Viewpoint: The Volunteer Military

Shades of change


Recently we were told that Negroes are enlisting in such numbers that the U.S. Army might soon fail to reflect a "balanced" representation of the nation's populace. Shades of Mr. McGovern's quotaization schemes. Wouldn't it be horrible, simply insufferable, were the Negroes serving in Uncle Sam's forces to exceed that 13.5 percent of the total American male population that they represent? Imagine.

One of the arguments against the volunteer army was that it would become a "mercenary" force, comprised, at the lower levels, heavily of young men anxious to make a better living than was otherwise available to them; that is, those least employable—such as young Negroes in our society—would be most prone to join the military. I was never quite able to figure out just what the main objection to this was, when the volunteer army was in the talking stages.

Were the opponents of the all-volunteer army afraid that the Negroes would seize guns and overpower white America? Were they worried that if, horror of horrors, the army didn't exactly equate, in racial percentages, the population at large, a great thunderbolt would descent from Him, Upstairs, and strike us all dead? Or, perhaps, were they more realistically concerned about increased racial strife within the military itself?

Lt. Gen. Robert C. Taber makes the good point that the "Redskins have a pretty fair team and I never hear anyone discussing what the percentage of blacks are on the Redskins' football team." But that just isn't going to impress the Cassandras. Let us not, please, be called alarmist if we observe, ever so gently, that there will be calls for a quota system for the military 'ere long. General Whatsisname will say: "Owing to the likelihood of exacerbated tensions within the enlisted ranks; given, also, of course, the continuation of the present trend toward heavier black enlistment than is deemed, at the general staff level, in the best interest of the enlisted ranks: we would recommend that incentives be arranged to heighten the interest in enlistment among Caucasians, and, failing that, that a Percentages Authority be established to bring about the desired levels of enlistment of the various racial groups." Or something like that.

At bottom, most likely, there is a rather strong dose of racialism in the arguments of those protesting the increased Negro enrollment. Seems to me as if they are expressing a genuine (if misguided) fear about Negro loyalty, or at least about Negro willingness to play the game according to military rules. One would think that the proper way to handle difficulties within the ranks is to dismiss the trouble-makers, of whatever race, from the service. But not to fret, in advance, lest Negroes somehow become a problem.

In addition, I wonder if there isn't a latent anti-free market bias implicit in the attitudes of those worrying about this trend toward higher Negro enlistment than heretofore. Assume, as we may, that most people act at least somewhat rationally, and that if the volunteer army, with its better pay than previously, is a more attractive alternative for a young Negro male than some other job or no job at all, then a rational action for such a person might well be enlistment in the military. There he could learn a useful trade, get some bearings, be paid for his education, and, as they say, see the world—or at least Fort Sam Houston in San Antone.

What, in short, is wrong with that? Why shouldn't Negro males enlist in the military as good sense might dictate? Sure there will be problems; the American melting pot has yet to melt. Sure, those problems, and the very fact of higher Negro enlistment than white enlistment, point up the economic inequities within our society. But the answer, if answer there be, is not quotas on Negroes in the military, but rather a whole complex of economic reforms, in a libertarian free-market direction, that would make more likely the chances of Negro advancement economically. For the moment, if the choice is no job or a job in uniform, the wise young male, Negro or whatever, may well decide to sign up.

David Brudnoy teaches at Harvard's Institute of Politics, Boston College and the University of Rhode Island. Dr. Brudnoy's viewpoint appears in this column every third month, alternating with the viewpoints of Murray Rothbard and Tibor Machan.