Last time there was a national call to resume conscription, it came from former Marine and zillion-term Congressman Charles Rangel (left), who fought on the famous Hill 902 during the Korean War.
Rangel’s bill to do so, introduced on the eve of the 2003 Iraq invasion, was mostly meant to highlight the still-deep inequity between the people who decide to start wars and those who die in them. (The book at right is only one of many others, including by Civil War historian David Williams and Vietnam-War sociologist Christian Appy, whose titles are nearly identical to that World War I-themed volume.) But the buzz this week is about a piece in Armed Forces Journal by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, author of the iconic 2006 “A Failure in Generalship” (a blast at Rumsfeld first highlighted for me by Capt. Luis Montalvan). Yingling has kept up the pressure ever since, as noted last month by Tom Ricks in his Foreign Policy blog The Best Defense.)
In the new piece, Yingling gives a brief history of the Founding Fathers’ view of how war would be conducted before noting:
Many of the difficulties in civil-military relations today are attributable to our departure from the elegant system of checks and balances established in the Constitution. Congress has all but abdicated many of its war powers, including raising forces, confirming the appointment of officers, providing oversight to operations and declaring war. This has made the U.S. weaker by allowing hasty, ill-considered and poorly supported executive actions to imperil national security. The remedy for these failures requires not innovation, but rather a return to the time-tested principles of America’s founding.
And part of that return, Yingling adds, is a full return to the citizen soldier.
The U.S. should therefore abandon the all-volunteer military and return to our historic reliance on citizen soldiers and conscription to wage protracted war. This approach proved successful in both world wars and offers several advantages over the all-volunteer military. First and most important, this approach demands popular participation in national security decisions and provides Congress with powerful incentives to reassert its war powers. Unlike the all-volunteer force, a conscripted force of citizen soldiers would ensure that the burdens of war are felt equally in every community in America. Second, this approach provides the means to expand the Army to a sufficient size to meet its commitments. Unlike the all-volunteer force, a conscripted force would not rely on stop-loss policies or an endless cycle of year-on, year-off deployments of overstressed and exhausted forces. Third, conscription enables the military to be more discriminating in selecting those with the skills and attributes most required to fight today’s wars. Unlike the all-volunteer force, a conscripted force would not rely on exorbitant bonuses and reduced enlistment standards to fill its ranks. Finally, this approach would be less expensive. Unlike the world wars of the 20th century, today’s dangers will not pass quickly, allowing for a return to a smaller and less expensive military establishment. Imposing fiscal discipline on the Pentagon would not only strengthen America’s depleted finances, but also constrain executive ambitions for adventures abroad and congressional appetites for pork-barrel projects at home.
Yingling does not, for all his historical spin, acknowledge that the Founding Fathers also considered a place for conscientious objectors, nor does he think of military conscription in the context of a broader national service requirement as others have done. I just deleted my own comment on where I stand on this, though you might be able to guess.
It can be argued that “A Failure of Generalship” was incredibly influential (see the “surge.”). Will this one be? Will it at least create a debate that lives in more hearts than his, ours and a handful of historians and military families?