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As originally published in
The Atlantic Monthly

April 1981


The Civilianization of the Army


9 to 5 and home for dinner

by James Fallows


IT IS HARD to talk with American military officers these days, especially the captains and majors in their thirties who commanded combat teams in Vietnam ten years ago, without getting into discussions about "ethical reform" and "rededication to military values." The central message of their comments is that the effectiveness of any military force depends on the creation of a series of human bonds--among soldiers who risk death for the sake of other men in their unit, between troops and leaders, between the military as a whole and the nation it is supposed to represent. These bonds can be built only by demonstrations of mutual respect and willingness to share hardships; without them, many of these soldiers say, an army will be eviscerated, no matter how impressive its machinery.

In discussing their attempts to face the truth of Vietnam, officers often point out the connection between their efforts and the conversion of the Army from conscription to an all-volunteer force. The connection was spelled out by Dandridge Malone, an Army colonel, a renowned combat leader who now works on a special task force studying military values at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. I met him during a series of interviews with military men about the morale of the country's armed forces. Malone is a drawling southerner with crisp creases in his clothes and a wholly military bearing; I had heard his name mentioned to illustrate the maxim that the best men in the Army are the colonels who don't make general.

Return to Flashback: Reinventing the Military "I think the Army is in the midst of an ethical revolution," he said at the end of a long talk. "I've never been in a revolution, so I can't be sure. But I do see concern about these issues--care about questions of morality and values and military ethics."

What is the greatest obstacle to re-establishing these bedrock values? I asked him. Who is the enemy?

"Oh, the givens of the way any organization operates. Hierarchy, programs you have to adhere to. Those are obstacles." He sat silent for ten seconds. "But the enemy, that's the volunteer Army."

Soldiers use "the volunteer Army" as others once used Watergate or "the hippies," as a catch phrase to convey much that perturbs them. When they complain about the volunteer Army, they are really complaining about two things: that the change has "civilianized" the military, converting its operating principles to those of the workaday world; and that it has given them an Army of the poor.

The civilianization of the military was a natural, indeed an intended, consequence of switching to an all-volunteer force (AVF). (Although it is commonplace to speak of "the volunteer Army," all branches of the military rely entirely on enlistment.) One of the clearest differences between the new Army and the old is that these days soldiers can "quit" or be "fired." The Gates Commission, the official body whose recommendations for a volunteer force President Nixon accepted in 1970, contended that it was irrational to force soldiers to fulfill a set term of enlistment. "We believe that this policy is not necessary, and that it adversely affects the attractiveness of military service," the commission report said. First-term enlisted men used to be unmarried and live on base; now, at many bases, half the force is married and lives in town. There are large parking lots at major bases; at quitting time, enlisted men hop in their cars and drive home. Soldiers can eat in snack bars instead of together in the mess hall; they can live three to a room in motel-style barracks instead of all together in squad bays. Years ago, a captain would personally hand each man his pay envelope full of cash; now soldiers, like Social Security recipients, receive computerized checks. Basic training is shorter and less demanding physically; in many cases, women recruits train alongside men. Drill instructors have been forbidden to swear at or strike recruits.

From a civilian's point of view, much that has changed has changed for the good. The limits placed on brutal drill instructors clearly fall into that category. Indeed, a lot of the grumbling about today's Army from tough-guy officers is nothing more than whining about any departure from the days when men were men and dames were dames and civilians knew their place. Clifford Alexander, secretary of the Army during the Carter Administration, suggested throughout his term that opposition to the volunteer Army was ultimately racist, from officers who didn't like having so many blacks in the ranks or from newspaper writers who felt free to run down the quality of a largely black Army.

But whatever the biases that affect complaints about the volunteer Army, many thoughtful, careful military leaders say that the conditions of service in today's Army undermine the unique qualities a fighting force must possess.

In an essay called "The Will to Fight," published in 1980, William Hauser, a retired Army colonel, asked why soldiers stand and fight on the battlefield rather than choose the more "rational" options of hiding, fleeing, shirking. He answered that four elements sustain the "will to fight":

Submission, the process through which the soldier is made to do over and over again things he does not want to do, until he understands that the fundamental rule of his existence is to obey. "If this conditioning process has been effective," Hauser said, "the soldier will continue to submit to the orders of legitimate authority, even though the orders be contrary to his fundamental instinct of self-preservation."

Fear. Although it "makes some soldiers flee from battle, that same fear is a major factor in sustaining the will to fight. . . . If the soldier knows and trusts his comrades, he will probably perceive more safety in continuing to fight alongside them than in rearward flight away from them and the enemy which they face."

Loyalty, the sense of emotional devotion to "buddies" and the unit, and occasionally to abstractions such as "the division" or "the nation."

Pride, the knowledge on the part of a man with a specific function that "others depend on and value his particular contribution to their safety and to the unit's mission."

Each of these qualities, Hauser suggested, has diminished in the volunteer force. The more genteel training regimen does not require soldiers to submit to the rote practice that prepares them to perform automatically when under fire. Fear has abated at the same time. Loyalty was built on the countless intangible bonds among men who ate, slept, worked, and drank together; it does not grow among men who knock off for the day and drive home to the wife and kids. As for pride, Hauser delicately said that "the young man whose major reason for enlisting (admitted or not) was his failure to find gainful employment elsewhere is not likely to be bursting with a sense of self-worth."

"To the degree that we have to pitch the Marines as a way to get a job, better yourself, go to college, we may be pitching for the wrong reason," said Joe Hoar, a Marine Corps colonel from Massachusetts now serving at Camp Pendleton. "The reason we have a Marine Corps is to defend the country--to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy. To the degree that as an institution we talk about other things, we create expectations that are not always reasonable, and we detract from our primary mission."

"The military requires two kinds of discipline, a positive and internal discipline, and a more negative and external one," one Army colonel told me. "The internal discipline consists of ties of loyalty, mutual support, fellow-feeling, tradition. The external control consists of discipline, pay, power in the brutal sense. There's less of both now."

Seven days after Ronald Reagan took office, General David C. Jones, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was "deeply concerned" about the effect of the civilianized ethic on the character of the fighting force. He said, "By de-emphasizing discipline, esprit, and service to nation above self, in favor of a market-force appeal to self-interest, the architects of the current system created enormous pressures on the officers and enlisted professionals charged with the training, discipline, morale, welfare, and combat readiness of our armed forces." (Jones, who was the subject of grumbling from the Reagan transition teams, because of his supposedly inordinate eagerness to endorse the Carter Administration's defense policies, had not voiced his concerns quite so clearly before January 20, 1981.)


EVERYONE INSIDE AND outside the military has heard about the "retention problem"--the mass departure of petty officers and first sergeants who have been in the force for eight, ten, twelve years. Outside the military, thoughts about this problem automatically turn to pay as both the cause and the solution; but inside the military, they turn again to the "civilianization" of the volunteer force. By the time NCOs start concentrating on the pay, it certainly is a problem. "I'll be making $8000 more with the county police," one Marine sergeant told me. "If it was $4000, I'd say to hell with it, but this is too much." Most of them begin to worry about pay only after they have grown unhappy for other reasons. What did the military formerly hold as its reward to the sergeant major, the chief petty officer? Their privilege was the authority they enjoyed, and the recognition by officers above them and recruits below that they made things run. At that time, a top NCO also made seven times as much money as a first-day private, whereas he makes only three times as much now. Some craved authority for the wrong reasons, but most who stayed in the service enjoyed the responsibility of command--something that people find in other forms when running businesses, raising children, coaching sports, teaching school. The authority that a foreman on an assembly line enjoys is, by comparison, a pale and unsatisfying thing; yet it is in that foreman's image that the NCOs feel the volunteer force is attempting to mold them.

Most irritating of all to the officers and NCOs are the steps the outside world has taken to force its labor-market model on the military. During 1979 and 1980, it seemed that the collective anger of the uniformed services was focused upon Secretary Alexander. The first black service secretary, Alexander was the most unyielding government spokesman for the contention that the volunteer Army was a social and military success. If officers disagreed, he said, they could shut up or quit. "We don't run the Army by taking a vote of all 770,000 people in uniform and 390,000 civilians and asking them what the line should be. They are under the control of civilian leadership, which sets the Army's policies. If they are called to testify before the Congress, they are bound to give their views. But they are not bound to give them to the first reporter that comes by. If their disagreements are serious, they should bring them to me, or they should get the hell out if they want to talk." Alexander had a point in saying that though many officers would grumble, few would resign in protest; but his tone gave a hint of the difficulties that arose between him and the career military. One colonel remarked, "I just hate to see an Army that's seriously trying to reform itself cowed by this attitude that 'the secretary's gonna get you if you don't watch out.'"


IT IS ONE THING to complain about the volunteer Army that it makes military service seem like just another job. The military's second worry is more complicated and controversial. It concerns the kind of people who now choose this line of work.

In 1964, the last year of the pre-Vietnam draft, 17 percent of all draftees had some college education, as did 14 percent of those who enlisted. In 1979, only 3 percent of men who joined the volunteer Army had ever been to college. In 1964, slightly more than one quarter of all draftees were high school dropouts. In 1979, 41 percent of the volunteer Army had not finished high school. Charles Moskos, a sociologist from Northwestern who served in the Army after graduating from Princeton in the 1950s, and who now spends much of his time traveling to bases and interviewing soldiers, points out that over the past fifteen years, a larger and larger percentage of the American young-adult population has managed to complete high school--the percentage increased from 66 in 1965 to 76 in 1977. He says, "Thus, while the national trend has been toward a higher percentage of high school graduates, the percentage of graduates among Army enlistees has been dropping."

In 1980, of the 100,860 men who were serving their first term as enlistees in the "combat arms" of the Army -- infantry, armor, artillery: the ones who fight--how many had degrees from any college, of any quality, anywhere in the United States? Twenty-five. Not 25 percent, but twenty-five people. There are nearly twice as many graduates on any forty-five-man team in the National Football League. Of the 340,000 enlisted men in the entire Army who in 1980 were serving their first term, a total of 276 had college degrees.

As Clifford Alexander has pointed out, if you are recruiting eighteen-year-olds, you are not going to get a lot of college graduates. The main reason there were more college men in the Army of the 1950s and 1960s was the student deferment program, which permitted them to finish their schooling before being eligible for the draft. Theoretically, today's Army might be getting the same kind of people a few years earlier--before they go to college, instead of after. But talking with soldiers, an outsider learns that many of them joined precisely because they did not have the money or the opportunity to go to college, and because there was no better job in sight.

In many areas of American society--for example, the student body of public schools in big cities--statistics reflecting low education or income levels might suggest large numbers of poor black people. But in the enlisted ranks of the Army, the blacks are better educated than the whites. Despite the predictions of the Gates Commission, the military grows steadily more "black." If current trends continue, by the mid-1980s more than half the soldiers in ranks E-1 through E-3 in the Army will be blacks or Hispanics. A fair representation of black society would be several economic and educational cuts below a fair sampling of white society; therefore, it is all the more telling that, as Charles Moskos points out, 65 percent of blacks who join as Army enlisted men have high school diplomas, versus 54 percent of whites. For many blacks, the military still represents what it has since desegregation under Harry Truman: an avenue of social advance, which attracts many bright people on the way up. Moskos adds: "In point of fact, today's Army enlisted ranks is the only major arena in American society where black educational levels surpass those of whites, and by a significant degree. Whereas the black soldier seems fairly representative of the black community . . . white entrants of recent years are coming from the least educated sectors of the white community."

The commanding general of one Marine Corps base told me that the average age of enlisted men's wives living at one off-base housing project was fifteen. (When I checked with the public information officer, she said that those figures weren't up to date, and that the wives probably averaged nineteen years old now.) At another base, nine out of ten enlistees have major corrective dental work done as they enter the service. "It makes you realize what a middle-class luxury dentistry is," a Marine colonel said.

It doesn't take long for anyone visiting military bases and talking with the soldiers to see who they are and where they come from. They are white country boys, and blacks and browns from the cities.

Taken one by one, most of the soldiers in the volunteer force command an outsider's respect. I could not point to more than a dozen or so of the roughly 150 soldiers I met who would be obvious examples of the "quality" problem. Rather, the issue is one of balance. While the soldiers individually may be tough, humorous, appealing, as a group they clearly come from outside the mainstream of American life.

When the volunteer force was being set up, the blithe assumption was that military service was largely a question of numbers. As long as the pay scale could be fine-tuned to bring enough people into the armed forces, it wouldn't much matter who they were. In any case, the theory went, there was no reason to think that the change from conscription to the free labor market would produce a different kind of soldier. The Gates Commission predicted: "The elimination of conscription admittedly is a major social change, but it will not produce a major change in the personnel of our armed forces. . . . Contrary to much dramatic argument, the reality is that an all-volunteer force will be manned largely by the same kind of individuals as today's armed forces. The men who serve will be quite similar in patriotism, political attitudes, and susceptibility to civilian control"

In a section of its report designed to answer objections to the volunteer Army, most of which was devoted to knocking down fears that the military would become a nest of hard-boiled janissaries beyond the reach of civilian control, the commission said:

"Objection 6: Those joining an all-volunteer force will be men from the lowest economic classes, motivated primarily by monetary rewards rather than patriotism. An all-volunteer force will be manned, in effect, by mercenaries.

"Answer: Again, our research indicates that an all-volunteer force will not differ significantly from the current force of conscripts and volunteers. Maintenance of current mental, physical, and moral standards for enlistment will ensure that a better paid, volunteer force will not recruit an undue proportion of youths from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds."

The fundamental assumption was wrong. It was wrong in its premise that a volunteer Army would draw the same crowd as that brought in by the draft, and just as wrong in its implication that such differences as might occur would have little impact.

The most familiar words in public diagnoses of the volunteer Army's problems--"numbers" and "quality"-- are imprecise and misleading. They leave the impression that there are tremendous gaps in the enlisted ranks, which volunteers fail to fill, and that such soldiers as do enlist stand befuddled before the space-age machinery they must operate. Indeed, "numbers" and "quality" are problems. The Army now includes about 800,000 men, some 20 percent fewer than before Vietnam; the standing military as a whole is about 30 percent smaller than it was twenty years ago--at 2 million compared with 2.6 million. The Army's Individual Ready Reserves, made up of people who have recently finished their active-duty service, fell from 932,000 in 1970 to 205,000 in 1980. Except in periods of acute teenage unemployment, most of the services have had trouble meeting their recruiting quotas.

As for quality, there is an obvious discrepancy between the technical skills required to run and maintain a computerized tank and the training a high school dropout brings to the force.

But this is not the way officers talk about the real problems with the volunteer Army. Several times, I heard them introduce their concerns. First, the colonel or the sergeant major or the lieutenant would carefully point out how proud he was of the men (and sometimes women) under his command. "They're tough kids. They really try. I can't say a bad word about them." If anything, the officers consistently soft-pedaled the evidence which shows up in nearly every NATO exercise or war game in the U.S., that many of today's soldiers have trouble running tanks and firing missiles. I took it as an encouraging sign of reciprocal loyalty that not one of the several dozen officers I spoke with was willing to talk down his own troops.

When the officers talk about what does worry them, they discuss not the people who are in the Army but the ones who are missing. "I won't say a word against my men, but the volunteer force is killing us. Where's the rest of the country, not just the poor kids and the blacks?" The officers believe that the missing are the middle and upper classes of white America. The officers are right.


IT HAS ALWAYS been true that the military contains more of America's humble than of its well-bred. In fact, the notion of a "representative" military force may be a recent historical oddity, arising from two special circumstances. One was World War II, in which people from every region and social class served. The other was the peacetime draft throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, when the combination of a large standing Army and a relatively small draft-age population meant that most able-bodied males, from Elvis Presley to Norman Podhoretz, looked on the draft as a fact of life. For graduates of Amherst, Yale, or Columbia in the 1950s, military service was the rule; for their counterparts fifteen years later, it was the exception. But if the idea of a representative military is a departure from most of American history, so too was the idea that blacks (or women) should have the right to vote. Both changes are based on a more democratic interpretation of who should enjoy the privileges the state confers--and share the obligations that it imposes.

"The distinctive quality of the enlisted ranks in modern times has been a mixing of the social classes," Charles Moskos says. "This was the elemental social fact underlying enlisted service. This is the state of affairs which has disappeared in the all-volunteer Army."

When soldiers speak about the effects of a lower-class Army, they usually begin with the way the changed human chemistry of the units has eroded their ability to do the military's traditional job. In talking about "human chemistry" of the military, they suggest that there was something more than humor in the movie cliche that had Greenberg, Kowalski, Martinez, and Baxter serving together in the foxhole. It is a question of proportions.

Tom Kelly, a Pentagon aide who is both a college graduate and a Vietnam veteran, says: "It was important for me to be there, and other people like me. I was with kids who didn't have a high school education, kids with prison records, kids with two years of college, kids who were given the choice o! joining or going to jail. We suffered together, and in suffering we became a unit. I don't want to sound elitist, but natural leadership grew from the group. It grew among people who understood the needs in that experience, the need to share, the need to follow orders. Some stepped forward, some others followed. The central fact of military experience is that it is a shared experience by all classes, all races, to meet national goals."

A Marine Corps major at Quantico says: "In the Marines, we still get people looking for more discipline, a tougher test, than they do in the Army. But you can still feel the change in social class. There used to be a general expectation that people would conform to middle-class values in the military--if you can call the DIs and the Yessirs 'middle-class.' I mean that they wouldn't yell back, they'd bend to authority. People were expected to obey. I feel like the balance has shifted to those who come from areas without discipline, and there's not the implied standard for them to conform to."

"I think the mixture of middle-class men had a real modulating effect," Charles Moskos says. "It made it much easier to sustain discipline. It was nice for a lower-class kid to outmarch a college grad. They can't do that anymore, because the college kids aren't there. You've heard the NCOs complain about outsiders and civilians interfering with the disciplinary steps they need to take to deal with drugs, et cetera. Well, a lot of that is a question of socializing the entrants to begin with. If you get some middle-class mix back, you won't need these Draconian measures anymore."


SEVERAL YEARS AGO, a team of researchers including Moskos did a unit-by-unit survey of the Army, trying to create a scale based upon intangible but crucial martial qualities: toughness, readiness to fight, cohesion, and so forth. They found, to no one's surprise, that the most "elite" units--the Airborne, the Special Forces, the Rangers--ranked the highest, and the regular Army the lowest, on this scale. Then they found that in terms of the soldiers' willingness to re-enlist, the pattern was reversed. The regular Army troops showed the greatest interest in re-enlisting, and the Rangers the least. The explanation offered was that ambitious people on the make were the ones who gave the elite units their edge and were also the ones most likely to move on from the military to another challenge, by going to college or getting a job. "The military equivalent of the bright cop who goes to night law school," James Woolsey, former undersecretary of the Navy, calls them. "They're the ones we've lost in the rest of the Army."

After detailed study of squad behavior in World War II, S. L. A. Marshall announced to an astonished Army that in the typical combat engagement, only 15 to 25 percent of the men actually fired their weapons. These findings set off many reactions in the military, including the inauguration of a set of "fighter" studies to try to determine which men were most and which least likely to perform in combat. From the studies, the researchers identified ten or twelve traits that distinguished "fighters" from "non-fighters." Almost all were apple-pie, Jack Armstrong traits: stable family life, successful education, desire to achieve. Those traits still show up among groups like the Rangers, which may be connected to the fact that while soldiers in the more elite groups are less likely to re-enlist than soldiers in the regular Army, they are far more likely to complete their original term. They are also, in general, better educated than regular Army troops. "The striking finding is that high school graduates are twice more likely than high school dropouts to complete their enlistment," according to Moskos. "More revealing, this finding is virtually unchanged when mental aptitude is held constant. . . . Possession of a high school diploma, it seems, reflects the acquisition of social traits (work habits, punctuality, Sitzfleisch) which make for a more successful military experience."

"It would be just as bad to have an outfit of all college grads as one that is the dregs of white society and the upper part of black society," Tom Kelly says. "We found out in some of these studies that a lot of people who really succeed are the ones who've worked in gas stations or on farms, have had to take care of themselves. The point is to have a mix."

The closest thing I heard to a defense of the volunteer force from a professional soldier came from Edward Meyer, the Army's Chief of Staff. The decision to reinstate the draft is the nation's, not the Army's, decision, he said. Speaking as a citizen, he said that he felt people owed some form of service to the nation, whether military or otherwise. Speaking as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he knew that the reserves and National Guard were way down, and that they would fill up again if there were a draft. But speaking for the Army, he said there might be hidden drawbacks: "We'd get, what, 200,000 people, out of a cohort of 2.1 million. They'd feel unfairly treated from the start. They wouldn't want to be there, and we wouldn't be able to get rid of them, as we can do now with the expeditious-discharge program for people who don't work out. At a period when we're short of NCOs, they'd have to handle reluctant soldiers. It could be a very traumatic period for the Army. After a couple of years, I think people would get used to the idea and it would work out. But those first two years would be hard on us." In any case, Meyer said, the draft finally didn't matter to the Army as much as another question. "Whichever way the nation chooses to fill us up, we've got to train the people, which is why our first priority has to be rebuilding our corps of NCOs."


AT THE OFFICERS' mess at Camp Pendleton, several Marine officers discussed their impressions of today's Marines with me one afternoon last summer. One of them, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Williams, had just brought a battalion of men back from an extended tour in the Pacific. Williams was a pleasant, burly man with gray hair. "I feel like we're setting up a kind of class warfare," he said. "I wonder about the morality of a nation that lets the disadvantaged do the fighting." His general interrupted him: "The only thing worse than having kids whose parents write to their congressmen all the time is not having those parents. Or having parents who are so disenfranchised that they aren't heard." The general stopped, and the lieutenant colonel continued. "I feel like the country is dividing up into the haves and the have-nots, and the have-nots are doing all the fighting."

In conversations with soldiers, such moments are not unusual. By the end of a long talk, they find themselves trying to explain, often with considerable uneasiness, what bothers them about the volunteer force even more than the military details they could name. We're setting up an Army of the underprivileged, they say: I don't like . . . well, I don't like the moral aspect of the thing.

It is no secret to those in the military that the bitterness with which much of civilian society viewed them in the late 1960s has changed into an attitude of indifference, shading into contempt. On the whole, they're not sure it is an improvement. The Gates Commission, with typical sagacity, predicted that the coming of the volunteer force would make the military far more popular and prestigious. "The termination of the draft should immediately enhance the prestige of enlisted service," it said. In fact, by shifting enlisted service to blacks and the least educated class of whites, it has done exactly the reverse. Charles Moskos suggests the parallel of the Civilian Conservation Corps. In the thirties, when everyone was out of work, it was no shame to be part of the CCC. Liberals and conservatives supported it; it was thought to contain a cross-section of the country. By the end of the decade, when the private job market had slowly picked up, the CCC became a last resort for losers. People didn't want it in their town anymore, didn't want their sons to join.

Many soldiers perceive a similar drift from the mainstream, with similar effects, over the past ten years. One of the by-products of the pre-Vietnam draft was that people who would never have dreamt of a military career found they had a taste for it once they got in. It is astonishing to see how many men still in the military in their forties and fifties never planned to be soldiers but were hauled in by the draft or (an indirect version of the same thing) through ROTC. "I was pulled in kicking and screaming," a two-star Army general who now commands one of the major staff schools told me. "The greatest loss with the draft," says one official in the Pentagon, "was all the men who would not otherwise have chosen the service but who spent two years, found out they liked it, and stayed. They added a spark to the officer corps. You need their diversity." They also provided a bond between the military and middle-class society.

So did the junior officers--the lieutenants who came in through ROTC, did not stay any longer than they had to, but made the military run while they were there. Soldiers whose experience predates 1970 complain about the change in these young officers, as ROTC has left the Dartmouths and the Stanfords. Sergeant majors in the Marine Corps, the professional bastards who spend their time yelling at grunts to tuck it in and get the lead out, reflect with what amounts to nostalgia about the college kids they used to have to deal with: the kids were jerks but they helped make things work. Some of this, no doubt, is rosy-hued recollection of the good old days, but not all. "In the ground-combat arms, there is the acknowledgement that the 'X factor' middle-class soldiers bring to a unit is no longer there," Moskos says. "The days when many enlisted men might be better educated than their sergeants and smarter than their officers are gone. One is struck by the fond reminiscences the older sergeants have of the university graduates who worked under them, and formed the shadow staff-- clerks in personnel, supply, and operations--which made things run smoothly at company and battalion levels."

Moskos has suggested one of the most creative approaches to correcting the social imbalance of the military, short of a draft. He points out that the government offers some $5 billion each year to assist students with college expenses. The money comes through student loan programs, Basic Educational Opportunity Grants (BEOGs), work-study programs, and several others, and a large share of it goes to students from middle-class families. The BEOGs are available to many students whose families earn as much as $30,000, and under a new subsidized-loan program parents may borrow $3000 per year, at 9 percent interest, no matter what their income. These programs, though currently under review, are one of the fastest-growing parts of the federal budget. The money comes with no strings attached. Moskos's proposal is to attach strings, on the model of federal aid to medical students, which obliges the young doctor to spend a year or two in public-service work.

Moskos argues that, instead of forcing middle-class people into the ranks, the Army should entice them by giving first claim on student-aid money to those who have spent time in the military (or some other form of national service). Furthermore, he says, the GI Bill should be re-enacted, since it too appeals to the very people who are now missing from the military. Pay should be greatly reduced for those who sign up for just one term, and the money should be used to give substantial raises to those who make the military their career.

He says, "Active-duty pay for the citizen soldier would be lower--say by one third--than that received by the career soldier of the same rank. Other than the GI Bill, the citizen soldier would receive no entitlements such as off-base housing or food allowances. This would reduce the frequency of marriage at the junior enlisted levels and restore unit cohesion in the barracks. Because there would be no presumption of acquiring civilian skills in the military, the terms of such service would be honest and unambiguous, thus alleviating a major source of post-entry discontent in the AVF." The $5 billion now spent on student-aid programs ought to be enough to transform the makeup of the military, he says.

This is fine as far as it goes, and it is infinitely preferable to the wooden pronouncements from libertarian economists that increased pay, by itself, is the solution to the "quality" problem. The cutest expression of this libertarian creed is the idea that we should "draft old men's money, not young men's bodies." As a practical matter, when the military is set up as "just another job," the old men's money will be appealing only to young men and women who need money and have no better prospects, since almost any other kind of job will offer more freedom, and less harassment and potential danger, than military service. Accept for a moment the pure libertarian idea that people are rich or poor because they deserve to be. As that applies to someone eighteen or nineteen years old, it means that he is rich or poor because his parents deserved to be. If his parents have money, he can go to college; if they do not, he probably can't and may need to join the Army to make ends meet. This is why the libertarian chestnut is so dishonest. Stated more bluntly, it would say, "Draft old men's money to pay for poor young men's bodies." Even though Charles Moskos's idea is better than this, it may not do enough to remove what Charles Peters of The Washington Monthly called "the number one deterrent to recruitment--the nation's lack of respect for those in the services." Peters said, "Until a reasonable number of people from the upper classes demonstrate their esteem by joining up themselves, the aver

age man is going to continue to refuse to risk his life for those who would look down on him for doing so, no matter how much he is paid." No one from a rich family will

feel compelled to join the service just for a student loan, nor will the bright boy who wins a scholarship to pay his way. A service that exempts the rich simply because of their income is not a representative service; I fear that the only way to have a representative Army is through the draft. I use the word "fear" because the drawbacks of conscription are great, both philosophically and practically. I am never eager to see the government compel

people to do anything. But the drawbacks of a volunteer force--in addition to the purely military problems it causes--may be worse.

One of those drawbacks is that if current trends continue, we will soon be at the point where very few educated white people--who for the foreseeable future will make up the class with the greatest influence in politics, business, education, and communication--will have had any first-hand exposure to the military. Public debates about defense are more and more often conducted in the abstract--with emphasis on budget totals, symbolism, "tough" or "soft" rhetoric--with less and less grounding in the operating realities of men and machines. Such indifference to the details of military life arises from widespread unfamiliarity with them. A Washington writer named Don Winter reported in 1980 that, while two thirds of all the U.S. senators born before 1939 had done active military duty, mainly in World War II, only one third of the senators and representatives born after 1939 had served in any military capacity, including the reserves and the National Guard. The proportion of young legislators with military experience went down after the 1980 elections. This increases the risk that they will be buffaloed, either by the services or by equally passionate groups on the left, and virtually eliminates the possibility that they will bring their own, uncoached perspective to the military reports they hear. How rich and full a feeling for education would the members of our school boards have if none of them had ever spent time as a student in public high school? How deeply would they be touched by concerns about the quality of public education if all their children were in private schools?

"People on the accelerated track have never been immersed in the complexity of life," says Larry Smith, who was drafted out of graduate school at Yale in 1958 and later taught history at Dartmouth. "When I was a teacher, most of the people older than me were veterans, and the ones older than that had worked for a living. The ones younger than me had never done anything but be in school. That made many of them in that college so unskilled in the use of democratic systems that they'd think the answer, say, to Vietnam was to put all the soldiers on a boat and pull them out. They didn't under stand the complexity of the groups involved. If they'd had to cope, as supply sergeants, with a unit that was not returning its blankets on time . . . well, make it more vivid, as an officer in circumstances where no matter what choice you made, there would be tragic results: if you stayed where you were, you would be killed, and if you tried to move, some of your men would die--if they'd had to do that, there would be a sense of the whole range of human motivations. Apart from a junior high school class, there is no more representative unit in our society than a basic training camp, in a draft that works."


THERE ARE THREE respectable arguments against the draft: it compels, it discriminates, and, even if it is "representative," it is in a sense always unfair.

That it compels is undeniable, but so does the tax code, and I think the two must be viewed in exactly the same light. Libertarians may argue that military service should be left to those who choose it, as they sometimes argue that each citizen should decide for himself which organs of the government to fund. Their theory of taxation founders on the reality of "public goods": everyone benefits from a police force, whether or not everyone pays for it, so no one will voluntarily support it unless everyone is made to share the cost. Their theory of military service ignores the evidence of history and human society that the connection between a nation and the force that defends it is defined not by pay rates and fringe benefits alone but rather by the bonds of trust and sacrifice that are also essential within units on the battlefield. This is especially true in a democracy, where decisions about how and when to use military force are supposed to represent the national will.

That the draft discriminated in Vietnam is also undeniable, and this is one more reason that a new draft should hold as its first premise that there be no exemptions except for those who are truly "disabled," in the common-sense meaning of the term. Selections should be made at random from among everyone else. In any case, no argument about discrimination can be used to defend the extremely discriminatory volunteer force.

That the draft will seem capricious and unfair is a possibility, since in the first few years of the 1980s the proportion of likely manpower needs to available young people will be such that only one of every three or four would be called. This problem will correct itself later in the decade, as the cohorts of young people dwindle in size. The problem of capriciousness could also be avoided by a generalized system of national service, or by much larger draft calls for people who would be trained briefly and then assigned to the reserves.

Steps such as these would be the gestures of a nation that realized its defense was a serious business, not to be discussed in airy generalizations or contracted out to the poor.


Return to Flashback: Reinventing the Military



Copyright © 1981 by James Fallows. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; April 1981; The Civilianization of the Army; Volume 247, No. 4; pages 98-108.

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