Monday, July 21, 2008

The volunteer army

I saw in yesterday's paper an obituary for "Gen. Walter Kerwin--helped end draft, create all-volunteer Army." He graduated from West Point in 1939, serving in Italy, North Africa and France in WWII, and served in Vietnam from 1967-1969. He was the army's second-highest-ranking officer in the mid-1970's, and, according to the Washington Post obit, "helped create a policy that scrapped the draft and led to the creation of an all-volunteer Army in 1973."

The article doesn't say what exactly his role was in creating this policy. What it does say is "The voluntary enlistment program has been in place for 35 years and is credited with the development of a more effective and professional fighting force."

This was a strange obit for me. It is far more suggestive than descriptive and as an obit almost dropped General Kerwin into history; he doesn't seem to have made it himself.

Mostly it made me think about what we call the volunteer army. How voluntary is it? I have a genuine question about this: how many people sign up for the armed forces because that is the only option they see? This is absolutely not to denigrate anyone serving in the military, but I do get the sense that though some people join proudly because that is what they want to do, some join as a means to an end, for the finances or stability or education. And so it has always been, I am sure.

God knows I wouldn't like to see the draft return, but the benefits of the draft as I see it is that a) a wider cross-section of society would bear the burden of battle; and as a result b) we as a society would be less likely to say "Send the army to take care of it," if the army were more us, rather than "them."

Nothing new in these thoughts, I know. Liberal cliche. But it's a strange mix of labels, though, isn't it? A volunteer army, and the result is that it is more professional. Perhaps it should be called a professional army. That seems more accurate in some ways.

1 comment:

qoe said...

Here is a book for you to read:

"Army of None; Strategies to Counter Military Recruitment, End War, and Build a Better World" by Aimee Allison and David Solnit (ISBN: 978-1-58322-755-8)

Sign in the window of one of the recruitment offices here in Alameda: "$40,000. in bonuses available!"

False advertising. Playing to the less advantaged with promises of money for education--money that never materializes. Once you are in the system, you are a wage slave with no overtime pay in an authoritarian system where there is no public oversight. Meanwhile, you volunteer for a tour of duty and your duty gets extended, and you cannot opt out, except by way of dishonorable discharge.