An All-Volunteer Military?


An anonymous soldier sues over the army's "stop-loss" policy, which keeps soldiers in the military longer than the tours of duty they thought they'd signed up for. Our own Tim Cavanaugh discussed the problems with this back in December.

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  1. I wrote some commentary on the stop-loss over at Catallarchy

  2. 1. It’s in their contract
    2. It’s been in action since 2001, so they have been made aware of it
    3. The military is NOT some libertarian haven, it IS about violence, obedience, and the nation-state. It ain’t the NBA.

  3. You’re right, Jack. But then, nobody down at the Piggly-Wiggly is tasked with the defense of your country.

  4. Look folks, these people knew the deal when they signed on. Or should have. Regardless of the correctness of the Iraq war(a mistake, in my opinion), the fact is that this is legal, and has little to do with the scumminess of the administration. I am certain that “stop-loss” requests come from the Pentagon, not the White House. You want those soldiers that are left to be put at greater risk? These troops need to take the soothers out of their mouths and get back to work.

  5. Malak,

    I still can’t imagine that kind of raw deal in the private sector.

  6. Ah, the old “can you volunteer yourself into slavery?” debate …

    They are basically just young kids though (and probably not particularly mature as there are few maturing forces at work on the young in this society) and they are getting royally screwed. I guess one can’t expect any better from that last bastion of legal indentured servitude known as the military. Still they are getting screwed.

  7. Won’t someone please think of the children?

  8. Of course not Rick! That’s why the Armed Forces are NOT part of the private sector. Someone in the private sector would not, as a primary function of their job, be trained to kill another human being in cold blood, either. You cannot equate the military, at least not the sharp end of it, with a private sector ‘job’. We ask of our Armed Forces things that, when looked at through civilian eyes, are completely insane. That these men and women perform these tasks, indeed, that they VOLUNTEER, speaks volumes about their character. Those that now whine about the situation they voluntarily put themselves into, dishonor the title: soldier

  9. It is a service. It is not a job. I served many years in the Air Force and flew all over the world. I did what they told me to do and I did it well. But it is clear when you serve that it is not a civilian job. A friend of mine serves in the AF. Her civilian contractor hubby are expecting to adopt their first child. It was with depression and anguish they she recently got orders to Afghanistan. I just had to blink. When you sign up, it is to follow orders. It was like they never expected to have to go *gasp* fight or anything. Hello! Defend your country and all that?

    But the gist of the thread is whether or not stop-loss is right? Whether we call it a war or not, we are committed to a military action in Iraq. General Washington faced the same thing a few centuries ago just before he crossed the Potomac. It was Christmas. On New Year’s Day, almost all of the enlistments for his army were to be over and his men would not need to stick around any more. What was he to do? He conceived of a brave plan that would put courage into the hearts of his men and rally them once more to the cause! He did it without a stop-loss program and was able to lead us to win the war.

    Today’s combat is oh so much different than the days of old. Units depending on other units at an instants notice. Deployment all across the field. Oh, its the first of the month. Charlie company all mustered out and we have no one covering our asses anymore.

    So are we arguing about whether a stop-loss program is just not right? Or are we arguing that near the edge of the legal line, there are a few dissenters that see it as slavery? We need a stop-loss program in our voluntary military due to the combat tactics that we use. It is in the contract. It makes sense that it is in the contract.

    Hold up your right hand and repeat after me: “I do solemnly swear…”

  10. I won’t challenge the assertion that these stop-loss orders are legal. A friend of mine who used to be in the Army told me that the enlistment contract has so many loopholes that military lawyers can justify just about anything imaginable.

    But I’ll still say that it’s a crappy thing to do. As has often been observed on this forum, an action can be worthy of criticism even while we acknowledge that it was legally valid, and perhaps even consistent with a voluntarily signed contract. Rumsfeld has every right to extend their service, and I have every right to criticize Rumsfeld.

  11. Malak:

    What’s with putting the word job, in the private sector, in quote signs?

    Do people who volunteer for needless wars that we are conned into, dishonor the title: human being?

  12. Agreed thoreau. And I agree with your feelings toward Rummy, et al. I do not, however, agree that the soldiers themselves have the right to bitch. And while it may be a crappy situation to be in, so is knowing that you have it inside you to coldly kill another human being and not even blink.

  13. Actually; the ones who really dishonor the title, “human being” are the folks who do the conning.

  14. Rick, they did not volunteer for a needless war. They volunteered to serve in the defense of their country. They volunteered to serve in the event of war. They are NOT entitled to decide whether or not said war is just, or even necessary. That is the job of the National Command Authority.

    The quotes were not meant as a put down, merely to highlight my contention that military service is just that: service. It is not a job in the way one thinks of private sector employment.

    As for the humanity of soldiers: Those I have served with, and those I have met after my discharge, are among the finest people I have ever known. That the same cannot be said of the civilian authority elected to command them is the real tragedy all of this.

  15. The manpower shortage that resulted in this stop-loss order is partly the consequence of the administration’s and the Republican Congress’s skewed priorities. Were there an additional 40,000 people in uniform, the increased demands could be met without calling up these people. Instead of funding two more divisions, they’re spending that money on surface ships, submarines, and an early rollout of a missile defense system that doesn’t work.

  16. i think the fundamental problem is less this man’s suit or the legality/illegality of stop-loss clauses than it is the state of affairs that the suit suggests by its existence.

    soldiers are being asked to fight wars that are morally questionable — these aren’t defenses of their hometowns against invading hoardes, after all. moreover, the social context in america is drifting ever further to the extremes of individualism and emancipation; collective action simply isn’t understood as important by most americans anymore (insert usa mens basketball here).

    we are finding, then, that the management of our global empire through volunteer troops is going to be increasingly difficult. i imagine that the vast majority of troops, regular and reserve, that have been sent to iraq will flee the service at first opportunity, and few if any will join for the first time.

    what does that mean? possibly “peacetime” drafts, but these will be met with unrest. more likely, imo, is the ancient solution — which we are already beginning to adopt — which is mercenary armies. kbr, pmc, et al, will search the world for willing soldiers and create paid armies to fight for the united states.

  17. These lawsuits have been a feature of every war. I have in front of me an account of a Minnesota man who appealed to a Supreme Court justice that Lincoln could not make the First Minnesota Regiment serve more than ninety days on the grounds that the recruiters lied to them. Lying recruiters, you say? In the MILITARY? Nooooooo….

    The justice (Wayne) ruled that the recruiters were not required to tell the truth and the soldiers were responsible for reading their own contracts before signing them. The government’s “case,” such as it was, rested on the fact that they needed these regiments and they’re weren’t giving them up no matter what the justice said. He therefore made his decision conform to what was going to happen anyway.

    Funny. The Washington Post recently admitted that was their policy regarding prewar intelligence reporting.

  18. Meanwhile, the government, in wide-eyed shock, wonders why the heck enlistments are down.

    Something I’ve always wondered: I thought National Guardsmen were supposed to defend THIS country, say from riots and insurrections, or in the event of natural disasters? I’ve heard several news reports saying that governors in Western states have lost so many Guardsmen to Iraq that there aren’t enough to help fight the wildfires decimating parts of the West.

  19. How many of you commentors have served in the military? Malak obviously has. The National Guard was formed to provide a pool of trained men that can be called up in the event of armed conflict thereby reducing the number of troops in the standing army. The clause in the contract covering “stop loss” one signs when inlisting is very clear. If a soldier’s unit is deployed and his enlistment runs out while that unit is deployed the soldier can be retained under the stop loss provision. It does NOT keep a soldier “in perpetuity”. It was designed to prevent the loss of trained personnell while a unit is deployed and that is the only reason it is used. JS, they are not getting screwed, they are fullfilling the terms of their contract and they are not children. These are men and women, young, but not children and they deserve our respect.

  20. Uh Joe, your is statement “Were there an additional 40,000 people in uniform, the increased demands could be met without calling up these people.” is nonsensical.
    1) The US Army does not want two additional divisions, because it is NOT an additional 40,000 troops, it is an additional 80,000 troops, or more. There would be 38,000 troops in the divisions but an additional 40,000-plus in the supporting structures at Corps, Theatre Area Army, and Army-wide support. The US Army knows Congress will not fund the equipment, training, and personnel for an additional 80,000 troops.
    2) What about the Guard and Reserve? Are they, the 700,000 troops that make up the US Army, are they supposed to continue to draw a pay cheque and sit in their armories awaiting the invasion of Canada and Mexico? The Army is using them, and rightly so. Again, the Guard and Reserve represent the necessary troops for the continuing war on terror and the war in Iraq.
    3) Finally, where would these extra 80,000 troops come from? The Army IS making number for maintenance of strength, but it will be hard pressed to create two new divisions. Plus, it would be two years before the two new divisions could be deployed and the NEED for the divisions will be greatly diminished. In short, by the time they’re available they won’t be needed.

  21. Perhaps it is illegal after all. Here is an excerpt from the BBC’s story on the matter:

    The “stop-loss” policy was set up after the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

    The army has argued that the policy is vital to ensure the army is staffed by seasoned professionals at times of emergency.

    But Mr Doe’s lawyers say the US Congress has not officially declared war in Iraq or elsewhere, so the emergency provision enabling the army to forcibly extend soldiers’ contracts is illegal.

    “American citizens cannot constitutionally be required to serve involuntarily and indefinitely at whim,” the lawsuit says.

  22. It’s been said many times before but I’ll re-hash. Many people apparently consider the military to be a jobs program. It’s a great way to get free college education, technical training, and getting out of the shittown you grew up in. It’s just unfortunate those pesky ol’ wars, police actions, etc keep springing up.

  23. I’m no lawyer, but I would guess that the BBC has hit the nail on the head. The bottom line is that an enlistment is a contract promising a certain period of indentured (military) service and a certain period of time in the Individual Ready Reserve (after you “get out”) that usually equals a total of 8 years. Examples: 2 years of active duty and 6 as part of the Inactive Ready Reserve, or 4 and 4, or 5 and 3 (like I did), etc. As a member of the IRR you’re subject to recall based on the needs of the military.

    HOWEVER, it seems to me that if you have served your entire 8-year commitment, and have no IRR time left to serve, they shouldn’t be able to force you to stay in unless Congress has officially declared war.

    A technicality? Sure. But probably the MOST important part of this very peculiar contract, since it is the only thing that prevents the signing of an enlistment contract from becoming a never-ending lifetime of servitude once the Executive Branch determines that we are “at war… and have always been at war.” (To paraphrase Orwell in a particularly over-used manner.)

  24. Thanks for the kind thoughts, Mark and Dean. I did, indeed spend time in green. I would be honored to hoist a pint with you, if only in spirit. Cheers, and since Mark is a Marine, Semper Fi!

  25. I just can’t believe our young people are stupid enough to believe that when they sign up with the government to go to war, they will have anything at all to say about when, or if, they get to come back. Haven’t they heard about “taking the Queen’s sixpence”?

  26. Er, that’s “the King’s shilling”, that is.

  27. Let me add that anyone who thinks a grossly one-sided contract is a unique product of the U.S. government simply has no experience in contract law.

  28. This reminds me of (very few, fortunately) former colleagues who, despite having served in the Navy for several years, suddenly claimed to be conscientious objectors at the start of Desert Storm.

    Although their actions were within their rights, they were very dishonorable nonethless.

    I have no sympathy for servicemen who knowingly enlist to serve the needs of their Service, but then try to evade that service when it doesn’t suit them.


  29. It’s too bad for these guys that they aren’t female. Then they could just get knocked up if they don’t wanna go. How’s that for a loophole?

  30. On further reflection, I would have to say that I am against the formation of private sector armies. I think a better route may be to privatize the logistical side of the military. Get back to the idea of “Everybody Fights”. While I have a lot of respect for a unit like the French Foreign Legion, or the British Ghurkas, I do not think that janissaries of this nature (as distinct from mercenaries) would fit North American culture very well. And privatizing the non-combatant roles may eliminate the need for these odious stop-loss clauses.

  31. Malak, and others arguing the uniqueness of military enlistment vis a vis other job offers:

    I take it you are opposed to privatizing military, police, and emergency functions, then.

  32. I know a few guys managed to avoid the draft in Vietnam on the grounds that involuntary military servitude is only Constitutional during wartime, and Vietnam was never officially a war. Wouldn’t the same thing apply to Iraq?

  33. Can you imagine any other entity than government foisting such a bad deal on its contractee’s? Well, maybe the Mafia, but none other.

    “Catallarchy”, that Patri Friedman linked to, looks quite interesting.

  34. Arrrrr! I want to comment on the Rall piece up above, but the link is broken! Please fix!

  35. Let’s hack it and fix it ourselves. Joke, joke! Only a joke.

  36. Malak has served, and I’ll add my comments as an former active duty Marine and current Air Force reservist.
    The standard stop-loss clause works like this: the initial period of service is for 8 years. Four are active, and four are inactive. I learned the hard way that the military is serious about this second part, having been recalled from civilian life to the Marines for a few months in 2003. While the recruiters do not go out of their way to point this out, it is in the contract.
    One year is an unusual term, and I suspect that the inactive part of the contract was not part of this soldier’s deal. In that case, he is being held beyond the length of the enlistment, which is a different matter.
    I’d think the libertarians here would be clear on the distiction between legal and right. Stop-loss may be legal, but is shady at best.
    As for those who suggest that the soldier shut-up and do his job, I’ll tolerate that attitude as soon as I see them next to me in green.(Malak, of course, excepted)
    Finally, in response to the “fighting an immoral war” comments: Malek said it well. Military people volunteered to serve. The Iraq war is part of that service, but to suggest that all military people are in favor of it is simply wrong. Of course, we will still do the job-that’s what the military does, and one way it is different from the civilian sector.
    I agree with Malek that military people are among the finest I have ever met. The privilege of serving with the folks goes a long way towards making up for the deprivations of military life. As for other compensations-that’s one of the few occastions where “If you don’t know I can’t explain it.” makes sense.

  37. Rick, the last time I looked no one was twisting their arms to get them to sign on for this “bad” deal. I would think Libertarians would have little sympathy for this sort of complaint. As another poster said, it’s in their contract. A contract they freely entered into. Caveat emptor, dog face. And stand to!

  38. It may be legal, but like most everything else this administration has done, it’s totally disgusting.

  39. Of course those who say, “They signed a contract” blithely ignore that a private business which included a provision in its employment contract stipulating that, after the completion of the contract’s term, it could retain the employee in perpetuity and that any attempt by the employee to leave the job would result in their imprisonment and possible execution, would find itself laughed out of court.

  40. Malak

    They have already been doing that for quite while. That is why there are so many civilian contractors in Iraq doing jobs like feeding the troops.

    Even when I was in the Marines 69-77 a lot of our jobs were being handed over to civilians.

    When I was in the service a standard enlistment was 4 years with an addition 2 years of inactive reserve.

  41. Joe L,

    Point 1), Fair enough, I got the numbers wrong.

    2), Guard and Reserve troops are part time forces. They have lives, jobs, responsibilities in society that they have to leave behind when they’re called up. If there is no other choice, then they (and everyone who depends on them) have to put up with the damage, but damaging it is.

    3) (Which should be 3 & 4, because you made two points, so I’m calling this 3.1)), the additional troops would be hired, the costs of their recruitment and maintenance coming from the defense budge, which would be adjust to cover this cost.

    3.2), Do you actually think we won’t have enormous numbers of men fighting wars and post-wars for more than 2 years? Tell you what – we’re a hell of a lot more likely to need to spend money on that, than on sinking other countries’ navies.

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