a low grade affair (i.e. an email, a petition etc.) but not the kind of serious movement required to compel military policy changes.  Why?  Because as former Defense Secretary Robert Gates put it, without a draft – “wars remain an abstraction  – a distant and unpleasant series of news items that does not affect (most people) personally”.

The danger, says West Point’s Lance Betros, is that Americans then “reflexively move toward a military solution before they will try all of the other elements of national power”.

My family has lived in this country for a century and served in every war from WWI to Vietnam.  Today I don’t know anyone in the military.  My children, nephews or nieces never faced the draft.  None of my friends have children in the military.  I don’t know any kid anxious to join up.   War doesn’t affect me or my family or my friends at all.   And there are tens of millions like me.

It seems from the outside that the volunteer army is comprised mainly of those from military families (Daddy was an Admiral) or kids with poor economic prospects back in Flint, Michigan.  Would it surprise anyone to learn that West Virginia suffered the highest rate of casualties per capita in the Vietnam war?  What we now have is akin to a mercenary army, the enabler of empire and permanent war.  It is a military with its own distinct culture.

The military can now be sent anywhere at the direction of the President.  Congress hasn’t issued a Declaration of War since FDR.  Now it simply passes a Gulf of Tonkin style resolution and the President does what he likes.  It is the imperial Presidency that now makes war enabled by a volunteer army and the lack of connection between war and the vast majority of Americans.

Today we are in our twelvth year of the Afghan war / occupation.  Afghanistan was a non-issue in the last elections.  Throughout the war we saw no graphic reports from the battlefield on the 6 O’clock news.  We see no caskets.  No funerals.  No bodies.  It seemed to be a nicely sanitized war.  Media propaganda from “in-bed”  journalists.  We will all go to the mall or barbecue this coming Memorial Day weekend.

Now its easy to be a war hawk.  You don’t have to worry about your kid.  He won’t be drafted, given 4 months training and dropped in Kandahar.  We don’t even have to pay a war tax.  Sure there’s a war going on but it doesn’t affect us.  It doesn’t affect me or mine.

And because it doesn’t affect us we no longer care.

Ask yourself this:  Would have there been much greater protest if the war of choice in Iraq had to be fought by conscripts?  If your son had been drafted, given 3 or 4 months basic training and dropped in Ramadi?

 War is for other people.   War is for those who volunteered.

SSG. E-6 Toritto – U.S. Army

11/18/63 – 11/17/67


parts of this post from :http://www.salon.com/2013/05/10/was_ending_the_draft_a_mistake/

About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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6 Responses to War and Conscription

  1. Excellent! keep up the good work


  2. I say it every year, whether anyone listens or not: The best way we can honor veterans is to put an end to war. All war. Everywhere. Our species needs to evolve into peaceful conflict resolution. That would probably end most of it.


  3. Given the recession and our current poverty draft (poor minority GIs sign up because they have no other options), I agree with John Conyers’ bill to return to universal conscription.


  4. toritto says:

    Hi Doc – I agree that lack of economic opportunity drives most young recruits into the military. And I too agree with Conyers. Regards.


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