In 1973 the United States military discontinued conscription, which had been the prevailing means for filling the ranks for more than three decades, and implemented the All-volunteer Force (AVF). Though hailed by the Nixon Administration as the military of the future, which would provide a more advanced, capable and willing fighting force, the AVF has instead created a subculture within the U.S. and created an ever-increasing gap in civil-military relations. Through the use of primary and secondary sources and statistical analysis, this thesis provides evidence for the conclusion that the AVF has been a failure in that the only promise maintained has been the country’s ability to field more capable soldiers. On every other front it has failed. The recommendations in this thesis to help mitigate or reverse the negative consequences of the AVF’s more than four decades are to create a Universal Civic Service and decrease the active-duty force, concentrating more on diplomacy through the State Department than use of military force.
“Today, the people have by-and-large tuned out war or accept it as someone else’s concern,” Andrew J. Bacevich, April 21, 2016
The implementation of the all-volunteer military on June 30, 1973, in response to Vietnam, has created a subculture within the United States that no longer socially represents the nation at large and has led to a divide between the military and civilian society. Furthermore, the reliance on an ever-shrinking pool of recruits has also helped create an ideological “warrior class” that has negatively impacted civil-military relations and the domestic social structure within the United States while providing a new military political cleavage.
In a 2011 interview with the Washington Post, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen concluded that “America doesn’t know its military and the United States military doesn’t know America.” In another article for the Washington Post in 2011, about the disconnect between the military and civilian populations, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was quoted just before his retirement as saying that “he worried that the wars have remained an ‘abstraction’ for most Americans – a ‘distant unpleasant series of news items that does not affect them personally.’” In a Pew Research Center study conducted in 2011, roughly 96 percent of veterans who served on active-duty in the post-9/11 military said they were proud to serve. The research center conducted another survey in 2013, but this time asking the civilian population about how they perceived the military. Fully 91 percent of Americans who were surveyed said they “felt proud of the soldiers who have served in the military in the post-9/11 era,” and roughly 75 percent of those surveyed said they personally thanked a post-9/11 era veteran or service member. Therefore, it’s reasonable to conclude that the civilian population supports the military and that those serving in the military are proud to serve. But, the divide between civil-military relations continues to grow. Recent poll numbers and statistical analysis, while not conclusive, provide great insight into many of the reasons for the civil-military divide, which include among other things a civilian population willing to mythologize the soldier whose sacrifice they’re no longer willing or expected to make.
“This growing gap has roots in a watershed event: the elimination of the draft in 1973 following the contentious years of the Vietnam War.” Since 9/11, roughly .5 percent of the American population has served on active duty while military participation was .8 percent during the Gulf War – all post military draft. When those percentages are compared to Vietnam, 1.8 percent, the Korean War, 2 percent, and World War II, 9 percent, the reason for the growing disconnect between civil-military relations starts to become more clear. The foreign policy decisions of the United States that calls for armed conflict no longer affects the number of American citizens it had previous to the Vietnam War. But, an even more disproportionate tale of those who served begins to develop more fully when the statistics delve into the service of draft-eligible men beginning with World War II.
Christian Appy, a Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts, wrote, “During World War II virtually all young, able-bodied men entered the service – some 12 million. Personal connections to the military permeated society regardless of class, race, or gender.” As the Pew Research statistics indicate there was a drop-off in military participation from World War II to the Korean War; however, as Appy explains “roughly 70 percent of the draft-age population of men served in the military,” during the Korean War, but he further asserts, “from the 1950s to the 1960s, military service became less and less universal.” Vietnam represented “less than 10 percent of America’s male baby boomers,” or “2.5 million men of that generation.” So, it’s a safe assumption that Appy’s dismay at the dwindling participation in the military from World War II to Vietnam would find equal consternation in the lack of participation in the post-9/11 military serving in the nation’s longest continued conflict, with no conclusion in sight, but already in its 15th year.
Appy’s 1993 critique of the Vietnam War focuses primarily on the plight of the working-class soldier and the disparity between the proportion of blue collar deaths to white collar participation and deaths; but, his quote about the dwindling participation by the American population in the country’s war is still apt to describe the continuing trend of reliance on the few to wage the nation’s wars when he wrote, “What had been, in the 1940s, an experience shared by the vast majority gradually became the experience of a distinct minority.”
Though understanding the proportion of the population that served in the nation’s wars is a good indicator of how military conflicts affect the nation, it’s equally important to understand the impact war has had on families and friends, which, ultimately, ties into the tightening or loosening of civil-military relations. Seventy-seven percent of adults over 50 in a Pew Research study said “that they had a spouse, parent, sibling or child who had served in the military.” But, between the ages 30 and 49 the number is 57 percent and for those under the age of 29 only 33 percent had family members in the military. In the same study, roughly half of Americans polled said the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had little to no impact on their lives.
Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are aware of the disinterest or lack of understanding of the military by the civilian population. Both civilians and the military agree on this point; in fact, time and again throughout the most recent surveys conducted by Gallup, Pew Research etc., veterans, active-duty military and civilians essentially agree that there is a divide, despite public support. Eighty-four percent “of post-9/11 veterans say the public does not understand well or at all the problems that those in the military face.” Seventy-six percent of the pre-9/11 veterans agree with that assessment whereas 71 percent of the public agrees as well. Ultimately, there are many reasons for the growing divide between civil-military relations that as Richard C. Atkinson, a former president and regent of the University of California system, believes has resulted in military members becoming “a separate tribe in the republic.” Though as with most topics civil-military relations is a nuanced subject, the divide began in earnest with the implementation of the All-Volunteer military in 1973.
Andrew Bacevich, a Professor Emeritus of International Relations and History at Boston University and a retired United States Army colonel, explained in his 2005 critique of America’s foreign policy in his book The New American Militarism that until Vietnam “citizenship and military service remained intimately connected.” Furthermore, the late Morris Janowitz, a prominent sociologist at the University of Michigan who helped found the study of military sociology, asserted in 1974 that prior to Vietnam and the end of conscription with the implementation of the AVF, “Military service emerged as a hallmark of citizenship and citizenship as the hallmark of political democracy.”
However, with the creation of the All-Volunteer Military, which stemmed from the unpopular conflict in Southeast Asia, what had once been a universal example of citizenship and the bridge between the military and civilians – the United States reliance on volunteers and conscripts – had become an option rather than an obligation. This option began with the Vietnam War through deferments and began in mass with the AVF. In a later chapter, this thesis will discuss the impact AVF had on future policy makers and those with the power to deploy the United States Armed Forces.
Though Bacevich’s quote broadly summarizes the essence of the thesis, Pew Research statistics and Bacevich and Janowitz’s summations of the beginning of the separation of military service from civilian life provides an adequate start point and foundation for the argument that the All-Volunteer military, as promised in 1973, hasn’t lived up to its promises. Janowitz discussed a decade before his 1974 article about the sociopolitical consequences of AVF in a collection of essays titled The New Military: Changing Patterns of Organization, which describes how the military was losing its warrior mindset and instead adopting a more “constabulary” mindset such as the peacekeeping Swedes and other Northern European nations. However, Vietnam and the creation of AVF as the result of the Vietnam War changed Janowitz’s perception along with many of the other scholars who wrote The New Military essays. Of course, the topic is more nuanced, and there is more to the story than simply an unpopular war that resulted in a military system that no longer socially represents the citizens of the United States. Ultimately, the goal of this thesis is to provide an obvious correlation between the Vietnam War, creation of the AVF and the change in U.S. foreign policy as a direct result of the AVF and how it has negatively impacted civil-military relations. But, simply critiquing failed U.S. foreign policy as a direct result of the AVF would provide no positive benefit without the inclusion of potential solutions to the problems currently plaguing the U.S. military and the burden placed on U.S. service members, which results in an ever-increasing gulf in civil-military relations. This thesis is an attempt to provide remedies to a topic of growing importance that if left in its current state could potentially lead to even more negative consequences than those already mentioned in the previous paragraphs.
The persistent use of military force as a means of foreign policy coupled with the decline in the civic/military obligation by a large majority of the U.S. population has led to the dependency on a small minority of military recruits to represent the majority in war and on the home front. An Associated Press-GfK poll conducted in 2014 compared to a similarly conducted poll in 1984 showed a decrease by 13 percent in the perceived importance of “six civic activities: voting, volunteering, serving on a jury, reporting crime, knowing English and being informed about the news and other public issues.” Though military service in the United States isn’t necessarily considered a civic obligation, in many nations throughout the world it is. The poll illustrates that there is an increasing lack of interest in what was once perceived as the hallmarks of being a United States citizen. It would appear there’s a corollary between disinterest in civic duties and participation in the military.
A lack of civic obligation doesn’t necessarily correspond to the AVF implementation in 1973, but the shift in attitude of the American population toward civic obligation does induce more than coincidental curiosity when the trends both spiral downward. For instance, an American Bar Association article found that those aged 25 or under were less likely to vote and that 28 of the 50 states surveyed received failing grades in American History and social studies. So, though this thesis doesn’t focus on the American population’s growing lack of interest in social studies and civics, it is an important reminder that some could argue that generational attitudes could, though perhaps in no measurable terms, provide some of the reason for the apparent lack of interest in serving in the United States military.
This thesis will posit that the growing burden on the few who serve, the creation of a post-Vietnam AVF and the widening gap in civil-military relation is the result of what some could call a series of unfortunate albeit preventable events. The research presented here attempt to connect the dots between the creation of the AVF and increase in military intervention worldwide by the United States, which, ultimately, has led to the aforementioned ever-growing, negative consequences.
Furthermore, the research will provide potential solutions for reversing the current trajectory, shrinking the gap between civilians and the military, decreasing the use of military might before using diplomatic means and increasing the overall civic obligation of the American people. However, before advocating any changes to the current military structure and advocating for a system of universal civic service it’s important to understand the historical relationship between the military and the civilian administrations that they served.
The History of U.S. Civil-Military Relations
“Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few,” – James Madison, April 20, 1795
For most of United States history, the Administrations in Washington D.C. “gauged the size and capabilities of America’s armed services according to the security tasks immediately at hand.” Andrew Bacevich explained in The New American Militarism that throughout the nation’s history the status quo was to maintain a military large enough to meet wartime demands, but that during peacetime the U.S. would sustain a small professional military. “For example, the million-man Union Army of 1865 shrank within a year to a mere fifty-seven thousand and within another five years was reduced to fewer than thirty thousand.” Having defeated the professional Army of England to secure Independence, the nation’s Founders understood the perils of maintaining a large standing professional army. Furthermore, the Founders understood the importance of civilian control of military leadership.
The U.S. Constitution is clear in Article II, Section 2 that the President of the United States was to act as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. Furthermore, the Congress would maintain the authority in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution the right to declare war and raise a military. It’s clear that the framers of the Constitution were wary of putting the power of waging war in one branch of the government, instead relying on a system of checks and balances to ensure that military force was used only in the defense of the United States of America. The implementation of the AVF in 1973 signaled “the shift from a military establishment based on the mobilization of civilians in time of war to a ‘force in being’ employing trained personnel for immediate military tasks, especially that of deterrence.” Not only did the AVF create a large standing military, which destroyed two hundred years of precedence set by the Founders, but it also marked a shift in attitudes in the government that relied more heavily on the executive power of the Commander-in-Chief to utilize that professional force as needed, circumventing Congressional power to wage war.
The Father of the Constitution James Madison warned the Constitutional Convention in June of 1787 about “the dangers of a permanent army,” when he said, “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty.” Madison further argued that, “The means of defense against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.” Madison, an advocate for a strong central government and author of the Federalist papers, wasn’t alone among the Founders in his “negative feelings” about a standing army.
Christopher Hamner, a Professor of History at George Mason University, wrote that there was a “near-universal” negative feeling by the founding generation toward a standing army that in 18th century America was seen as a nursery “of vice,” “dangerous,” and “the grand engine of despotism.” Samuel Adams wrote in 1776 that professional armies were a danger to liberty and the people because “soldiers were likely to consider themselves separate from the populace, to become more attached to their officers than their government, and to be conditioned to obey commands unthinkingly.” Notwithstanding the last assertion because the current military is regarded historically as the nation’s most educated, Adam’s description is eerily reminiscent of the current military, and its separation from the American population.
American Revolutionaries developed their negative attitude toward a standing military through decades of perceived British oppression and the historical knowledge of past civilizations’ abuses using large standing armies such as the Romans. “Throughout history, the threat of military coup – governments deposed from within by the very forces raised to protect them – has been a frequent concern.” Though there is little historical evidence of a military coup d’état within the U.S. government, there is ample evidence in other civilizations that at a time were largely considered the most powerful nation such as the United States is today.
In 1783, there was an attempt or proposed attempt by a group of Continental Army officers who were unhappy with the central government’s inability to pay soldiers to depose of Congress and seize control, although most historians believe it was never “a realistic possibility.” Since the nation’s founding, there has been in the preceding centuries examples of once great nations succumbing to military coups, so the Founders’ hesitation or disdain toward standing armies is justified. A nation that prides itself on adhering to the wisdom set forth by the country’s Founding Fathers currently finds itself in contradiction with its modern military, often perceived as history’s greatest and most capable fighting force. The decision by Administrations to abandon centuries of long-standing tradition didn’t occur instantly but rather through a series of foreign policy decisions intended to widen the nation’s international reach.
Andrew Bacevich argues that the turning point in historical use of force by the United States for anything other than defense began in earnest with Woodrow Wilson’s Administration and U.S. involvement in World War I. “For Wilson, reflecting a long-standing but then still vigorous American tradition, the resort to arms could for the United States never be more than an expedient, a temporary measure reluctantly employed, not a permanent expression of the nation’s character.” Though Wilson was determined for the United States to stay neutral and promised to do so when he ran for president, a series of events to include the sinking of the British ocean liner Lusitania, which killed 128 Americans, and the continued use of submarines by the Germany Navy against American ships led Wilson to asked Congress on April 2, 1917 to declare war on Germany.
Wilson argued before Congress that “the world must be made safe for democracy,” and thus the beginning of the U.S. use of military force in an effort to bring about democracy to the rest of the world. On April 4 the Senate approved the use of force, and on April 6 the House concurred; the United States later declared war on German ally Austria-Hungry on Dec. 7, 1917. Though Congress approved Wilson’s request to go to war, many in the United States were still adamantly opposed to getting involved in European problems.
“Senator Robert M. La Follette, a stalwart progressive from Wisconsin, warned Americans that ‘under a pretext of carrying democracy to the rest of the world,’ Woodrow Wilson was actually doing ‘more to undermine and destroy democracy in the United States than it will be possible for us as a Nation to repair in a generation.” Elder son of President William H. Taft and Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft agreed with his senatorial college when he wrote, “’Frankly, the American people don’t want to rule the world,’ he said, ‘and we are not equipped to do it. Such imperialism is wholly foreign to our ideals of democracy and freedom. It is not our manifest destiny or our national destiny.’”
It is important to note that Wilson had initially called on American citizens to be “impartial in thought as well as in action,” in 1914 as war broke out in Europe. Wilson was a highly educated Progressive who graduate from Princeton University in 1879 and the University of Virginia Law School in 1880, and he also serve as Princeton faculty and eventually president from 1902 to 1910. In a few short years, Wilson went from New Jersey governor to the White House, and is often considered the most educated president in U.S. history. Though knowledgeable of the nation’s tradition of neutrality, President Wilson’s two Administrations erased the United State’s longstanding emphasis on a small military and neutrality, shifting toward our modern day version of a force for democracy. Wilson began to believe after the United State’s entrance into World War I that the U.S. could lead the world into a peaceful democracy as advocated in his Fourteen Points speech to a joint session of Congress on Jan. 8, 1918.
Wilson said on Jan. 8, 1918 that, “We entered this war because violations of right had occurred which touched us to the quick and made the life of our people impossible unless they were corrected and the world secure once for all against their recurrence.” Wilson continued on about creating a world in which “every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by the other peoples of the world as against force and selfish aggression.” Wilson’s vision was “immediately hailed in the United States and Allied nations, and even by Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, as a landmark of enlightenment in international relations.” Though his Fourteen Points, which eventually became the League of Nations, was highly regarded by foreign and domestic entities alike, it highlighted a new role for the United States in world politics, which was in stark contrast to the nation’s longstanding neutrality.
“All the peoples of the world are in effect partners in this interest, and for our own part we see very clearly that unless justice be done to others it will not be done to us. The programme of the world’s peace, therefore, is our programme; and that programme, the only possible programme, as we see it is this,” and Wilson continues with his Fourteen Points. Eight of the points concern “specific territorial issues among the combatant nations. Five of the other six concerned general principles for a peaceful world … [and] the fourteenth point proposed what was to become the League of Nations to guarantee the ‘political independence and territorial integrity [of] great and small states alike.’” Unfortunately, though the League of Nations gained traction for a short period of time in the United States, despite Wilson’s best effort, Congress refused to allow the U.S. entrance into the organization it created.
Wilson’s ideal world where the U.S. led the effort to democratize nations large and small never made it out of a Republican controlled Congress that was fearful “of involvement in Europe’s tangled politics.” Countries such as the United Kingdom and France adopted the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations, but, though it had broad support at home, the United States Congress instead elected to revert to its long-standing isolationism and insistence on not meddling in affairs outside of the Western Hemisphere. The disdain between Wilson and Republican leader Senator Henry Cabot Lodge from Massachusetts didn’t help the cause any, but, ultimately, the failure to enter into the league was “motivated by Republican concerns that the League would commit the United States to an expensive organization that would reduce the United State’s ability to defend its own interest.” Warren Harding was elected President 9 months after the United States Senate voted, 49-35, against entering into the League of Nations. Harding was a Republican who ran on a platform opposing U.S. participation in the League.
And so the United States continued its pre-World War I policy by disbanding an army that prior to the war was smaller than that of Portugal’s at roughly 300,000 and had risen to more than 2 million strong a mere 19 months later. The draw down from Wilson’s war followed a familiar path that the United States had taken in every conflict since the U.S. Revolution. So, though Wilson’s policies in the early part of the 20th century failed to move America forward as a world leader, he laid the foundation for future generations of leaders who believe in using military might to enact foreign policy, completely destroying the status quo of isolationism.
Many decades later the implementation of the AVF and rise of the neo-Conservative ideology that sprung out of the tumultuous 1960s led by Commentary magazine editor Norman Podhoretz helped form the modern variation of Wilsonian policies. Bacevich explains in The New American Militarism, the rise of the neo-Conservatives didn’t take root overnight and instead found its footing with the election of President George W. Bush. But, the ultimate argument of this thesis is that the AVF isn’t sustainable and provides an undue burden on the few who serve, which, ultimately, leads to a disconnect in civil-military relations that if left unchecked could cause irrevocable damage to not only those service members but to the country as a whole. Therefore, it’s imperative to understand what preceded the AVF, why it was implemented, and, eventually, how the AVF fostered an environment that allowed U.S. policy makers to revert to the Wilsonian idea of the United States as the ambassador of freedom and purveyor of democracy throughout the world.
The Military Draft
“Conscription operated as a positive element in civil control because it resulted in the massive inflow and outflow of civilians through the armed services. Citizen-soldiers as enlisted personnel helped maintain linkages between civilian sectors and the military and were part of the long-term efforts to ‘civilianize’ the military” – Morris Janowitz, “The All-Volunteer Military as a ‘Sociopolitical’ Problem”
On Sept. 16, 1940, as Hitler’s army swept through Europe and the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy laid waste to the militaries of the Pacific, Congress passed the Burke-Wadsworth Act, which signaled the United States first peacetime draft, creating what is now known as the Selective Service System and then more commonly known as the Selective Training and Service Act. The Roosevelt administration had in previous years relied on the United States’ most preferred method of foreign policy, neutrality. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and others began advocating for military preparedness as it became apparent that war would come to the United States in one form or another. Stimson drew the first Selective Service numbers from a glass bowl merely a month after Congress had approved the peacetime draft. Initially, men between the ages of 21 and 36 were registered; however, though roughly 20 million men were eligible only half were qualified to serve due to low literacy rates and health concerns.
But, once the United States entered into World War II by declaring war on Imperial Japan after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 and Germany and the other Axis Powers shortly thereafter, the U.S. increased the draft eligible age to 37. However, despite the shortage in 1942 black men were still not drafted due to racist assumptions of their inability to perform to standard. But, merely a year later, black men were drafted, though there was a limitation on the number and types of jobs they could perform.
Interestingly, though there was a great need for manpower, the Selective Service did and still does grant “conscientious objector” status to those with “sincerity of belief in religious teachings combined with a profound moral aversion to war.” Quakers accounted for the bulk of those granted “conscientious objector” status, but, according to records, 75 percent of Quakers drafted during World War II elected to serve anyway. One of the many arguments against a military draft is imposing the federal government’s will over a person’s religious right to object to violence or in the case of Quakers and other religions such as Jehovah’s Witnesses to partake in any sort of governmentally mandated program. Unfortunately, there were roughly 6,000 men who were imprisoned for not registering for the draft for which the vast majority were Jehovah’s Witnesses. So, some of the reservations about a military draft are valid, but the political climate of the 21st century is vastly different than in the 1940s and much more inclusive and tolerant of even the most obscure religious beliefs.
The Selective Service’s mission statement today expresses the desire “to manage alternative service for men classified as conscientious objectors,” but “with only a few exceptions. All male U.S. citizens and male immigrants residing in the United States who are ages 18 through 25,” are still expected to register for the Selective Service, despite the agency, essentially, amounting to much of nothing due to the All-volunteer military. In total, during World War II, 34 million men throughout the country registered for the draft, but only 10 million served during the country’s 4 years of war. However, to U.S. policy makers it had become apparent after the bloodies war in history that the U.S., as a world superpower, could no longer afford to rely on a military that consisted solely on volunteers and a small corps of regulars, making in their estimations a peacetime draft a necessity.
It’s important to understand that the United States had used a military draft in past wars beginning with the Civil War, during World War I and eventually World War II, but what made the Selective Training and Service Act so different was that it was implemented during peacetime. The Second World War, though debatable, began Sept. 1, 1939 when the world was introduced to Germany’s Blitzkrieg as German soldiers swept through Poland with relative easy. Though the most logical start date is July 7, 1937 when Japan, Germany’s ally, began its conquest of Asia by invading China. So, the writing was on the wall. Though the U.S. continued its historical policy of neutrality at the end of World War I, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Administration, with lessons learned from the War to End All Wars, knew that war would come to the United States; it was inevitable, so the nation’s first peacetime draft was simply a proactive step at readying the nation for war.
Initially, the Selective Training and Service Act wasn’t intended to continue on after World War II, so Congress let it expire in March of 1947. But, after World War II the United States and the Soviet Union were left as the world’s two superpowers and as the Cold War ramped up it became imperative for the Truman Administration to have the appropriate access to manpower as the President and Department of Defense saw fit. No longer the mighty neutral power that only wielded its influence in the Western Hemisphere, the United States “needed to uphold its global commitments,” according to the Truman Administration, so it sought an extension of the Selective Service Act, which Congress obliged by reenacting it in June of 1948 for two years. Volunteers in record numbers entered the military in the late 1940s, so the SSS was put on hold as Congress was set to let the Act expire in June of 1950.
But, the Korean War broke out and the Selective Service System was reauthorized as the Universal Military Training and Service Act in 1951. Roughly 1.5 million men were drafted to support the Korean War and an additional 1.5 million were drafted throughout the 1950s and start of the 1960s. The United States military had the manpower it felt necessary to wage a potential war with the Soviet Union; but, as the United States role shifted from advisors in Vietnam to full-on combatants, the Selective Service System was scrutinized as the amount of deferments to wealthy children and those in high academic standing began to rise along with the death tolls of the working-class soldiers.
Christian Appy wrote in his Working-class Soldiers that, “Class, not geography, was the crucial factor in determining which Americans fought in Vietnam.” In fact, Appy goes so far as to say that even in the racially and domestically tumultuous 1960s that, “Class was far more important than race in determining the overall social composition of American forces.” Furthermore, Appy wrote, “Roughly 80 percent [of soldiers who served in Vietnam] came from working-class and poor backgrounds.” Appy’s main point of contention lies in the subjectivity in the local Selective Service boards that resulted in a disproportionate amount of the poor rural and inner city and blue-collar families bearing the burden of Vietnam. Appy’s reservations were merely a small portion of the overall ineptness of U.S. foreign policy etc. that, ultimately, resulted in a failed war in Southeast Asia. But, that’s for a later chapter.
As antiwar sentiment spread throughout the country in a politically chaotic climate that also featured a plethora of other domestic issues that ranged from women’s rights to the rights of Black Americans, the Johnson Administration commissioned a study to help improve the military draft system. The result was the 1967 Military Selective Service Act, which did little to quell anti-war sentiment, but rather flamed the fire further by rationalizing the deferment system. Johnson, likely well aware of his Administration’s inability to connect with nation’s social and domestic movements, decided not to run for election in 1968. President Richard Nixon tried to fix the Military Selective Service Act by implementing the lottery that was used during World War II, it was too late and the nation had turned its back on the war, and, most unfortunately, the service members who, often reluctantly, served in Southeast Asia.
The Vietnam War concluded more than 40 years ago, and as the memory of the unpopular military draft during what is arguably the most contentious domestic climate in American history begins to fade from the collective memories of the Baby Boomer Generation some are now calling for the reimplementation of the military draft to replace the All-volunteer military in an attempt to alleviate the burden of war on the few who are currently waging it.
Joseph Epstein, an essayist and editor who served as the editor for The American Scholar, has been one of the more vocal advocates for bringing back the military draft to replace the AVF. Epstein in a 2015 article for The Atlantic titled “The Tragedy of the American Military,” provides a brutal albeit sincere critique of the current military situation noting that, “The American public and its political leadership will do anything for the military except take it seriously. The result is a chickenhawk nation in which careless spending and strategic folly combine to lure America into endless wars it can’t win.” Andrew Bacevich and other scholars share Epstein’s sentiment. Bacevich explains in The New American Militarism that “few of today’s most prominent war hawks have themselves spent even so much as a day in uniform.” And though Bacevich and many others agree the current AVF needs to be reformed, they focus more on changing foreign policy than on advocating for any type of military alternative. Epstein’s critique is equally disparaging of American foreign policy post-World War II and especially post-Vietnam War, but he takes it further by advocating for the military draft.
It’s important to note that Epstein was a draftee who served in the Army from 1958 to 1960. Like Bacevich, Appy, Janowitz and the author of this thesis, Epstein is incredibly critical of the AVF stating that “It’s unfair for a tiny percentage of Americans – less than one percent – to shoulder the burden of fighting wars; the American public isn’t knowledgeable enough on foreign policy; the draft could rehabilitate young criminal offenders; and, most of all, a draft would contribute to the ‘melting pot’ that makes America great.”
Before tunneling further down the rabbit hole, it’s imperative to note that the idea of returning to the military draft is incredibly unpopular. A Pew Research Center study conducted in 2011 showed that 75 percent of the American public doesn’t support reinstating a draft with only 14 percent of those polled ages 18 to 29 favoring the draft. Though as previously mentioned in the introduction of this thesis that statistics don’t paint an entire picture, it does provide an interesting peek into the current psyche of the American public and the contrasts between the age groups. Twenty-nine percent of those polled in the study above 65 favored a reinstatement of the military draft. A cynic would be quick to point out the obvious reasons for the disparity: older Americans would never be a part of a military draft whereas those between 18 and 29 are the prime age group for the military draft.
The chickenhawkish attitudes are not only prevalent in the stuffy halls of Congress among the elder elite who have never served. It was widely reported in late 2015 and early 2016 that the majority of Millennials favored sending ground troops into Syria and Iraq to fight ISIS in the wake of the Paris attack. The Harvard IOP Polling Director John Della Volpe said in an interview with NPR that the disconnect lies with “how the Millennials’ feel about the government writ large.” Volpe’s explanation as he delves into the Millennial generations distrust of the government comes across as weak if not wholly disingenuous. Generation upon generation of Americans have been mistrusting of the government but still willing to serve if called upon; moreover, especially the Vietnam Era, if the general public felt a lack of certainty about waging war they were just as uncertain about committing. But not this generation, whereas a full 60 percent are willing to commit troops to wage war a full 85 percent of those polled were not willing to join. Bacevich and others will argue that the attitudes expressed by those polled in the Harvard survey are merely the result of decades of U.S. mismanagement with its foreign policy; a foreign policy that would likely be vastly different if the AVF hadn’t been implemented in 1973.
Epstein further argues his point when he wrote, “A truly American military, inclusive of all social classes, might cause politicians and voters to be more selective in choosing which battles are worth fighting and at what expense. It would also have the significant effect of getting the majority of the country behind those wars in which we do engage.” Christian Appy expressed an almost identical sentiment in his Working-Class War when he wrote, “Many well-to-do Americans would have been more concerned about U.S. casualties had their own children been the ones doing the fighting.” Though Appy wrote exclusively about what was wrong with the draft deferments etc. during the Vietnam War, the AVF has only exacerbated his concerns by providing still further alternatives for the more affluent from military service, which in turn has led to the lowest rate of veteran representation in Congress. In fact, despite President George W. Bush’s weak military service record during his brief stint in the Texas Air National Guard, there hasn’t been a military veteran in the Oval Office since his father George H.W. Bush whose term ended in 1992. All this is to say that there has been a growing divide in civil-military relations due in large measure to a lack of representation by the countries decision makers. That sentiment by and large has become the sentiment of the American people.
Bacevich wrote, that “war is inherently poisonous, giving rise to all sorts of problematic consequences, and that military power is something that democracies ought to treat gingerly.” That was the foreign policy held dearly by the generations previous to President Woodrow Wilson and those preceding the Wilson Administration until the 1960s, but as the country continued its path toward world superpower the country’s foreign policy that was once exclusively only concerned about the Western Hemisphere had now extended itself worldwide. Of course, there are many issues related to this switch in foreign policy, but before delving deeper it’s important to turn the focus back toward the idea of implementing a modern military draft and why it is simply an unrealistic idea. Bacevich expresses his idea about the possibility of a modern military draft as “about as likely as reviving prohibition.” However, he still expresses the idea that U.S. foreign policy and the current military system is broken, so rather than continuing the drum of war something needs to change.
Epstein writes, “The last war fought by America that had the durable support of the nation was World War II … the war was … vigorously supported because the troops who fought in it, owing to the draft, came from all social and economic classes.” Again, as stated earlier, it’s easier for a nation to rally behind a war that touches the majority of the society. The arguments through and through have all focused on this area in particular: the AVF relies too heavily on a small population of American citizens to bare the burden of war. Therefore, as Michael Ignatieff of Harvard University concluded, war had become ‘a spectacle.’” The current wars waged are as Epstein describes in is The Atlantic article merely a blip on the television screens of passengers in route from one mundane destination to another. The PTSD, death and ruined lives of the fellow Americans who sacrificed in the name of American foreign policy were simply too few for there to register an emotional affect on the average American citizen.
“I have never felt more American than when I was in the Army,” Epstein wrote in his The Atlantic commentary, “I am grateful for having served. Doing so took me out of my own social class and ethnic milieu – big-city, middle class, Jewish – and gave me a vivid sense of the social breadth of my country.” Epstein’s sentiments again underscore a common thread among the scholars and advocates of a new American military system that since the AVF, and beginning in earnest with the Vietnam War, that the American military once representative of the entire country was now a separate, and very distinct subculture of the U.S. population that saw their core values and way of life different from the average citizen.
Janowitz explains that, “The organizational format and the normative structure of the ‘new military,’ in contrast to the conscript force, displays an increased emphasis on its organizational boundaries and distinctive values.” He argues that the distinction the military places upon itself fosters a climate of separateness from the civilian population that has ultimately resulted in a distinctly different subculture within the United States, a subculture that sees itself as superior of mind, body and spirit.
“I slept in barracks and shared all my meals with American Indian, African Americans from Detroit, white Appalachians, Christian Scientists from Kansas, and discovered myself befriending and being befriended by young men I would not otherwise have met.” Some may chalk up Epstein’s recollection of his military service as nothing more than the aging memory of a patriotic intellectual facing his inevitable mortality by describing patriotic service as one of the climaxes of his life in a country no longer as enthralled with civic service as it had been in its yesteryear. But, by and large Epstein isn’t alone in his insistence that military service has often been the great equalizer that provides all walks of life a common commitment to the betterment of their nation, which would include a more cautious approach toward engaging in warfare.
The prospects of the United States reverting to the military draft are practically zero. As Robert Taylor, an American Military Historian and Department of Humanities and Communication head at the Florida Institute of Technology, said the AVF is “a two-sided coin.” On one side, the much more positive side, the military of today is quite possibly the most competent the nation has ever fielded, and without a doubt the most educated in the history of the United States. Almost all soldiers have high school diplomas and many have college educations, and those are just the enlisted personnel who fill the ranks of the AVF. Though perhaps the most important measure of an armed force, the AVF has proven itself on the battlefields of the Middle East as a fighting force without equal, though of course with the caveat that there are simply too few waging those battles. So, despite what appears a negative outlook throughout this thesis toward the AVF, it isn’t a reflection by any means of the service members that comprise that force.
However, Vietnam ruined what had been a right of passage for men throughout the United States – the military draft, which provided the country’s fighting forces with eligible men that represented all the socio-economic groups of America. But, the path toward the AVF implementation didn’t begin and end in 1973 when Nixon’s Administration reorganized the military. It’s important to understand the lead up to Vietnam and, ultimately, the consequences that lead to the creation of the All-volunteer military. Great Britain provided the United States the model in 1962 when it became the “first NATO nation to implement the all-volunteer concept, in part because of economic pressure.” It wasn’t economic pressure within the United States but rather a domestic climate that was rapidly progressing away from the United States’ honeymoon period following the conclusion of World War II. Vietnam was the exclamation point on a decade of upheaval.
“One of the lessons of Vietnam, which we failed to heed in the Iraq war and the Afghanistan surge, is that before you commit U.S. military forces to aid or assist, it is essential to know what you want them to achieve,” – Kathleen Troia McFarland, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs under President Ronald Regan
On June 25, 1950, roughly 75,000 North Korean soldiers streamed across the 38th parallel, separating communist North from the U.S.-backed democratic South, sparking the first military action of the Cold War. By July of 1950, the United States military had entered the war on South Korea’s behalf. “It was a war against the forces of international communism itself.” For three years the Soviet and Chinese-backed North Korea faced off against the U.S.-backed South Korea, but an armistice was reached in July of 1953. Though roughly 5 million soldiers and civilians died during the three years of conflict, the war was largely seen as a success for the Americans because they had contained communism to North Korea. However, the U.S. belief that “that any communist victory anywhere would threaten their vital interests.” Though initially, and for many historically, successful, the U.S. Policy of Containment or the Truman Doctrine met it’s match in the jungles of Vietnam.
From its inception, first in 1940 and subsequently reinstated throughout the Cold War, the Selective Service System was something that every man for several generations was suspect to; however, the system began to fall under heavy scrutiny as military deferments for attending college or other reasons that typically were associated with a person’s wealth began to increase even as the American involvement in Southeast Asia grew. Research in the 1970s, as illustrated by Christian Appy in his book and others, clearly showed that “low-income or disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to fight in Vietnam than men from middle-and high-income families who could avoid being drafted by going to college or finding a slot in a stateside National Guard unit.” Not surprisingly, Americans caught on to the disparity and began to loudly protest the country’s involvement in the war.
Bernard Rostker, a director of the Selective Service System who authored a book about the AVF titled I Want You! The Evolution of the All-Volunteer Force, said that “The American people lost confidence in the draft as a means of raising an army when it ceased to require equal sacrifice from everyone that was eligible to serve.” The confidence was lost as deferments grew and the responsibility of waging war was no longer equal to all Americans. But, like most of history, Vietnam is much more nuanced and would take much more than a chapter to sparse out, but, to understand why Vietnam lead to the creation of the AVF, it’s important to understand just how disastrous the campaign was from a foreign policy point of view.
The last draftee before the implementation of the AVF describes the widespread sentiment among the draft eligible men of the Vietnam Era in a USA Today article when he’s quoted as saying, “I just wanted to do my two years and get the hell out.” In the 1960s and early 70s, many viewed the military draft as worse than a prison sentence. To give a good example at the scale of discontent, on Jan. 21, 1977 President Jimmy Carter pardoned more than 100,000 men who had fled the country to avoid the military draft. The situation in Vietnam had been such a disaster that a sitting President pardoned those called to protect and serve their nation. Appy and others insist that the war’s failure was due, essentially, to the disparity between the rich and the poor who were drafted and who received a deferment.
Appy writes about Vietnam that, “The military may never have been truly representative of the general male population, but in the 1960s it was overwhelmingly the domain of the working class.” Though I agree with his assessment in regard to the disparity between the economic class of those served and those who found reasons not to, his statement rings hollow, especially when you consider the statistical analysis earlier in this thesis contradicts his claim here. As Appy emphatically stated earlier in his Working-Class War, every segment of society served during World War II, a little less so in Korea and the tide really turned during Vietnam. It is disingenuous to state the military never represented the male population. Appy’s assessment of the fighting force make-up during the war wasn’t exclusive to just the enlisted corps.
“It may well have been the least privileged officer corps of the twentieth century.” It’s interesting to note that Appy says “may well have been” because there is no statistical evidence that truly proves his statement false. He further asserts that, “West Point increasingly attracted military brats and sons of the working class.” While Appy concerns himself with proving his point about the disparity between the working-class and poor vice the well-to-do, he fails to realize that though those attending the prestigious military schools were no longer exclusively the domain of the wealthy it did provide social and economic mobility to the working-class who were able to send their children to West Point, the Naval Academy or the Air Force Academy. Much like the AVF, the growing number of working-class and less wealthy students who began to attend these schools is more of a double-edged sword than an obvious example of his assertion that West Point allowing children of those less economically wealthy is simply an indicator of classism. This isn’t to say that Appy and the numerous authors who write about the failure of the Vietnam War are wrong in their assertion that many Administrative and foreign policy blunders were the cause of the failure itself.
But before delving further into the reasons the war failed so spectacularly it’s helpful to understand the state of the military toward the end of the war. From a military perspective, there’s perhaps no better read to understanding the state of the military than Col. Robert D. Heinl, Jr.’s article in the Armed Forces Journal in 1971 titled, “The Collapse of the Armed Forces.” In his opening paragraph Col. Heinl writes, “The Morale, discipline and battleworthiness of the U.S. Armed Forces are, with a few salient exceptions, lower and worse than at anytime in this century and possibly in the history of the United States. By every conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refuse combat, murdering their officers and non-commission officers, drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near mutinous.” As the author indicates, it’s fair to say that the situation in 1971 was no longer one that the U.S. could continue because the military had become a farce.
Heinl gives many reasons throughout his article for the collapse of the military in Vietnam, but what he often alludes to, as many before him, was that the failure was in large measure due to “bright civilians” who helped the military get into the war, but who turned right around and “are now back on campus writing books about the folly of it all.” Many scholars who study the Vietnam War conclude that there were a multitude of problems that faced the war effort with civilian decision-making being one of the more prominent issues. Jeffery Record, a professor of military strategy at the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama, wrote in his book Why We Lost in Vietnam that civilian leadership was partly to blame, but that there were a multitude of reasons.
“I contend that, whereas the primary responsibility for the U.S. share of the war’s outcome clearly rests with civilian decision-making authorities – which were, after all, constitutionally and politically responsible – the military’s accountability was significant and cannot and should not be overlooked.” Record continues his argument over the military part in the failure of Vietnam when he wrote, “The armed forces contributed to their own defeat in Vietnam ‘by fighting the war they wanted to fight rather than the one at hand.’” Though many have argued that the military was tied down by inept civilian control, Record contends that it didn’t matter stating “A decisive U.S. military victory in Vietnam … was probably unattainable except via measures – an invasion of North Vietnam or an unrestricted air attack on its population – that were never seriously considered by either civilian or military authorities.”
Record’s argument, though acknowledging multiple factors in the outcome of the Vietnam War, places a large burden of guilt with the military, which is a view that isn’t as popular with most scholars and certainly any Vietnam veteran. However, Record’s account of the Vietnam War was one of many reasons the military was ready to change to the AVF. But, his argument about no possible solutions rings hollow when you consider he said there was no viable military route, and then subsequently listing two viable military options. As mentioned earlier in this thesis, scholars and the layperson alike largely blame civilian leadership for the failure in Vietnam.
Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, the top civilian leadership next to the President during Vietnam, wrote a book in the mid-1990s that criticized him and other civilian leaders for being responsible for the debacle. So, though Record makes a valid argument for the military’s mismanagement of the war being most to blame, it’s hard to rebuke the civilian who presided over the military during the war. McNamara in his memoir wrote throughout that the war should have been avoided and that there were many instances when it could have been. McNamara claims that he and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s other advisors failed in their duties by not ensuring Vietnam never became an issue.
Thomas Lippman in his review of McNamara’s memoir wrote, “Even when he and Johnson’s other aides knew that their Vietnam strategy had little chance of success, according to McNamara, they pressed ahead with it, ravaging a beautiful country and sending young Americans to their deaths year after year, because they had no other plan.” So, McNamara admitted it was civilian leadership in Vietnam that lost the war because it shouldn’t have been fought in the first place. But, as Appy alluded to in Working-Class War, the American public and especially those eligible for the draft were outraged by the prospect of serving a war for the elite. In this case, a team of super geniuses who used statistics and their college educations to use working-class and the poor as pawns in a game of chess with consequences. The consequences of that game were 58,148 killed in action, 75,000 severely wounded and a civilian casualty toll that is said to be in the millions. So, having a more firm idea of who pulled the strategic strings, it’s just as important to understand what lead to the U.S. involvement.
Most people in the United States don’t understand that the country’s involvement in Vietnam actually began in the 1950s with President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Vietnam had split into two different countries with the North declaring itself a communist nation, and by the logic of the current Administration it was paramount to combat communism wherever it threatened a democratic nation such as South Vietnam. The idea was that “the rest of Southeast Asia would fall like dominoes,” if communism in North Vietnam proved successful. When John F. Kennedy became president in 1961 he was determined to help South Vietnam become a successful democracy and not let it fall into the hands of the communist North Vietnamese. What eventually lead to what the Vietnamese called the “War Against the Americans to Save the Nation,” was in large part “a manifestation of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies.” In short, it was a proxy war.
The reason the United States involved itself in Vietnam was due to the Cold War and policy created to contain the threat of Communism. The Cold War is often considered to have begun at the conclusion of World War II as Europe and Asia stood in ruins and the United States and the Soviet Union were left as the beckons of two completely different forms of government. The United States developed The Marshall Plan to curb the threat of communism by utilizing a policy of containment. The plan was developed by George Marshall who served as the chief of staff of the Army in 1939 at the onset of World War II, and he eventually became President Harry Truman’s secretary of state.
Though initially hailed by the international community as a $10.25 billion humanitarian effort, the Marshall Plan was more an effort to prevent Communism from spreading throughout Europe, and, eventually, throughout Asia. The Soviet Union began building its Iron Curtain by absorbing the smaller nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as the Red Army marched toward Germany. By the end of 1945, the Soviet Union had absorbed Romania and Bulgaria, but more importantly the U.S.S.R. violated the Yalta promise and absorbed Poland as well by rigging the elections. Soon thereafter, the Soviet Union also absorbed Hungary, Czechoslovakia and, essentially, Yugoslavia.
President Harry Truman and his Administration began desperately trying to figure out how to stop the Soviet Union from taking complete control over all of Europe. Shortly after World War II had concluded the possibility of all of Germany and even France being taken over by the Soviet Union remained critically high. In fact, East Germany had already fallen and it looked for a time that Greece and Turkey would also join the Iron Curtain, but the Administration acted and sent roughly $400 million in aide to the countries, which eventually, with the help of the aide, was able to fend off communist guerilla attempts at a take over. The American policy of containment during the Cold War was born.
A State Department official named George Kennan is credited with proposing a Policy of Containment. The argument was that the American people were tired of war after the deadliest war in human history had just concluded, so the prospect of sending American troops into Europe to fend off the Soviet Red Army was off the table. “But in places where communism threatened to expand, American aid might prevent a takeover.” Truman’s Administration became instant advocates for the policy, which soon became the Truman Doctrine, and saw initial success with Turkey and Greece.
On June 5, 1947, Secretary of State George Marshall rolled out the European Recovery Program, which leant more than $10 billion in aide to help Europe rebuild. The program was the U.S. attempt at assuring no further European nations fell to the influence of the Soviet Union. But, the U.S. as previously mentioned had no intention of provoking a military conflict between the two nations and thus providing monetary help in the guise of aid to ensure nations such as Turkey, Greece, Western Germany and France didn’t become communist nations. Initially, the U.S. even offered this aid to the Eastern European countries that had fallen under Stalin’s rule. The plan was initially considered “an economic miracle in Western Europe.” Within just four years, the Western European nations that received aid from the U.S. were producing more than they were pre-World War II. None of the Western European nations that had been on the brink of succumbing to communism became a communist nation. “The Marshall Plan served as the economic and political foundation for the Western alliance that waged the Cold War.” While the plan initially saw only U.S. foreign aid involve economic help, as communism began to spread from Russia and Europe to Asia the U.S. found itself in a situation where it was now using military force in order to enforce the Policy of Containment and Marshall’s Plan.
Diane Kunz, a historian who taught diplomatic history at Yale, argues in her article for Foreign Affairs that the Policy of Containment and the Marshall Plan, which can often be seen as one and the same, will go down as a success due to the U.S. “winning” the Cold War. However, Kunz and David J. Dallin, a Soviet Union scholar, in his contemporary review of the policy in 1952 at the height of the Cold War, saw the policy as a mixed bag. From a more modern perspective the U.S. achieved their aim when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Berlin Wall fell. But, as Dallin noted in his article “that help must be given to Europe has become an almost universal precept in this country; on the other hand, there is a growing disappointment with Europe’s insufficient efforts and anti-American sentiments. Finally, there is the juxtaposition of Europe and the Far East: shall we concentrate on Europe and try to solve the Far Eastern conflict in a compromise, or shall we pay more attention and send more men and supplies to the sore spot of international affairs, Korean and Japan?” As Dallin and to some extent Kunz allude, the initially success the United States had in containing the communist threat in Western Europe wasn’t always as successful in Eastern Asia.
Sometimes referred to as the “Domino Theory,” the United States Policy of Containment operated under the belief that if one nation fell to communism then the neighboring countries would soon follow suite, which was the justification the Administrations beginning with Eisenhower held in regard to Vietnam. “By early 1950, makers of U.S. foreign policy had firmly embraced the idea that the fall of Indochina to communism would lead rapidly to the collapse of other nations in Southeast Asia.” Eisenhower believed that “The possible consequences of the loss [of Indochina] are just incalculable to the free world.” The worry wasn’t just that Vietnam’s neighbors Laos and Cambodia, which in fact did adopt communist regimes after Vietnam was unified under a communist government, but that many Asian countries to include Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia and even more impossibly Australia an New Zealand.
President Eisenhower and his Administration helped form the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization to combat communist threats. Despite Eisenhower’s dire warnings it wasn’t until President John F. Kennedy that the American presence in South Vietnam really began to grow by sending advisors to Southeast Asia. Kennedy sent resources to Vietnam, to include troops, to ensure the Ngo Dinh Diem regime stayed in power despite domestic opposition to Diem in Vietnam. Diem and Kennedy were assassinated within weeks of each other, but Kennedy’s successor Lyndon B. Johnson affirmed the U.S. Policy of Containment and belief in the Domino Theory. Johnson eventually increased the presence of several thousand advisors during Kennedy’s reign to a half-million service men and women within five years of taking office.
However, the U.S. effort in Vietnam was met with huge domestic opposition, controversy over the military draft and, eventually, the service members serving in Vietnam began to degrade in morale and ethical behavior. Saigon fell in 1975, and Vietnam was united as a communist nation. Besides the country’s immediate neighbors, communism never took hold the way the Administrations from Eisenhower to Nixon believed.
Though some revisionist historians assert that Vietnam was a success, Vietnam was indeed a spectacular failure. It’s been argued that since the U.S. defeated the Soviet Union in the Cold War that Vietnam was more like a lost battle, but democracy won out over communism, so all should be forgiven. However, to sum up the reality of the Vietnam War it’s worth noting the exchange between Army Col. Harry G. Summers, Jr., who said “You know, you never beat us on the battlefield,” to which Col. Tu responded, “That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.” Summers was on a mission from the U.S. to try to return missing Americans in 1973 when he had his famous encounter. Though Summers was widely regarded as an intellectual within the Army, the Vietnamese colonel’s retort captured the true nature of the war. The United States government had failed to realize that the North Vietnamese weren’t merely Stalin’s puppets, but instead, Ho Chi Minh and his movement wanted a true revolution in the form of communism.
It’s been often said that the Vietnamese simply wanted it more than the American people did. To emphasize Vietnam’s failures it’s important to understand the fundamental derailing of one of he country’s most prized institutions – the military – an institution that today is often cited as the most respected, which has been partly attributed to the AVF. It’s important to note, and it’ll be discussed in more detail later, that the military’s high approval ratings are due largely to the publics malaise toward civic and military obligations, which in turn automatically places those willing to sacrifice for the nation on a pedestal. But, right before the fall of Saigon, the military was anything but the professional and honorable force it is considered today.
The war had spun into such chaos that toward the end of the war it was estimated that 109 fragging incidents took place in Vietnam. By 1971, there was an estimated one fragging incident a week. In fact, the term fragging wasn’t even invented until the Vietnam War to describe the utter lack of discipline and breakdown of the fabric of Army values that led to Soldiers committing one of the most heinous acts – the murder of their own commanders. “Fragging – derived from the hard-to-trace weapon of choice in such attacks, the fragmentation grenade – has varying definitions, from the killing of any superior to the murder of a Soldier’s direct commander to avoid combat.”
By contrast, only one Soldier who deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom has been charged for fragging. In fact, at the time of his arraignment in 2007, it was argued that Staff Sgt. Alberto B. Martinez, of the New York Army National Guard, shouldn’t had been tried for the crime because his motives were unclear. Admittedly, one of the reasons for the lack of fragging incidents in recent American wars has been attributed to the All-volunteer Military. In Vietnam, “only the Marines – who have made news this year by their hard line against indiscipline and general permissiveness – seem with their expected staunchness and tough tradition, to be weathering the storm.” But, Marines have, typically, never truly been representative of the nation as whole. Their small numbers allow them to be more selective and to recruit from a higher-caliber citizen, which in turn produces a higher-caliber Soldier or Marine.
The Army, as a much larger force, had always, prior to the creation of the AVF in 1973, been more representative of the nation. Therefore, by highlighting the almost complete disintegration of Soldierly virtue toward the end of the war, an accurate assumption can be made about how the American public viewed the war in Vietnam. “It is a truism that national armies closely reflect societies from which they have been raised. It would be strange indeed if the Armed Forces did not today mirror the agonizing divisions and social traumas of American society, and of course they do.” America was changing, and the civilian authorities who presided over the military were determined that the military structure would also change.
In 1969, four years before the United States eliminated the draft and moved to an all-volunteer force, a member of the President’s Commission on an All-Volunteer Armed Force wrote to its chairman that ‘while there is a reasonable possibility that a peacetime armed force could be entirely voluntary, I am certain that an armed force involved in a major conflict could not be voluntary.’” – Crawford H. Greenewalt
Despite reservations by the President’s Administration and Administrations prior to the Richard Nixon taking the Oval Office, the United State implemented the All-volunteer military, replacing conscription, which had been the military structure since the end of World War II. “When conceived toward the end of Vietnam, the All-Volunteer Force assured Americans that the government would never again force citizens to fight a war they oppose. Henceforth, when it came to military service, the state might solicit, but it could no longer command.” Andrew Bacevich explains further the intent of the AVF when he writes, “The bargain implicit in the All-Volunteer Force from the moment of its inception redefined military service as choice rather than obligation.”
When the question is raised about the effectiveness of the AVF in the current world climate, Bacevich explains that it doesn’t matter because the bargain made by the American government with the American citizens was that the citizens themselves could decide if a war was worth fighting by volunteering or refusing to do so. Greenewalt’s fears have yet to come to fruition, but the last 15 years or so of war has pushed the AVF beyond its limits. However, before discussing the AVF’s shortfalls, it’s important to understand the intent of the AVF.
Quite simply, the AVF was the result of the Vietnam War and the collapse of the military system, most importantly those who served within that system. With the escalation of war in Vietnam in 1966, intellectuals, mostly economists, began researching the possibility of sustaining an all-volunteer military. When President Richard Nixon was elected he established the Gates Commission to study the feasibility of an All-volunteer military.
Named after then Secretary of Defense Thomas Gates, those in the commission, influenced in particularly by economist Milton Friedman, unanimously recommended the “abolition of the draft and the implementation of an AVF,” in 1970. Despite reservations, the country moved forward with AVF. The American public was willing to accept conscription based on the simple promise of the military draft being equal. The belief in the military draft equality began to erode as deferments for education and to the more affluent in society began to increase proving to be divisive enough a topic to topple the system of conscription. Though initially hailed as an alternative to the socio-economic inequality, the AVF exacerbated the issue and created a climate of institutionalized recruitment – further widening the gulf between the military and civilian population.
There were a few promises that those in favor of the All-volunteer Force used to argue the case for an AVF. By the end of the 1960s, those who had opposed any idea of an All-volunteer Military had begun to change their minds as pro-AVF began to make their case. The first of five major reasons AVF was accepted was demographics. The American population was growing and continues to grow at such a rate that the amount of draft eligible American men far exceeds what the military would ever require. The 211.91 million Americans in 1973 was far greater than the 130.88 in 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War.
Today, there are currently 322.69 million Americans, so more than a hundred million more than in 1973 and more than double the number of Americans in 1939. So the President’s Commission argued that there would be enough volunteers to sustain an American military. By some estimates there are more Millennials, or draft eligible men, than there were Baby Boomers, which was the largest generation in American history. So, it stands to reason that there are more draft eligible men than the military currently requires; however, the argument made by the Commission didn’t take into consideration generational norms about service or civic obligation. There are more Americans today, but according to Pew Research and recent Harvard Polls there are far fewer Millennials willing to serve than in previous generations of Americans. So, it stands to reason that the unwillingness to join the military negates the number of individuals available for the military as an indicator for the success of the All-Volunteer Military.
The second major influence was the Commission’s insistence that an All-volunteer Military could be sustained given the right budget. In 1973, Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird in his Annual Defense Department Report requested $83.4 billion for the defense budget, which represented 29.8 percent of the total Federal Budget. At the time, the defense budget represented the lowest percentage of the Federal Budget in 23 years despite still being embroiled in the Vietnam War. It’s also important to note that during this Cold War Era the Soviet Union spent roughly 15 to 17 percent of its annual gross national product on military spending, with an increase in the 1980s between 4 and 7 percent per year. In 1989, the Russian military budget was roughly 77.3 billion rubles. It’s difficult to really grasp a firm figure when it pertains to the Soviet Union budget during the Cold War. Even the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency were unable to pinpoint an exact amount. The best estimates still put the Soviet Union defense budget at much lower than the United States and at a lower percent of the nation’s GDP. So in 1973 as the United States turned toward an All-Volunteer Military it was promised that a reasonable defense budget would be able to maintain an All-Volunteer Force, but that hasn’t and isn’t the case.
In 2015, the United States defense budget was $560.4 billion or 3.3 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. In 2016, that number is expected to be roughly $829.1 billion including money spent on Veterans Affairs and foreign aid. Though the percent of the GDP is significantly less than in 1973, it’s important to remember that the 1970s budget was during the Vietnam War. During the 1980s, the defense spending was roughly 6.8 percent of the GDP. However, prior to World War II the United States never spent more than one percent of its GDP on the military. Since World War II, the budget has never been lower than 3.6 percent of the GDP with 41 percent during 1945 being the highest in American history.
Another way to look at the United States military budget is to compare it to other nations throughout the world. In 2015, all countries combined to spend $1.6 trillion on the military. The United States accounted for roughly 37 percent of that total. In fact, the U.S. spent more in 2015 on its military budget than the next seven countries combined. For every dollar that China, the next largest military budget, spends the United States spends $2.77. But, it’s important to note that these estimates are just one of many, with some estimates putting the United States spending well over the next 10 countries. So, it can be argued that the U.S. indeed can operate an All-Volunteer Military on a reasonable military budget. However, an argument could also be made that the U.S. spends entirely too much of its GDP on the military. Of the seven countries that follow the United States on the military spending chart, five would be considered allies of the United States. It’s also important to note that the U.S. spends .9 percent of the GDP on Veterans Affairs.
The third argument the Commission made in the early 1970s was that of moral and economic rationale. “Conservatives and libertarians argued that the state had no right to impose military service on young men without their consent. Liberals asserted that the draft placed unfair burdens on the underprivileged members of society, who were less likely to get deferments.” The Conservative views about military service have changed since 1973 whereas the Libertarian view has stayed roughly the same, but they’re ideologies and have no real basis with a Constitutional or legal argument for the Central Government not having the right to force men into military service. So, I won’t delve into what can only be an Ouroboros with no legitimate or definitive outcome.
Every year the Department of Defense releases a demographic overview of the military as a whole, and in 2014 there were 3.5 million active duty, reserve and National Guard military members serving. Of active duty members, 15.1 percent were women, which is up from 2 percent of enlisted women who served in 1973. So, if modern researchers focused only on the differences in gender representation from 1973 to 2016 then the argument by the Commission that an All-Volunteer Force would be more representative would be a valid one. However, as researchers Eileen Patten and Kim Parker in their Pew Research study observe, women are their own demographic, and they don’t represent the changing dynamics in the military’s male population.
As Appy and other scholars discuss the percentages between the poorer members of society serving versus the more affluent didn’t match up. The All-Volunteer Force was hailed as the way forward in fixing the “the burdens on the underprivileged members of society,” who beginning with the Vietnam War bore the burden of war. In 2016, and throughout the course of the more than 40 year history of the AVF, the disparity between those who serve and the population of the United States as a whole has shrunk even further, making the argument for the AVF in the name of diversity and fairness completely invalid.
There were 1,505,283 active duty military members in 2014 of which 31.2 percent identified as a minority. But, the number is skewed in that the military doesn’t count Hispanics as a minority. In 2012, Hispanics made up 11.3 percent of the total population of the active duty military, so roughly 42 percent of service members as of 2014 were a minority. Therefore, the military is closely representative of the country in terms of racial diversity with 63 percent of U.S. citizens in 2013 considered a non-Hispanic Caucasian. So, if the racial diversity is equivalent and the rate of female soldiers has increased it would seem that the justification in the Commission Report about a more balanced military with the AVF would seem valid, but these few statistics that seem to show military progress in the area of U.S. representation within the ranks doesn’t show the full picture.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates raised the issue of the growing divide in civil-military relations in a speech he made in 2010. Social divisions and inequality have always been a part of the military, but research in the 1990s, that has since been validated with more current research, shows that there is now a growing geographic concentration among those who serve. Some of the division between the states that provide recruits and those that don’t were attributed to base closures in the 1990s, which led to a concentration of military installations to a few states such as Texas, Washington, Georgia, Kentucky and North Carolina. But, the closures don’t completely account for the disparity between states.
For example, in a 1990, a study conducted by the Martin Prosperity Institute highlights the disparity between population sizes and the number of ROTC programs. Los Angeles with more than 12 million people had four ROTC programs and Chicago with more than 9 million people hosted three, but Alabama, for example, had 10 such programs. Gates noted in his speech that because of the concentration in geography “the military is … less in contact with and in touch with American generally.” Smaller states such as New Mexico, Oklahoma and Kansas etc. have a much greater share of the military population than larger states such as Illinois and New York. Not including states such as Alaska, Washington and Hawaii, which have large concentrations of military installations, “The military is overwhelmingly concentrated in two distinctive areas of the Sunbelt.” The Southeast and the corridor from Texas through states such as Oklahoma, New Mexico etc. make up the bulk of recruits, but more wealthy and liberals regions of the country such as the Northeast and Upper Midwest have significantly lower rates of military service. Therefore, not only is the military still comprised mostly of the less affluent of society, but now most of those poorer and working-class recruits have a concentration of culture, political and religious beliefs, making the modern military perhaps the least socially representative the United States has ever had.
The Commission also argued that the All-Volunteer Military was necessary because opposition to the Vietnam War was so great and so unpopular that the American people were ready for a change to a volunteer force. An example of just how unpopular the Vietnam War was among the American population can be seen in the difficulty for the Nation to uniformly recognize the Vietnam Veterans as the Nation had honored all other previous generations of combat veterans. “The Vietnam War differed from other wars because it was politically controversial and morally questionable and resulted in defeat; it resembled other wars because it called out in participants the traditional virtues of courage, self-sacrifice, and honor.” Vietnam differed because it was the first time the American people, notwithstanding the Confederate soldiers, had to deal with defeat and how to recognize the soldiers who were not responsible for the defeat – the responsibility of the Vietnam War is still a controversial issue – but who participate in what many at the time considered a moral short coming of American foreign policy and without question the low point of the Cold War.
The process of recognizing the Vietnam War veterans is juxtaposition between honoring those who served and commemorating one of the more divisive political and social issues the American public and military faced in the 20th century. Emile Durkheim, a French social psychologist and philosopher in the 19th century, believed “that moral unity is the ultimate object of commemoration.” Therefore, the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial became a study in how “opposing social constituencies articulated the ambivalence attending memories of the Vietnam War.” Sociologists Robin Wagner-Pacifici and Barry Schwartz assert that there was ambivalence in the creation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial’s design and in the designs of monuments erected throughout the nation to honor the veterans. “The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and devices like it come into view not as symbols of solidarity but as structures that render more explicit, and more comprehensible, a nation’s conflicting conceptions of itself and its past.” So, the assertion the Commission made about the Vietnam War being utterly unpopular was and is still true to this day, but there’s no concrete evidence that the American population wanted a change in the overall military structure.
When a current military operation or war goes less than planned it’s immediately compared to the Vietnam War, which has become synonymous with American military failure. But, it’s clear that Nixon’s Administration was grasping for anything to deflect the country’s attention from the negative news coming from the battlefield, so a change in military direction was needed to pacify the citizenry. Heinl in his article for the military publication Stars and Stripes in the early 1970s indicates the military needed something to renew its professionalism. So, it can be argued that even if the American people cared little for anything more than withdraw from Vietnam; it’s not an unfair assumption to make that the military was seeking a way to rejuvenate its ranks and recapture its former glory and universal respect, a respect that had dimmed considerably over the course of the decade-long Vietnam War.
The last, and perhaps easiest to justify, reason the Commission gave for changing the military model to the All-Volunteer Force model was the military’s desire for change. “The Army had lost confidence in the draft as discipline problems among draftees mounted in Vietnam.” As mentioned earlier, by the end of the Vietnam War soldier discipline, especially in the Army, had disintegrated to such a point that soldiers were routinely committing perhaps the most egregious act of military defiance by fragging various officers and their commanders. Although it’s difficult to fault the United States Armed Forces for the defeat of the Vietnam War, it is without a doubt that by the end of the war the military was a less than ideal organization that no longer embodied the ideals of previous military veterans.
If there is any true example of just how unfortunate the military situation in Vietnam was one only needs to look at the recent scholarship of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and those scholars usage of the war in Vietnam as an illustration of all that has gone wrong in the United States’ most recent conflicts. Take for example James McAllister’s passage in his 2010 article in International Security, “As the United States finds itself involved in a dire counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, with little apparent reason for optimism, some political scientists have turned their attention to the origins and development of U.S. military strategy in Vietnam for readily applicable lessons.” So, one way to look at this author’s passage is to understand that Vietnam has become synonymous with defeat or failure. Therefore, anytime a modern war or military conflict goes south the military and scholars look to the Vietnam War to see if there are similarities that the current military brass can learn from.
However, “despite the passage of four decades and the declassification of millions of pages of documents, diplomatic and military historians still have not reached a consensus as to why the United States pursued a flawed military strategy in Vietnam.” Therefore, if James McAllister, a political scientist who teaches at Williams College, is correct the real culprit for the defeat of the United States military in Vietnam is still a question still left to be answered. But, as Heinl described in his editorial for Stars and Stripes, if the military wasn’t to blame it certainly wasn’t a beckon of American values and honor in the way past generations of military veterans were generally regarded.
Though the question of who was at fault for the failure in Vietnam is still a hot topic for debate, what is without questions is that the Armed Forces were ready for a change of how it was staffed and operated. An article by Alex Dixon, a military journalist, in July of 2013 captures the opinions of many service members on the 40th anniversary of the implementation of the All-Volunteer Force. Though Sgt. Maj. Ray Moran, who was part of the Army’s transition from the draft to the All-Volunteer Army, admitted that the change was a difficult one. Ultimately, he saw the change as a positive. The military went from a more austere existence to a military that now featured upgrades such as comfortable furniture to entice volunteers to join. Though some of the “improvements” proved to be more of a nuisance than the Army had hoped for such as allowing alcohol in once prohibited circumstances, overall the change to the All-Volunteer Military was a positive.
Moran reiterated the success of Desert Storm as a justification of the All-Volunteer Military as did Bacevich in his book on the New American Militarism. In retrospect historians such as Bacevich have begun to question the legitimacy of the claim that Desert Storm was a resounding success. On the battlefield there had possibly been no more definitive an outcome, with the most recent initial military successes in Afghanistan and Iraq notwithstanding. But, as has been the case with U.S. foreign policy throughout the Cold War and today, the Administration failed to look at the long-term consequences. For example, Saddam Hussein remained in power, killing thousands of Kurds in Northern Iraq and, perhaps more importantly, the U.S. presence in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm gave rise to anti-U.S. sentiment, most notably in the form of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The All-Volunteer Military gave the nation’s storied warrior class a renewed sense of importance by providing a higher caliber recruit to partake in the Cold War and into the 21st Century battlefield. As 32-year Army veteran Maj. Gen Thomas C. Seamands, director of military personnel management in 2013, describes the 40-year transition from the draft to the All-Volunteer Force, “Everybody in the Army wants to be in the Army.” Seamands continued, “Everyone’s volunteered to come in and be a part of something bigger than themselves.” Though the military, Congress and Presidents have done their part to entice recruits to voluntarily join by offering incentives that range from college loan repayments, free college etc., any effort to mask the difficulty of the military life, ultimately, cannot undo the knowledge recruits have of the burdens of being a soldier. As Seamands alluded too, many, if not the vast majority, of those who decided to join the All-Volunteer Military have a sense of being a part of something bigger to go along with any incentive-laden reasons for devoting a portion of their youth to the nation.
“Following and during the Vietnam War, pubic trust in the Army was at an all-time low.” Seamands said that “significant amounts of draftees didn’t’ want to serve and faced hostile environments when they returned home.” However, due to the AVF, the American people no longer look down upon the military, instead, it is routinely listed as the most trusted and highest valued governmental organization in the United States, far surpassing Congress and any presidents. Much of that, as Seamands suggests, is because the military is able to be more selective about who it chooses to let serve.
Though this selectivity sounds enticing, in reality it is severely restrained by the task given to them as evident in the Iraq Surge of 2008. As previously mentioned, standards dropped considerably so that the United States Army could meet its quotas. Interestingly, what Seamands and other military leadership point to as being a positive, recruiting higher caliber individuals, has also lead to a widening between civil-military relationships. Service men and women no longer see themselves, for the most part, as members of the community insomuch as they see themselves as a separate and significantly superior entity.
Global War on Terror and the Creation of a Warrior Class
“After 15 years of war it is plain to all but the most recalcitrant that the US cannot afford the AVF. Indeed, it is going to break the bank. Even with lowered standards, substituting women for men … recruitment and reenlistment bonuses totaling tens of millions of dollars, advertising campaigns costing billions, massive recruitment of non-citizens, use of psychotropic drugs to recycle unfit soldiers and Marines to combat zones, and overall pay and allowances that are, for the first time in military history, comparable to civilian rates, the land forces in particular are still having difficulties fielding adequate numbers.” – Dennis Laich
Simply, the All-Volunteer Military is no longer sustainable given the task they’ve been handed by the U.S. government. Foreign policy relies more today on military superiority than it did in the past when the State Department and diplomacy reigned supreme. Andrew Bacevich, as has been evident through most of this thesis, sums up the present military and foreign policy circumstances best writing, “Our own day has seen the revival of Wilsonian ambitions and Wilsonian certainty, this time, however, combined with a pronounced affinity for the sword.” Since the end of the Second World War, the U.S. has adopted a global presence such as that was first proposed by President Woodrow Wilson after the First World War; however, the reliance on military might vice diplomacy has extended military personal to the breaking point.
Bacevich calls this the New American Militarism and believes it began at the conclusions of the Vietnam War writing, “The new American militarism made its appearance in reaction to the 1960s and especially to Vietnam.” Post-World War II and pre-Vietnam the United States’ use of conscription was in direct relation to the Soviet Union’s military build up. Post-Vietnam, the New American Militarism replaced conscripted soldiers with professional soldiers, which allowed the various Administrations to use the military as a foreign policy tool instead of a military for defense. Though the process by which this occurred is more detailed in Bacevich’s work, the underlining theme is that the All-Volunteer Military gave the U.S. government the green light to use the military as an extension of its diplomacy, and through the course of a few decades has become the primary means by which the U.S. government achieves it’s global aims.
“At the end of the Cold War, Americans said yes to military power. The skepticism about arms and armies that informed the original Wilsonian vision, indeed, that pervaded the American experiment from its founding, vanished.” The reason Americans said yes to military power is complex, but a less complex version of the story goes simply: Americans were no longer responsible or felt the toll of waging constant warfare because they had the choice not to serve; it was someone else’s problem. Furthermore, the All-Volunteer Military had become good at waging war, but defeating the enemy on the battlefield and rebuilding nations has proven difficult.
“The successive invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, advertised as important milestones along the road to ultimate victory, have further dulled the average American’s ability to grasp the significance of this union, which does not serve our interest and may yet prove our undoing.” By combining U.S. foreign policy with military might the government essentially assured perpetual war, but without the force to sustain a perpetual war. Notwithstanding the factors such as the military not representing the nation at large, but instead typically coming from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds and those of conservative and right-winged ideations, the military is also expected to do more with less. Though statistically the modern military exceeds standards of education and competence of their forefathers, the burden placed upon them to carry out the nation’s foreign policy far exceeds to ability of even the most competent and professional soldier. Though the New American Militarism, as Andrew Bacevich has termed the reliance of the U.S. government on the military, began in earnest in 1973, the recent wars in the Middle East have hastened the growth of the civil-military divide, which, in essence, has created a military subculture that sees itself as superior to those they serve, and, not without reason. But first, it’s important to understand the dramatic shift toward use of military power shortly after the defeat of the Soviet Union in the Cold War and the militarily brilliant defeat of a Third-World military during Desert Storm.
Many would assume that with the fall of the Soviet Union and the United States firmly placed as the sole superpower on Earth that Americans could relax it’s military budget and begin to rely on diplomacy to create the world order in the image of democracy and human rights. However, it simply hasn’t been the case. What had begun at the onset of the Cold War and hastened with the creation of the All-volunteer military accelerated even further with the defeat of the Soviet Union, which could be argued kept the United States in check. So, for instance “mainstream politicians today take as a given that American military supremacy is an unqualified good.” The hesitation the country felt in using the military in the previous centuries after the Revolution is nonexistent today. Rather than using tax revenue to fix domestic issues or to solve global famine, catastrophes of all sorts or create more humane environments throughout the world by educating women, decreasing pollution or promoting Western ideals and human rights, the United States has instead continued its use of military to support its needs, increasing the budget to astronomical proportions.
Take for example, “Today, the U.S. Marine Corps possesses more attack aircraft than does the entire Royal Air Force – and the United States has two other even larger ‘air forces,’ one an integral part of the Navy and the other officially designated as the U.S. Air Force.” The Marine Corps, which is expected to have an active-duty force of 174,000 by the end of 2017, has a larger air force than the United States closet ally, which has the fifth largest military budget in the world. In fact, it’s estimated by some that the “present-day Pentagon budget, adjusted for inflation, is 12 percent larger than the average defense budget of the Cold War era.” Though the estimates from Bacevich’s New American Militarism are from 2005 at the height of Operation Iraqi Campaign, it’s still striking that the United States as the sole superpower spends so much more on the military budget than the rest of the world.
The United States has two formidable natural defenses in the two oceans separating it from many of the most hostile parts of the world, yet current foreign and military policy sees it necessary to have military installations throughout the world. Many, of these installations are on ally territory and in countries that are more than capable of defending themselves. However, because of the increased emphasis on warfare and military might as a means to obtain foreign policy it has become next to impossible not to maintain a budget as large as the United States, though interestingly enough that policy has continued to maintain an active military force that has been stretched perilously thin. There has been an “increased propensity to use force, leading, in effect, to the normalization of war.” It was mentioned earlier in the thesis why the Administrations and Congress are more inclined to use military force given their lack of service, but the foreign policy direction the United States has taken since the end of the Cold War has been unprecedented.
“Vice President Dick Cheney said that force ‘makes your diplomacy more effective going forward, dealing with other problems.’” These ideations, seen most notably in the form of the Neo-conservative movement, have completely replaced the actual definition of the word diplomacy, which for many meant “the conduct by government officials of negotiations and other relations between nations,” or “the art or science of conducting such negotiations.” Though Sun Tzu illustrated in his The Art of War that warfare is in fact an art and science, it is not diplomacy, at least in the modern sense. Though there have always been military diplomats such as Meriwether Lewis and T.E. Lawrence, in the past they had been the exception, but in the modern military it is now the norm.
“During the entire Cold War era, form 1945 through 1988, large-scale U.S. Military actions abroad totaled a scant six. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, they have become almost annual events.” Because the military is involved so frequently abroad rather than diplomats, what in the past had been a few generals or exceptions such as Lawrence of Arabia who acted as military diplomats, today even enlisted soldiers and junior officers are now called upon to act as military diplomats. “The military diplomats of today could be a first sergeant and his company commander charged to work within their area of operations … like it or not, each interaction that U.S. forces have with civilian leaders counts as a diplomatic venture that can have positive or negative affects.” Relying on soldiers to act as diplomats and warriors can have dire consequences.
First, it’s important to understand that service members are already being asked to serve on multiple deployments, and in some instances more than 10 deployments, so adding additional duties to an already stressed military force can have irreparable consequences. For instances, “Maj. James Gavrilis found himself forced to rely on ‘common sense, the trust of Iraqis and recollection from Political Science 101 to manage and govern the city of Al Rutbah. He had received no guidance or assistance in managing a Sunni city of nearly 25,000 citizens.” As previously mentioned, diplomatic interactions can have dire consequences if not properly handled so relying on an over-burdened military to also act as diplomats is simply a recipe for disaster and highlights the mismanagement of Administrations waging war.
There is an argument that developing junior officers “will be more effective at working with international partners that support not only tactical military objectives, but also set the condition for diplomatic and economic success.” In Lt. Col. Reyes Cole’s article, “The Military Diplomat,” he suggest that military and civilian leaders must “increase the study of intrastate conflicts and how the military can work with agencies who share similar ‘nation-building, conflict-termination’ roles; add to curricula a basic understanding of conflict management and assign leaders tasks that facilitate and enhance their leadership skills for operations dealing with intrastate conflicts.” To have a more capable officer corps able to adapt and operate in a more nuanced field of battle would only make a better officer corps. These skillsets should only be addendums on leadership course that the officers and senior enlisted leaders already attend. To enforce more training on service members in diplomacy isn’t a waste of resources, but it is a burden on soldiers who spend years away from their families and carry the burden of waging constant warfare. The State Department has foreign-service officers to act in the diplomatic capacity and should be relied upon to do so vice expecting military members to train in the art of war and diplomacy.
The end of conscription and creation of the All-volunteer military has allowed successive Administrations to tinker with the military in ways that have proven effective but also detrimental to civil-military relations with the creation of a military subculture with the United States that has become a political cleavage with growing clout despite limited membership in what has become an “elite” veteranship.
“Compared with the system of conscription, the all-volunteer military is and will become less and less socially representative, in an alternate fashion for officers and for enlisted men. For enlisted personnel, the all-volunteer system recruits more and more heavily from submerged groups in civilian society, with a special emphasis on black personnel. At the officer level, the career cadres reflect specialized recruitment, with a higher degree of self-recruitment from within the military, increased geographical concentration from the South and Southwest, and a stronger emphasis on academy graduates. These factors, when joined with the socialization and promotion systems, which select out those with divergent orientations, will serve to develop a stronger conservative or right-wing, politico-military orientation among professional officers. ” Janowitz’s concerns in the 1970s have come to fruition in the 21st Century. Take for example his statement about the military relying more on black personnel.
In 2014 an article in USA Today about minorities in the military wrote, “Today, about one in five soldiers are black, compared with nearly 27% in 1985 and 1995, according to Army figures. The share of black soldiers is still larger than the 17% of the U.S. population who are African Americans of military enlistment age and education.” These statistics are just one of a few concerns Janowitz and other sociologists were concerned about in the 1970s with the implementation of the All-volunteer military. The over representation of Blacks in the military is perceived as negative only insomuch as it represents the military’s reliance on lower socioeconomic groups – Native American are the most over represented group in the military – and a lack of representation from the nation at large.
Though the lack of representation by more affluent parts of American society are a concern and that the military doesn’t look representative of the nation it serves, what is more concerning is the development of an institution that no longer feels it’s representative of the nation it serves. Toward the beginning of the 1960s the military, which as a military has always leaned more conservatively, had begun to become more liberal and represent the country more so than in years past. However, that all changed with the advent of the All-volunteer military. “The advent of the all-volunteer force has at least slowed or ended this trend and even introduced some countertrends toward more traditional forms of authority.” This trend has begun to resemble the more extremes of right-winged ideologues. By relying on self-recruitment and lacking the influence of more liberal and affluent forces, the military has begun to represent an extreme of society instead of the society as a whole.
“Under the all-volunteer system, the military becomes a more self-contained institution with more selective linkages to civilian society.” Whereas, “Conscription operated as a positive element in civil control because it resulted in the massive inflow and outflow of civilians through the armed services. Citizen-soldiers as enlisted personnel helped maintain linkages between civilian sectors and the military and were part of the long-term efforts to ‘civilianize’ the military.” What was becoming a more socially representative institution prior to the Vietnam War has now turned into a self-contained institution that recruits from within and from the poorer sections of the U.S. society. By creating the All-volunteer Military, the United States government could as Andrew Bacevich suggested use the Armed Forces in any matter they perceived appropriate without having to answer to the society at large because the society at large no longer had the connection and therefore wherewithal of and to the American military.
Janowitz and other scholars find this divide between the military and civilian population troubling stating, “In the United States, the legitimacy of the military requires that it avoid undue self-recruitment and that it have a broadly representative social composition.” However, because of the implementation of the All-volunteer Military the Armed Forces have been free to recruit as they see fit, often relying on recruits with generational ties to the military as well as the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. “Professional ideology and military realities are creating self-conceptions which serve as a powerful counterforce to civilianization.” Though this reality should provide hesitation by the American population, it has instead developed an institution that is perceived and perceives itself as better than the population it serves.
“Since the end of the Cold War, opinion polls surveying public attitudes toward national institutions have regularly ranked the armed services first. While confidence in the executive branch, the Congress, the media, and even organized religion is diminishing, confidence in the military continues to climb.” The trend mentioned in Andrew Bacevich’s research continues. Today, with the United States headed toward almost two decades of perpetual warfare the American people surveyed in a Gallup Poll believed the government didn’t spend enough money on national defense, 37 percent, or the right amount at 27 percent. Though 32 percent polled said the government spent too much, the figure is actually down with 2009 being the last time the American people at a lower rate felt the government spent too much.
Eighty-six percent of Americans polled believed the military needed to be stronger or was strong enough. However, when asked about the military institution itself compared to other institutions the numbers are striking with 73 percent having a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the military with only 7 percent having a negative view. By contrast, in a Pew Research Center study only 19 percent of Americans believe in the government with Congress rated at only 8 percent favorable. In fact, only the military and small business is rated higher than historical averages.
“Americans count on men and women in uniform to do the right thing in the right way for the right reasons.” And therefore, Americans have been more than willing to “elevate the soldier to the status of national icon.” “According to the old post-Vietnam-era political correctness, the armed services had been a refuge for louts and mediocrities who probably couldn’t make it in the real world.” But those ideas have long since been replaced by the American ideals of the soldier as the superior American. “Soldiers, it turned out, were not only more virtuous than the rest of us, but also more sensitive and even happier.”
Furthermore, “the armed services had ‘somehow distilled from the rest of us an elite cohort’ in which virtues cherished by earlier generations of Americans continued to flourish.” An argument can surely be made that members of American society who voluntarily put themselves in harms way whether for personal gain such as a college education or for more altruistic and patriotic reasons that adhere to the American myths of honor, virtue etc. represent a positive quality that has become more unique in a society that has begun to see civic duties and military service as not an option. However, the problem arises because soldiers themselves agree with the sentiment.
“Soldiers have tended to concur with this evaluation of their own moral superiority. In a 2003 survey of military personnel, “two-thirds [of those polled] said they think military members have higher moral standards than the nation they serve. … Once in the military, many said, members are wrapped in a culture that values honor and morality.” Though these statistics were from a time period that coincided with the fall of Sadaam Hussein and Baghdad with Americans riding high from their military superiority, that sentiment hasn’t waned in the proceeding decade. In fact, it can be argued through mere antidotal evidence and statistical analysis that service members today feel more so superior to those who served in 2003. After more than a decade, the group mentality has only grown stronger as veterans continue to deal with the difficulty of prolonged deployments, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and other veterans’ only issues that provide the backdrop for a sub-culture within the United States society at large.
Because of the All-volunteer Military the prototype of the American fighting man and woman is reminiscent of a conservative Judeo-Christian soldier that values honor, integrity personal sacrifice etc., putting them at odds with an ever-increasing capitalistic society that relies more heavily on personal accumulation of material goods at the determent of others. “Internally, nationalism, the very basis of the military establishment in the nineteenth century and a rationale for universal military service, has suffered erosion.” This erosion is a direct result of the AVF thereby those who volunteer to serve have the attributions associated with earlier generations of honor. “In the aftermath of the agonies of Vietnam these military leaders have emphasized ‘combat readiness’ and the imagery of the ‘fighting man’ as the basis of recruitment and morale.” Again, Janowitz’s quote is an indicator of the military establishment’s ability to recruit from within those that align more closely with the institution rather than the nation. The fighting man or woman epitomizes the nationalistic ideals of the perfect American in a day and age when articles from various sources are often headlined as such, “American Patriotism is Dying.” This lack of patriotism by the average American only highlights the perceived higher qualities of those who still adhere to this sacred myth of Americanism by serving the nation, its flag and its fundamental ideals.
In summation, Admiral Stanley Arthur explains the problem best when he said, “the armed forces are no longer representative of the people they serve.” He continued, “more and more, enlisted as well as officers are beginning to feel that they are special, better than society.” Arthur finished by saying that this was “not healthy in an armed force serving a democracy.” Though the institution has become more isolated from the American population, the political influence by Afghanistan and Iraq veterans has increased in recent years and stands to increase more in the coming years.
Interestingly, the lack of veterans in Congress in the last three decades has been a catalyst for the rise of American foreign policy’s increased military usage as a means toward an end. For example, in 2005 the percentage of veterans in Congress was at its lowest rate at any time since before World War II. “In the typical Congress of the Cold War era, approximately three-fourths of senators and more than half of House members were veterans.” “Following the election of 2000, only 36 percent of senators and 29 percent of House members were veterans. And the trend lines all point south.” Though the prospects of veterans serving the nation politically were dire in the early to mid-2000s, those prospects are currently trending upward, at least for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans.
The 2014 Veterans Campaign report concluded that the amount of veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq would comprise 5 percent of Congress, even though Post-9/11 veterans are only about 1 percent of the U.S. population. However, even though there has been a large uptick in Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans being elected to Congress there is still historically low veteran representation in Congress. The numbers of veterans serving in Congress will likely continue to stay low due to the low number of American citizens serving in the military. And, though it’s a positive trend, those veterans from the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars are representative of the veterans who now see themselves as superior to those they serve. The 114th Congress boasted 80 members who served in the U.S. military. Of the 80 members of Congress who are veterans, only 18 are Democrats, which illustrates the conservative and right-leaning nature of the current military.
With a new political cleavage and more political capital, the ramifications of the Post-9/11 veterans representing the nation in Congress have yet to be revealed. It has been illustrated that the modern soldier isn’t a fair representation of the nation they serve. So, suffice it to say that the veterans serving in Congress are equally less representative of the nation as a whole and instead hail from many of the most conservative segments of society.
Solutions And Conclusion
“Less than 1% of Americans serve I the military – a historic low during wartime – leading to a broad, complacent assumption that serving the nation is someone else’s job. As we’ve allowed our understanding of service to be so narrowly limited to the uniform, we’ve forgotten Lincoln’s audience: With the armies still fighting, the president exhorted a crowd of civilians on their duty to carry forward the nation’s work,” – Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
A thesis that raises questions but offers no solutions isn’t worthy of a researcher or scholar’s efforts. The questions raised in this thesis would take a monumental effort on the part of the nation and the nation’s leaders to rectify; however, history has proven that when Americans put their collective efforts together they can accomplish anything. First, the All-volunteer Military is failure and needs to be restructured. This isn’t an affront on those in the last 46 years who have voluntarily served. It’s evident with abundant research that the military currently serving the United States is the most educated and capable military the country has ever fielded.
The foreign policy enacted since the end of the Second World War has all but rendered an All-volunteer Military incapable of meeting the tasks it’s given, adequately. Therefore, there needs to be a solution to the current foreign policy of using military power as a means of diplomacy that has been the status quo for more than a half century. Gen. George Marshall said in 1946, “In war the Nation cannot depend on the numbers of men willing to volunteer for active service; nor can our security in peace.” The Global War on Terrorism has entered its fifteenth year, and there’s no end in sight. To continue using an All-volunteer Force to wage a continued fight is unsustainable.
The second problem raised by this thesis is the growing divide in civil-military relations. This can be traced back to the forming of the AVF in 1973 that has seen the military become less representative of the country as a whole. Furthermore, the growing sense of superiority veterans feel toward citizens and that citizens themselves feel is a direct consequence of the inadequate numbers of citizens serving in the Armed Forces. What was once a hallmark of citizenship has now become an option, and there is a pervasive feeling among the veteran community, conservative sections of the country and even open-minded progressives who feel the country is getting away from civic obligation and losing it’s sense of national identity.
In recent years there have been high-profile advocates for the creation of a national service to include Gen. Stanley McChrystal, one of the more renowned battlefield generals in recent American military history, and the liberal Arianna Huffington. However, there are many arguments against Universal Military Service and even Universal National Service. So, it’s fair to layout the arguments against the creation of a National Universal Service before delving into the proposals for it.
In an article for the Atlantic an author laid out some of the more common arguments against the creation of this service: modern Americans are already delaying marriage and child-bearing due to the stress of modern society and this would only exacerbate the problem; a one-size fits all mandate would hurt individuals who have a small window of opportunity to pursue a career such as athletics; some religious groups already have volunteer duties for their members such as Mormons; many people have obligations to sick family members, work to get a sibling through school etc. so civic duty would be too big an obligation; some contribute to the community in other ways such as writing for a community newspaper, and the list of reasons not to enact Universal Service extends even further. However, most of these worries are already null and void by current proposals. Take for example an excerpt from McChrystal’s essay in the Wall Street Journal:
“Here is a specific, realistic proposal that would create one million full-time civilian national-service positions for Americans ages 18-28 that would complement the active-duty military – and would change the current cultural expectation that service is only the duty of those in uniform. At age 18, every young man and woman would receive information on various options for national service. Along with the five branches of the military, graduates would learn about new civilian service branches organized around urgent issues like education, health care and poverty. The positions within these branches would be offered through AmeriCorps as well as through certified nonprofits. Service would last at least a year.”
McChrystal further argues that the service shouldn’t be legally mandated but that the country should enlist the help of corporations and universities, along with other institutions, to make the service “socially obligatory.” Not making the service mandatory would alleviate a lot of the concerns about those who have a small window of opportunity to pursue their career in athletics and for those who find it morally or religiously apprehensible. It would incentivize civic service for millions of young men and women giving future generations a stronger sense of unity. The current stipend for AmeriCorps volunteers is roughly $12,000 a year with a $5,000 scholarship for school. Currently, there is $1.26 trillion in student loan debt in the United States with roughly 43 million Americans who are debt. The class of 2016 has on average $37,172 in student loan debt.
Therefore, this thesis proposes that a Universal Civil Service obligation of one-year for those 18-28 would pay for a four-year state-run education. Furthermore, the Service would have exceptions based on religion and other factors that would keep an individual from serving such as taking care of a sibling or other family member. By providing a free four-year education there would be a large increase in those interested in serving. The argument against this proposal would be how does the United States pay for all of those educations? The average annual salary of Americans of any educational background in 2015 was $50,756. So, by providing a small, livable stipend and paying for a four-year education the government would simply be providing a fair wage for the year of service. The money would be reallocated from the positions no longer necessary because the volunteers would fill those positions. Furthermore, the nation could pay for this Universal Civic Service by reducing the money allocated toward defense spending.
The solution to the first question raised in this thesis is even more complicated. The proposal would be to reduce the active-duty military and increase the number of National Guardsmen and reservists, which could easily be filled through the Universal Civic Service. A report released by the Pentagon in 2014 concluded that a National Guard soldier cost approximately 80 percent of what an Active Duty soldier cost. By reducing the active force and increasing the number of National Guard and reserve soldiers the country would save billions. Furthermore, this thesis argues that the reliance on the military for foreign policy isn’t sustainable. The U.S. military should no longer maintain installations in countries that have the capacity to maintain their own defense such as Great Britain, Germany, Japan, South Korea etc. this would also save the nation billions. The United States should invest more in the Foreign Service and less on engaging in perpetual war. This would alleviate the stress current service members face having to conduct multiple deployments.
The Universal Civic Service would also help narrow the gap between the military and civilian population. By increasing the number of American citizens ‘obligated’ to serve the United States there would be an increased awareness about the sacrifices of the current soldier. Furthermore, by drawing soldiers from the Universal Civic Service the military would begin to more represent the nation than it has in the last 46 years. The military would no longer need to focus on recruiting and instead draw from the Universal Civic Service with the option of continuing military service for those who wanted a career in the military. Every section of society would then have more interest in U.S. foreign policy because much like in World War II and earlier generations most Americans would be intimately impacted. Finally, the creation of a Universal Civic Service would produce leaders in Congress and the White House who have a first person understanding of the impact foreign policy has on military personal, and thus would become more hesitant to unnecessarily apply military forces to situations with a diplomatic answer.
The growing divide between civil-military relations is a concern that continues to trend upward and will have less than positive consequence if left unchecked. The United States has historical perspectives for what works and should look to earlier generations to solve the current complications of the All-volunteer Military. Simply, U.S. foreign policy is unsustainable with the AVF. Therefore, either the foreign policy must change or the AVF needs to be revamped and a new Universal Military Service should be implemented. This thesis argues that both should be implemented. The U.S. should have a foreign policy less reliant on military power and there should be a Universal Civic Service installed to close the gap between those who serve and those who don’t, making our leaders more accountable for their actions.
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 Victor Davis Hanson, Between War and Peace: Lessons from Afghanistan to Iraq (New York, 2004), pp. 282
 Gordon Trowbridge, “Today’s Military: Right, Republicans, and Principled,” Marine Corps Times (Jan. 5, 2004).
 Janowitz, pp. 436
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 Ricks, “The Widening Gap Between Military and Society.”
 Bacevich, New American Militarism, pp. 158
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