Monday, February 14, 2005

hawking on the corner

Down on the corner, Jonah complains about the hypocritical lefties that dare to suggest that those who support the war should volunteer. When he wrote
No answer I could give -- I'm 35 years old, my family couldn't afford the lost income, I have a baby daughter, my a** is, er, sorry, are a few -- ever seem to suffice.

he left out his most compelling reasons. He now asks where all the lefties lined up for Afghanistan, then goes on to write
Look, in the age of the all-volunteer military, and in a country which prides itself on civilian control of that military, there is no shame in not signing up. Or even if there is shame, it's personal not political. We have, by my rough estimate, some 70 million men of military age. Should they all join-up the moment they agree the military should do something dangerous? I favor aggressive law enforcement at home, does this mean I should become a cop? Of course not.

I'm sure it's possible to engage in more self-serving, delusional sophistry, but most people would have to work at it.

In the age of an all-volunteer army, only those who volunteer are ever at risk for being sent to war. This makes support for war cheap. It's easy to say a price is worth paying when it's paid by someone else. When we had a draft, supporting a war carried a risk. Now it carries none. To Jonah, this somehow makes supporting the war without actually volunteering more acceptable. I think that's backwards.

The question isn't, as he puts it, 70 million men (apparently women of military age aren't worthy of service) should sign-up, but whether they should volunteer to do so. The military couldn't and wouldn't accept all 70 million into service. The department of defense only employs 1.4M people. That's less than 2% of the population of military age (unlike Jonah, I include women in the tally...the last time I looked, they were part of the force). Even if everyone volunteered, they wouldn't all be needed or accepted. One needn't be a soldier to support the war, but those who support it should accept the risk. Half of our citizens support the war, but of the 100M or so of military age, only 1.4M support it enough to put their own lives on the line. It's always easier to risk someone else's life.

He asks why lefties weren't lining up to fight in Afghanistan, a war they supported. Perhaps more should have done so, but it was also a very different war, one fought by proxy, using a small number of highly trained special forces. I doubt that many who joined after 9/11 made it to Afghanistan during the war. We'll never know whether lefties would have volunteered for a more protracted struggle in Afghanistan, because we didn't have one.

Iraq is a bit different. We've been there a while. It looks like we'll stay a while longer. Our presence is severly stressing the military. Recruiting is becoming a challenge. In Iraq, unlike Afghanistan, the military needs people. But even though the public approves of the war when polled, less than 2% of those of military age have volunteered. The cause is important enough for other people to die for, but typically not important enough for people to put themselves at risk.

Jonah writes that there is no shame in that, no shame in requiring someone else to risk their lives for you in a cause where you would not risk your own, and that if there is any shame, it is a private matter not a political one. He's simply wrong. Military service in time of war is not merely a job. Those who promote wars bear responsibility for those who suffer and die. Those who promote wars in which they themselves are unwilling to fight should be ashamed, and it is hard for me to take seriously those who lack the conscience even to recognize that.

Perhaps he has to argue that. To argue otherwise would be to argue that those who would not volunteer should oppose the war. It that view became widely accepted, how long could we sustain the war? If everyone went home tonight and asked themselves whether they would risk their own lives in this fight, and those who answered no began campaigning for its end, how long would it last?

Oddly enough, it turns out that those 35 and older aren't eligible for enlistment. In Jonah's case, merely standing on that might beg the question of why he didn't volunteer earlier, but it's a pretty good reason for not volunteering today. What he's written since only makes him look incapable of clear moral thought.

There's a question I haven't heard discussed much. It seems pretty clear that those who support the war have some moral obligation to volunteer, but what about those who oppose the war, does opposition to the war remove that obligation? It doesn't seem to me that it does. People are still dying, and they're still doing it in our stead. It seems clear that passive opposition isn't enough. On the other hand, it seems clear that someone who spends every waking moment seeking a way to end the war has met their moral obligation. I'm not capable of drawing a clear line between those two points.

In any case, I'm in no position to judge. I'm 45. I never faced that choice.

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