Wednesday, January 22, 2003

The draft debate bugs me. A lot. It's a debate that has huge problems at its core. It certainly isn't whether or not minorities are overrepresented in combat roles or not. Honestly, that's a sideshow, and something that's (relatively easily) fixable.

(Heck, if the Army gets their land-use robots, we might not have *people* doing those front line jobs. The Air Force might be ticked about having men replaced by machines, but I doubt the Army would.)

No, the problem is the subtext. "Jim N" on Atrios' comments board, while an obvious wingnut, is right in a fundamental sense: reinstating the draft would be abominably stupid for a whole host of reasons, and the whole "national service" thing would not only be a bureaucratic nightmare but a possible drag on the economy as well. The whole reason the draft thing has even come up, though, is the chickenhawk problem, and reinstating the draft isn't a solution!

The problem with chickenhawks, after all, isn't that they haven't served. Lots of people haven't served. Most people haven't served, and the idea of civilian oversight is that those who are elected don't need to have been military types to be leaders. Blurring the lines between government and military is a very bad idea, and would be yet another step along the path of the U.S. government turning into a Latin-style "democracy", where El Presidente's control over the military ensures his domination. Leaders don't have to be warrors.

What they do need to do, however, is give some bloody respect to the soldiers who have to fight for them. Respect for the grunts on the ground, realizing that war is an option of last resort and that it should be fought to minimize the casualties. Respect for the military's leaders, planners, and strategists, realizing that even though you're their boss, they know this better than you do, and you better damned well listen to them. Even if you disagree, you should take their ideas and concerns into account on a very real and personal level. No spin, no politiking, no ideologically-based neocon bullshit. And for the love of Christ, Rumsfeld, stop trying to do everything yourself. The war in Iraq is not a game of Starcraft; you don't need to micromanage everything.

Finally, you should respect not only those that you will place in harm's way, but those that you will harm. There are innocents killed in any war, but even the soldiers on the other side are too often simply cogs in the machine; as too many people learned during the World Wars, the soldiers on either side are no so different as one might think, regardless of the differences of their leaders. That doesn't make war impossible, but the reality that one is about to use deadly force should cause one to think long and hard about the consequences, risks, and side effects; something that the military (being the organization that is put in harm's way) is fully aware of.

I think this is the beating heart of the "no blood for oil" argument which is, yes, absurdly simplistic. It's the perception that the people who are making these decisions either don't know or don't care that they will be taking life. They are acting with utmost callowness, using arguments about human and civil rights only insofar as they support the pre-determined course of action, then discarding them when they are no longer useful.

(Witness the cynical appropriation of women's rights by the Bush administration when discussing an Afghan invasion that had absolutely nothing to do with women's rights. It may have been justified, and it may have been necessary, but that wasn't the reason that it happens and everybody knows it. Bush shot his credibility pretty badly when he started that line, and he's never recovered.)

Does this respect mean that war is never warranted? Nope, although it should be a rarity, a last resort, and something to be mourned, not celebrated. War is not success, but a failure: the failure of two parties to find any other means by which to resolve their conflicts. As nobody is perfect and situations can make war unavoidable these failures will happen like any other; but they should be recognized as such, and treated like such. That's one of the reasons why I think a realistic view of international relations is so important; the study of conflict and war exists in order to help mitigate and minimize the disruption, pain, death, and loss that are probably inevitable, and to search for a way out. That doesn't mean people should stick their heads in the sand, or that war is always avoidable, as ignoring it will only lead to greater suffering when it comes. What it does mean is that leaders, and citizens, should respect the consequences of their decisions. Not whether or not their political side or ideology is "right" or "wrong", or whether they personally stand to gain or lose...but whether or not the reason is compelling enough to risk inflicting pain, suffering, horror, and death.

The chickenhawks are those that don't bother to do that. That earns them my contempt. It doesn't, however, justify a draft.

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