Monday, July 25, 2005

Socialism day on the op-ed page, part 2

Another recurring idea for liberals and the New York Times op-ed page is that the War on Terror, or war in general, means that American society needs a more communitarian military ethos. With respect to the universal military draft, I commented before that this attitude is largely self-serving for liberals, since their intention is that this communitarianism be extended to the private economy in general. The op-ed piece "The Best Army We Can Buy" is a perfect example:
The life of a robust democratic society should be strenuous; it should make demands on its citizens when they are asked to engage with issues of life and death. The "revolution in military affairs" has made obsolete the kind of huge army that fought World War II, but a universal duty to service - perhaps in the form of a lottery, or of compulsory national service with military duty as one option among several - would at least ensure that the civilian and military sectors do not become dangerously separate spheres. War is too important to be left either to the generals or the politicians. It must be the people's business.
In this case, the excuse is that the tradition of the citizen-soldier has decayed, as evidenced by the hiring of mercenaries by the United States military, this producing a military that is dangerously out of touch with civilian sentiment and vice versa.

Obviously a government's employment of mercenaries should raise concerns about the civilian control of the military forces it employs. But doesn't it seem strange that institution of compulsory national service should be the solution? The institution of a new draft would seem to have the potential to create a far greater social divide than supplementing citizen-soliders with mercenary troops. If you think that letting the rich escape military service under the all-volunteer military is socially divisive, why would you think that letting the rich political class force everyone into compulsory service would be any less divisive?

An appeal is also made to Western Civilization and its idea of the citizen-solider:
From Aristotle's Athens to Machiavelli's Florence to Thomas Jefferson's Virginia and Robert Gould Shaw's Boston and beyond, the tradition of the citizen-soldier has served the indispensable purposes of sustaining civic engagement, protecting individual liberty - and guaranteeing political accountability.
Somehow the ideas that letting the government requisition your labor for the "national service" during peacetime is contradictory with "protecting individual liberty", or that sustaining civic engagement is itself a form of "national service" for the priviate citizen, or that removing the requirement that government bid for labor by offering competitative wages can only undermine political accountability are ignored.


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