November 20th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

It's Official: Chuck Rangel is Insane

If Chuck Rangel isn't insane, then there's only one reason to explain why a prominent headline in so many newspapers, either Sunday or Monday, is "House Democrat Wants Draft Reinstated." Would someone please check his donor and volunteer lists for people with ties to Karl Rove? This goes beyond the level of the famous quip, "I don't belong to any organized political party. I'm a Democrat." This level of going out of one's way to make one's own political party look bad is something we haven't seen since Al Sharpton took Republican money and was lent Republican campaign volunteers in exchange for his help in smearing Howard Dean in the '04 primaries.

When he first proposed this idea in 2003, it was a plan to embarrass George Bush by making it clear that Republicans only want poor and middle class kids to die in Iraq. Because, you know, so many rich kids, like George Bush himself, actually got sent to Vietnam when there was a draft. Oh, wait. Stupid idea. He was voted down 402 to 2. Last January, he proposed it again, expanding it to cover everybody in America between the ages of 18 and 42. This time neither the Republican nor the Democratic leadership humored him enough to even try to schedule a vote on it. So when Chuck Rangel says that his first order of business in the next Congress in January will be to re-introduce the bill, please take it for granted that no matter which party has control of the House, he's not getting that bill passed. I'll be unpleasantly surprised if it even gets voted on. It's just that stupid. Even in the profoundly unlikely event he could design a draft that the rich couldn't beat either by finding ways not to serve or by reserving the safe cushy billets for each other, which I don't believe for a second that he could (who can afford lawyers?), I fail to see how anybody who served in Congress during the Reagan, Clinton, or Bush II administrations could persuade himself that the way to make war less likely is to give this President or any future President a bigger army that he can send into battle at will.

And lest you be one of the few people in America who think that mandatory military service for everybody would be a good thing, who think that I'm saying that this is a dumb idea just because it's political suicide for Democrats to have a prominent ranking Democrat proposing an Iraq War draft after winning an election based on our opposition to the Iraq War, think again.

The poster children for mandatory military service are Switzerland and Israel. Both of them require, in theory, that everybody go through military basic training at age 18 and serve two years, so that if they need to do a general call-up, they already have trained soldiers. This idea has been hyped as a good way to increase young people's commitment to America, to inculcate teamwork skills, to provide remedial education and/or job skills training to people who would otherwise fall through the cracks, and as a way of making every American serve their country over and above the taxes they pay, in theory to serve America equally. I'm especially skeptical about that last part ... and recent history in Israel backs me up. But first let's dispose of the Swiss example by asking one stupidly obvious question: and how many wars has Switzerland won?

But the example that pro-mandatory-service people use the most often is the nation of Israel, which instituted a mandatory draft for all 18 year olds as soon as they won their independence in 1948, and who went on to win a ton of wars against overwhelming odds. But a funny thing has been happening lately. Starting in the 1980s, the Orthodox in Israel have been demanding, and getting, an exemption from military service on pretty spurious sounding "religious" grounds. This makes me particularly sick to my stomach, because the Orthodox are also the most militant faction in Israel, the ones most likely to vote for Shas, the party that makes Likud look like Labor, the party most determined to plunge Israel into war with all her neighbors. But with every year since, more and more Israelis have asked for and gotten exemptions from military service, most notably Miss Israel 2006 who won a partial exemption, an exemption from her actual duties, on the basis of the "fact" that having to be ready to help defend her country from its roughly weekly terrorist attacks might bruise her legs and hurt her modeling career.

The sad fact of the matter is that the Zionists and others who founded Israel in 1948 were the survivors of the Holocaust, or relatives of survivors of the Holocaust. The ones who weren't had certainly seen the photographs and knew, deep down and through and through, just what they were fighting for. And when Israel was attacked, over and over again, the draft was for Israel the same thing that it was for the US in 1941: not a way of persuading the unwilling to serve, but a way of throttling back the flow of the willing to as many as the Army could train at one time. But the most recent generation of Israelis, even though they've had to get used to an unending stream of rocket attacks and suicide bombers and car bombs sent in by countries whose leadership want to see ever Jew in the world dead, inexplicably don't feel the same urgency to serve. They try to get out of it. And so when Israel is attacked by a political party within the Lebanese government and has to fight back, what marches in are those who had to be forced to serve. And as in the USA back when they had a mandatory draft because we couldn't persuade enough people to want to fight, those sent in wanted only one thing: not to win at any cost, but to survive long enough to go home. And you know what? Ever since the draft in Israel became something they had to enforce, rather than a point of national pride for everybody? Israel hasn't won any wars, either.

Mandatory service doesn't inoculate someone with "willingness to serve" who doesn't already have it. And no nation can survive while defended by unwilling soldiers. As Heinlein put it, "No state has an inherent right to survive through conscript troops and, in the long run, no state ever has. Roman matrons used to say to their sons: 'Come back with your shield, or on it.' Later on, this custom declined. So did Rome."