Bryan McGrath on James Fallows, the Draft, and Civil-Military Relations

December 29, 2014

James Fallows has written an important article for The Atlantic, “The Tragedy of the American Military” , one whose hosannas are currently lighting up the web.  There is in this piece, much to like, and much to praise.  I utterly agree with Mr. Fallows about the degree to which the society and its military have become estranged, and the implications this distance has had on policy.  We have created a ducal military made up of other people’s children, and we applaud it unquestioningly out of a sense of both appreciation and guilt.  Recent elections that brought more and more vets into the Congress have modestly addressed the lack of military experience in that branch, but it remains a body hamstrung by its own cowardly inability to directly question the military and assumptions made about it.

There is however, in Fallows’ arguments the whiff–no, the stench–of irony and hypocrisy.  His arguments are not obviated, but he is an imperfect messenger for them.  Throughout this piece, we see a yearning from its author for days gone by, when the military looked more like the populace it served and when society’s entertainments lampooned its military.  This gauzy time seems to have –for Fallows–prevented acquisition program nightmares and poor decisions to employ the military (both incorrect).  But to the extent that a closer relationship between the military and its parent society existed, Fallows completely misses the centrality that the draft played in supporting such a link.  I do not write today in favor of re-instituting the draft, only to raise the point that wistful yearnings for days long gone by need to analyze more closely the conditions that brought them about.  One cannot credibly assess this past time of civil/military relations without also acknowledging the draft’s impact upon it.  Fallows does not do this, and it seems a giant error of omission.

Read the full piece at Information Dissemination.