Sunday, February 13, 2005

Fighting sprit and the draft

How should a peaceful society approach fighting a just war? Should we fight with gusto, relishing every victory and eager for more, or should we approach it grimly, with reluctance, and mourn every loss, innocent, friendly and enemy?

The answer is: both.

In the policy-making plane, when we are deliberating what to do, how to pay for it, etc., we absolutely need to be sober and grim about the momentous choice of going to war. But in the operational plane, the people, resources and activities involved in actually conducting the war, unwavering commitment is critical to good performance. It is the operational plane I will discuss in this post, and show that neither recent efforts to muzzle a politically incorrect General nor the idea of reinstating the draft are useful to enhancing the war effort.

The people actually fighting the war need an enormous amount of support, because their job is unlike anything we civilians will ever experience. Joe Galloway reprints a letter from an Army lieutenant fighting in Iraq in He Has Seen the Elephant (Hat tip, Daily Demarche):
"I've said it a thousand times - 'God, I hate this country.' I've heard it a million times more - 'This place sucks.' In quieter moments, I've heard more profound things: 'Sir, this is a thousand times worse than I ever thought it would be.' Or, 'My wife and Sgt. B's wife were good friends - I hope she's taking it well.'

"They say they're scared, and say they won't do this or that, but when it comes time to do it they can't let their buddies down, can't let their friends go outside the wire without them, because they know it isn't right for the team to go into the ballgame at any less than 100 percent.
Our troops need rock solid support, both for them individually and for their mission. They also need intelligent, competent and enthusiastic leadership. Anything less erodes morale, delays victory and gets people killed.

But it is easy to mistake unwavering support and enthusiastic leadership for bloodlust.

Carpe Bonum commenter Mark, proprietor of The Moderate Liberal blog, calls me out on a comment I made regarding Marine Corps Lieutenant General James Mattis:
Mattis: "You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."

CB: "Thank God we have people like General Mattis to do it."

Jesus: " But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well." "...I say to you, love your enemy..."

Now, I'm nowhere nearly as liberal as Jesus and think in the real world we really do need to resist the evil doer. But do we really need to enjoy it?
A discussion of whether the Iraq war is just belongs in the policy-making plane, so I'm not going to get into it here. And if you don't believe Iraq is a just war, I'm sure I lost you on the first sentence of this post anyway. So, assuming we are fighting a just war in Iraq, do we need to enjoy it? Answer: no, but we need to maintain and maximize our troops fighting spirit any chance we get.

Based on comments from people who know him, such as this article in the Spectator, I am comfortable in the belief that General Mattis is not a sadist. No, what he is demonstrating is fighting spirit. It might be indistinguishable from enjoyment to an outsider, but it is different.

Which brings us to the draft. The Homespun Bloggers Homespun Symposium XII question is, "Do we have the right to insist and expect that the war against terror will not require a draft?"

The answer from a civil liberties point of view is no. In general, I see no right to avoid service when the country is in danger and the Congress has authorized a draft. But from a taxpayer value and government performance point of view, the answer is yes. As taxpayers, we have every right to insist and expect that with the money we are spending, the quality of the volunteers in the service, and the technology we are using, our government should be able to come up with a way to win the war without compulsory service.

Besides, adding conscripts to the force would severely reduce its efficiency, which was exactly Charlie Rangel's intention when he introduced his bill to reinstate the draft. It is possible to instill fighting spirit in conscripts -- Americans have done it numerous times. But it is much easier if we start with volunteers. It would also be much less efficient to try to get conscripts up to speed on the high technology we use. Rangel's bill was aptly defeated; even Rangel voted against it!

It is true that we are running a very high operational tempo with the force structure we have. The solution is not to reinstate the draft, but to use the people we have in uniform more efficiently or authorize the services to recruit more. The limiting factor is not the number of people willing to join the service, but the number of people the services have budget for. On the efficiency front, both the Marine Corps and Army are reorganizing to make more people available for ground combat while not increasing overall numbers.

In the operational plane, from service members in combat through Pentagon leadership to contractors supplying goods and serivces for the war effort, maintaining committment, fighting spirit and morale is key to victory. Enforcing political correctness on fighting generals and filling the ranks with conscripts would both detract from the effort.