How Bad Is America? You'd Destroy the Military By Drafting the Kids These Days…

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I know a lot of libertarian folks who dig Thomas Sowell, but his descent (ascent?) into cranky old mandom proceeds apace with this dyspeptic column about the general lack of military experience in the Home of the Brave.

The fact that we could use a larger army…does not mean that we can get it by adding warm bodies fresh from our politically correct schools and colleges, where standards and self-discipline are greatly lacking.

Just getting such people used to the idea of duty and discipline could be a major drain on the military, not to mention a plague of lawsuits from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union if the little darlings were not handled with kid gloves.

More than that, so many American institutions, from the Congress to the courts, have degenerated into irresponsible self-indulgence that the military is one of the very few institutions left with a sense of purpose for which it is prepared to make sacrifices.

The problem, for Sowell, is that nobody really has to sacrifice anything to wage this war, you see. Worse still, weeps Sowell, "Our colleges are blocking such people from taking R.O.T.C. by not allowing R.O.T.C. programs or military recruiters on campus in the first place."

I'm curious as to the number of colleges that actually block ROTC from campus; no student is forced to stay at a non-ROTC campus in any case, so if it's that important to them, they could transfer. But the oddest (and yet most predictable) thing about Sowell's column is that it starts off with a line that could be directed at George Bush and Dick Cheney and then devolves into a standard issue declamation against all the left-wing loonies who are dragging America down with their commie-symp Dr. Spock theories about letting it all hang out, baby:

There was a time when most members of Congress had served in the military, as had many people in the media. Today that is no longer true—and it shows in many ways.

Ignorance should at least create caution but it seems to do just the opposite. People with little knowledge about the military, and no personal experience, often have the most sweeping and unrealistic expectations, and even demands, to make on people whose lives are at risk in battle.

I dunno, but it seems like most (though certainly not all) the war heroes in Congress–John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, John Murtha, etc.–lean toward caution in Iraq in a way that the non-military types don't.

Whole column here.

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  1. The military have been criticized for everything from not protecting an Iraqi museum while being shot at to not being as nice to the terrorists imprisoned in Guantanamo as people in safe and comfortable editorial offices would like.

    Love the quote. The military has actually been criticized for locking innocents in Guantanamo and mistreating them while there, but Sowell pretends the criticism boils down to “why isn’t the military feeding Bin Laden’s master strategist bonbons and fresh strawberries?”

  2. not to play “catch the hypocrite”, but whilst Sowell bemoans the lack of various individuals’ military experience, I wonder if Sowell actually served himself

  3. That doesn’t matter, Biologist. Sowell belongs to the good generation of Americans. It’s only those born after 1970 or so who need a good lesson in what it means to be a Sowell-approved type of American.

  4. biologist –

    According to Wikipedia he served in the Marines as a photographer and pistol instructor.

  5. If more members of Congress had had to watch their buddies die with sucking chest wounds, perhaps they’d be a little more cautious about going to war.

  6. I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.

    –famous anti-American pussy Willian Tecumseh Sherman

  7. Assuming Wikipedia was right, Sowell was born in 1930 and joined the Marines shortly after high school; that would be around 1947 or 1948. I’m sure he saw lots of dangerous action as a Marine photographer during the lull between World War Two and Korea.

  8. In re Sowell’s discussion of the unavailability of ROTC: I don’t believe I’m being too paranoid when I say that I think there’s some sort of pro-ROTC meme being planted by somebody (similar to Gingrinch’s open declaration of memetic warfare concerning “WW III” the other week). In the last two weeks I’ve seen more discussion of ROTC, and particularly how it is “banned” by the evil education establishment, than I have in the last several years combined. I predict legislation will be introduced in Congress in the near future making ROTC programs compulsory for all schools receiving federal funds.

  9. I will add, however, that I actually think Sowell is correct in part – any sort of large scale conscription would cripple the US military.

  10. I thought i was being trained for the war when i took D.A.R.E classes?

  11. SR,

    ROTC isn’t really banned anywhere. Schools that don’t have ROTC programs like say Harvard; just don’t offer the ROTC classes. All that means is that the ROTC folks who go to Harvard take their ROTC classes at another campus, in the case of Harvard at MIT. It is not like people are getting into Harvard and then being turned away because they have an ROTC scholarship. That is what a lot of people on the right make it out to be and that is just not true.

    Really it is just a bunch of jackass lefty 60s leftovers that run these campuses making a pointless and stupid gesture. People on the right need to stop bitching about it and just ignore it. It is not worth having a fit over.

  12. Further, why is the model of all wars World War II? First, the country was not nearly as united during the war as the current fairytales about it suggest.

    You answered your question right there, John. The fairy tales depict the WWII period as a golden era of two parent families with respectful kids, who discussed politics at dinner promptly at 6 o’clock, attended church every sunday in fine clothes, wore fedoras everywhere, and whose men knew when to sacrifice for the good of the world, which they saved through their goodness.

  13. I don’t understand the end of Nick’s post. In reference to this quote:

    There was a time when most members of Congress had served in the military, as had many people in the media. Today that is no longer true — and it shows in many ways.

    Ignorance should at least create caution but it seems to do just the opposite. People with little knowledge about the military, and no personal experience, often have the most sweeping and unrealistic expectations, and even demands, to make on people whose lives are at risk in battle.

    Nick says:

    ?it starts off with a line that could be directed at George Bush and Dick Cheney and then devolves into a standard issue declamation against all the left-wing loonies who are dragging America down with their commie-symp Dr. Spock theories about letting it all hang out, baby

    and

    I dunno, but it seems like most (though certainly not all) the war heroes in Congress–John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, John Murtha, etc.–lean toward caution in Iraq in a way that the non-military types don’t.

    Nick’s analysis would seem to make sense only if the second paragraph of the Sowell quote meant the opposite of how I read it. It seems to me that there is no “devolution”, that it remains a screed against Bush and Cheney. Possibly the devolution is within the overall piece and not represented in the cited quote (but then why cite it?). As to Nick’s other point, I read Sowell to be in complete agreement with him, i.e. those who lack military service tend to have a more caviler attitude towards its application.

  14. Wesley Clark was smart enough to be the last American general to win a war.

    Remember winning, John?

  15. If antiwar forces want to muster middle class support, they better pray for rationing and a general economy of scarcity. Nothing motivates the lazy like the mandated inability to be lazy. Fear of an imminent draft might also shake up the sensibilities of the Complacency Class, whose inertia is about all that GWB is currently coasting on.

  16. I will add, however, that I actually think Sowell is correct in part – any sort of large scale conscription would cripple the US military.

    That sounds like a good reason to start a draft.

  17. What the fuck happened to Tom Sowell?

    Journalists and college students and any other primarily Democrat/anti-war groups are devoid of moral character?

    Has this dude heard about what happened to Stephen Vincent or Bob Woodruff?

    Hey, Nick: Maybe you could publish a column in the WaPo, NYT, or LAT calling on Thomas Sowell to apologize.

    If he didn’t do it, it would say a lot about his character.

  18. “This is not to say that there are no civilians who would be valuable additions to the military. Such people need not be drafted. Our colleges are blocking such people from taking R.O.T.C. by not allowing R.O.T.C. programs or military recruiters on campus in the first place.”

    Gee, a black conservative who has a problem with policies aimed at equal treatment for gays. Astounding.

  19. Why do these communitarian/nationalist types who sing the praises of compulsory servitude never mention that the military doesn’t want a draft? Niether I, nor anyone I’ve served with, believe the draft would be anything other than a disaster for the military.

  20. “Wesley Clark was smart enough to be the last American general to win a war.

    Remember winning, John?”

    Yeah Joe, Wesley Clark succeed in killing a few thousand Serbian civilians and making millions more completely miserable while doing almost no damage to the Serbian military. Only after the botched threat of a land invasion did the Serbs cave. Clark then allowed the KLA to return to Kosovo and perpetrate worse crimes against the resident Serbs in Kosovo than the Serbs had ever committed against the Albanians. We are now left with an endless U.N. protectorate in Kosovo that is neither independent nor a province of Serbia. Meanwhile, the Albanians are systematically terrorizing the remaining Serb population into leaving and running a covert war against the UNDP all the while turning Kosovo into the organized crime capital of Europe. At some point the Kosovars are going to tire of being under U.N. rule and revolt. Meanwhile there is no way to end the U.N. rule without giving Kosovo back to Serbia or giving Kosovo independence something China and Russia will never agree to in the Security Council. Basically Kosovo is a pot that will someday boil over into worse bloodshed than ever occurred under the Serbs. Yes, we did bomb the Serbs into submission, just like we took Baghdad and captured Saddam. But the U.S. certainly hasn’t won the peace in what looks every year to be a more and more ill conceived war. Granted, that was more Bill Clinton and Albright’s fault than Clark. But also don?t’ forget Clark got fired for lying to his superiors and what Hugh Shelton called “integrity issues”. Clark is a fool.

  21. “ROTC isn’t really banned anywhere”

    Yes, that’s why I put “banned” in scare quotes in my original post. However, ROTC advocates are characterizing it as being banned, see, e.g., http://www.projo.com/opinion/contributors/content/projo_20060713_13bern.149974d.html

    (“All that remains is for institutions’ trustees and key stakeholders to re-examine the longstanding bans on ROTC and to bring those policies more in line with mainstream national interests.”)

  22. I don’t have time this morning to search for it, but I’m sure I’ve read a translation of a Sumerian clay tablet that complained about the lack of self-discipline and respect for their elders of the modern generation of kids. That would have been about 5,000 years ago. Mr. Sowell is obviously working in a venerable tradition.

  23. Whoops. Mea Culpa, etc. I should have RTFA. That said, I contend that a draft is a bad idea in itself, not just because of today’s darn kids.

  24. Funny,
    In Thomas Sowell’s very interesting personal memoirs he recounts his days in the military. He mostly criticizes the stupidity of military discipline and the unthinking way it is applied and how he basically was a force of one that outsmarted them all during his time. Actually all in all it’s a great read though sadly I think Sowell has let his social conservatism lead him to great white shark jumping all over the place. His used to seem like such wise and sobering counsel. But his descent into reactionary right wing crank seemed to begin around the time that Bush the Younger entered office.

  25. I’m sure he saw lots of dangerous action as a Marine photographer

    I say that only those actually killed in action should have the right to make or suggest military policy.

  26. Sorry the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo was ended by a Democrat, John. So, how is the Serbian military acting in Kosovo these days? Oh, that’s right, the Serbian military isn’t in Kosovo.

    And for a “botched threat,” it certainly did work. I only wish the invasion of Iraq had been botched this well.

    As far as your predictive abilities – how are the discovery of Iraqi WMDs, the earthquake of democracy gripping the Middle East, and the end of the Iraqi insurgency coming along?

  27. The war is going very well, Joe. Here’s an excerpt from a story CNN had on July 24:

    BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — U.S. commanders in Baghdad are focused on cracking down on Iraqi death squads responsible for killing hundreds of citizens in the capital in recent months, a military spokesman said Monday.

    So we’re focusing on the eradication of the death squads in the one part of the country we supposedly have some control over. When your glorious victories start happening closer and closer to Central Command, that’s when you know the tides of war have turned in your favor.

  28. “Sorry the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo was ended by a Democrat, John. So, how is the Serbian military acting in Kosovo these days? Oh, that’s right, the Serbian military isn’t in Kosovo.”

    Joe,

    There were never any mass killings in Kosovo perpetraited by the Serbs. It was not true. Clinton launched the war on the basis of preventing another genocide only to find out there wasn’t any genocide going on. What is worse, where there were mass killings, it was the KLA who perpetraited them after the NATO kicked the Serbs out.

    Clinton and NATO launched a unilateral war without U.N. approval based on assumptions about the need to stop a genocide that turned out to be completely false. There have found more WMDs in Iraq than there were murdered Albanians in Kosovo.

  29. The problem with the ‘ethnic cleansing’ assertion is that the number of people killed on both sides of the Kosovo war were estimated between 2 and 4 thousand. This was the number killed by the Serbians *and* the KLA, who were equally vicious (and didn’t they go on to have ties with other dangerous Islamic groups, or had ties before?). This number was produced during a two year span *before* the UN got involved. That’s not quite ethnic cleansing. The really high number of deaths happened after the bombing campaign started and the fleeing Albanians got picked off by Serbian troops when no ground support was provided by UN forces. So, that victory, if indeed a victory, is of dubious distinction.

  30. oops, I meant to say NATO, not UN.

  31. Sowell is a veteran of the Korean War, according to this biography. Although even if he had served during peacetime, sheesh; it wouldn’t have been his fault a war didn’t break out. (This also applies to peacetime veteran Donald Rumsfeld.)
    The larger problem with Sowell’s column is that the “time when most members of Congress has served in the military, as had many people in the media” was a short-lived byproduct of the draft of the 1940s and 1950s. Before 1939, the U.S. army was small and although I don’t have statistics, I bet that veterans in public life were not much more common than today. For example, only one of the six presidents in office during our declared wars was a real veteran, namely McKinley; Madison, Polk, Wilson, and FDR were non-veterans, and Lincoln might as well have been. McKinley was a veteran of the Civil War, of course, which, like World War II, produced a generation of ex-soldier politicians that eventually died out. Every President from 1869 to 1901, except Cleveland, was a Civil War veteran, but after the unique case of Theodore Roosevelt, a Spanish-American war veteran, we had six non-veteran Presidents in a row (Taft through FDR), followed by another unique case (Truman of World War I), then the World War II gang. If Clinton and Bush begin another string of non-veteran Presidents, we shouldn’t be shocked.

  32. It’s a shame to see Sowell degenerating. Some of his older writings were so good. He had a very concise pedantic and engaging way of illuminating the folly of leftist thought. His book “vision of the anointed” is on my top 10.

    nmg

  33. What the frick is a “mandom”?

    Now, does mean I need to regurgitate my drink?

  34. kirkey & John,
    “Ethnic cleansing” doesn’t necessarily mean “killing.” The Serbs were trying to ethnically cleanse Kosovo by forcing the Albanians from their homes and marching them toward the borders at gunpoint. The only reason they weren’t slaughtered is because the Serbs knew we were watching and preparing to bomb them. Remember what happened at Srebrenica, when the Serbs knew we wouldn’t do a thing?

  35. One major problem with a draft nowadays is that the many draftees would be deeply in debt, due to college loans and credit cards.

  36. Since when isn’t Bush II a veteran? He was in the Air National Guard, right? He never fought in a war, and certainly Guard service with no active duty isn’t glorious, especially when done to avoid going to Vietnam. But he was in the military.

  37. John,

    They’ve been uncovering the mass graves in Kosovo for sever years. Here’s the story of one.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/473017.stm

  38. As usual, John manages to display both a stunning lack of real facts, and an encyclopedic knowledge of bullshit put out by right wing spin doctors.

    Google “mass graves Kosovo,” and you find links from groups like Amnesty International reporting on the work done exhuming the mass graves, as well as links from sundry denialist groups claiming that the killings never happened. You will also note a remarkable credibility gap between those reporting the existence and location of the graves, such as the technicians who worked there, and those denying their existence. And, as usual, John manages to know only about the information provided by the least credible actors.

  39. University administrations tossing ROTC classes off-campus is an artifact of anti-war protest of the Viet Nam era. The refusal to allow military recruiters is of more recent vintage. The schools protesting the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that barred recruiters lost in the SCOTUS.* I don’t care what any private university decides on these issues, but when a government-owned institution declines to participate in these programs, while still accepting buckets of federal cash, I call hypocrisy.

    The large state universities, aka the Land Grant Colleges, were specifically charged with the training of military officers as part of the rationale behind transferring federal land to the states to finance their founding and/or expansion. The relevant legislation is the Morrill Act of 1862. Absent this defense-related activity, federal aid to higher education should have been deemed unconstitutional. The same scam was trotted out in the 1950s to justify aid to K-12 schools run by state and local government. That was the National Defense Education Act, passed after Sputnik went into orbit.

    Of course, as a libertarian I’m opposed to both federal and state spending on higher education. 🙂

    Drink up!

    Kevin

    *Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic Institutional Rights, Inc.

  40. “I don’t care what any private university decides on these issues, but when a government-owned institution declines to participate in these programs while still accepting buckets of federal cash, I call hypocrisy”
    Of course, this was the crux of the Rumsfeld v. FAIR case- PRIVATE schools that took large amounts of federal aid, yet refused military recruiters. Why would the analysis be different if the university is private or public. They are both taking lot of tax dollars.

  41. I’m of two minds on this issue. On the one hand, compulsory government service seems rather obviously un-libertarian. On the other, however, our military is one of the few things that the federal government *should* be doing, and the notion that most Americans should play a part in our national defense at some point in their lives has appeal on several levels. Switzerland is a good example of this.

    Of course, I favor a non-imperialistic, non-human rights related, non-interventionist foreign policy, so our military wouldn’t get much of a workout in my version of utopia. The rest of the world would largely go on killing each other indiscriminately without any sort of U.S. involvement.

  42. I’ve long been a respectful admirer of Sowell, but his book I struggled with years ago, comparing those with a constrained vision with those with an unconstrained vision, still gives me a twinge of a headache just recalling it.
    Is there a language called “textbookese”? Should those who speak it be required to “Speak English for service” or be deported?

  43. ChrisO,
    kwais needs to give you a little tutorial about the military and US foreign policy.

  44. Karen,

    I’m not familiar with the Sumerian tablets, but there is a quote from Socrates along those lines as well, often cited by cultural optimists. What they seem to forget is that he said it as the Greek civilization was collapsing, ripe to be conquered by Macedon but a generation later.

    Perhaps concerns about youth not meeting the standards of previous generations shouldn’t be summarily dismissed as “cranky old manism”…

  45. Geof:

    A private uni or college could, theoretically, turn down the tax funds. That’s the Hillsdale model. It may well be that, once any particular private school runs the numbers, it will find that it either can’t stay open or would have to seriously scale back its programs once it leaves the federal teat.

    Some of the leading schools in the FAIR group, like Harvard, are the best endowed, and ought to be able to take the hit. I read that Harvard blinked and let recruiters back on campus because they were in danger of losing $400 million in federal funds. Compare that to the schools $22 billion+ endowment.

    If a Land Grant College refused recruiters, I guess it could pay back the treasury for the price of the land it occupies, adjusted for inflation and interest. 🙂

    Kevin

  46. Joseph and John,

    You’re arguing about nothing or rather the reasons for the wars, not the “winning” of them. Franks was just as victorious as Clark as long as one remembers van Creveld’s caution about overestimating the significance of victories over vastly inferior opponents – “when an elephant steps on an ant, the ant will be crushed”.

    Let an American general win a war against a competent enemy and then you can be impressed, until then I’d let it go. As it is, just about any other general could have done as well as Clark or Franks.

    Tschussie!

  47. Dern yer dern skin, don’t nobody done know what the frack a ‘mandom’ is?

    “gugglerorrr” (sound of drinking coming up).

  48. Here’s the text of an e-mail I sent to Thomas Sowell. I since learned here that he was a photograper in the Korean war same as Al Gore in Vietnam.

    I came to this site after reading your column in the IBD. You say, “People with little knowledge about the military, and no personal experience, often have the most sweeping and unrealistic expectations, and even demands, to make on people whose lives are at risk in battle.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry because all that came to mind were the people, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Pearl, and Bush.

    Perhaps you have experience in the military but I could not find it in the net. Please enlighten me with your service.

    You neglect to recognize that to have or not have a draft is not the issue. The issue is using a right sized military in a mission it was not designed for. Afghanistan was the right war but unfortunately not approached with the required vigor. Your column becomes irrelevant if you would admit that the Iraq incursion was a mistake and a misuse of our military, not unlike Vietnam in that respect. I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me how our “loss” of the Vietnam war affected the security of the US just as I am waiting for someone to explain how invading Iraq improved the security of the US.

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