The Sociopolitical Problem of the All-volunteer Military: Solutions and Conclusion

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.[1]

A thesis that raises questions but offers no solutions isn’t worthy of a researcher’s 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; however, history has proven that when American’s put their collective efforts together they can accomplish anything when unified. 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 I 1946, “In war the Nation cannot depend on the numbers of men willing to volunteer for active service; nor can our security in peace.”[2] 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 that 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.

So what is the solution to narrow the civil-military gap and create a military more representative of the nation at large? How does the United States change its foreign policy for the benefit of the country? Though the thesis offers a simple overview of a much more complex and nuanced issue, it does provide potential solutions for future researchers with the ability to move the issue forward. The first solution is the abolishment of the All-volunteer Military and creation of Universal National Service.

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 delay 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, working 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.[3] 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.”[4]

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.”[5] 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 incentive civic service for millions of young men and women giving future generations a stronger sense of unity. The current stipend for AmeriCorps volunteers I roughly $12,000 a year with a $5,000 scholarship for school.[6] Currently, there is $1.26 trillion in student loan debt in the United States with roughly 43 million Americans who are debt.[7] The class of 2016 has on average $37,172 in student loan debt.[8]

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 education 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.[9] 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.

So then how would this narrow the civil-military divide, and how would U.S. foreign policy begin to change? 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 draw soldiers from 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. 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.

[1] McChrystal, Stanley, “Lincoln’s Call to Service – and Ours,” The Wall Street Journal (May 29, 2013) accessed Sept. 11, 2016 from http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324809804578511220613299186

[2] Marshall, George, “Universal Military Training,” World Affairs, vol. 109, no. 1 (March, 1946), pp. 63

[3] Friedersdorf, Conor, “The Case Against Universal National Service,” The Atlantic (June 26, 2013) accessed Sept. 11, 2016 from http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/06/the-case-against-universal-national-service/277230/

[4] McChrystal, Stanley, “Lincoln’s Call to Service – and Ours”

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] “A Look at the Shocking Student Loan Debt Statistics for 2016,) Student Loan Hero accessed Sept. 11, 2016 from https://studentloanhero.com/student-loan-debt-statistics-2016/

[8] Ibid

[9] “Are Reserve Soldiers a Better Value than Active Duty?” Navy.com accessed Sept. 11, 2016 from http://www.navy.army.com/are-reserve-soldiers-better-value-active-duty

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