The Military Is Not High School

Mitch Berg has an excellent dissection of Barbara C. Crosby’s op-ed in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on why she calls for mandatory service. I’m not opposed to the idea per se — in fact, I could easily see mandatory service as a positive for society. The problem is that if one wants to make the argument that it’s good for the military, they don’t understand the way in which the US military works. Mitch Berg explains:

Ms. Crosby seems to think that military is like high school – a captive audience that needs to be exposed to a bunch of abstruse concepts for their own good, as judged by society.

It’s not. It’s an arm of the government that tries to kill, maim or drag to the bargaining table by force those who would do us harm. It’s a specialized trade, with skills and standards that occupy mens’ lives for decades in the learning. The professionals that make up the backbone of our military, the greatest on earth, devote their lives to learning the craft and art of war every bit as much as any other professional – and their lives depend on it more than most.

And that is what’s missing from Ms. Crosby’s piece; any sense of what a military is for, and why it exists. Is it a social program? A vehicle to engineer society?

The United States of America has a professional military. There’s a very good reason for that — because being a soldier in the 21st Century is a highly specialized skill. It’s not about taking some 18-year-old, throwing them into basic training, giving them a rifle, and telling them to point it towards the enemy. To be a member of America’s fighting elite (and they are elite), one has to train for years, be able to use complex equipment, have an in-depth knowledge of tactics and strategy, as well as have a wide background in linguistics, cultural affairs, diplomacy, ethics, engineering, and politics. The average soldier in Iraq not only has to be able to survive on a hostile battlefield in an alien country, but do so in a way that follows the complex rules of engagement every soldier must follow.

The left has a view of the military as being a bunch of hapless stooges who got shipped off to Iraq because they couldn’t make it in “normal” society — witness what John Kerry said about the troops last fall. That patronizing view is completely ignorant of the reality of today’s military. Our soldiers are professionals who have highly specialized skills and have been given the benefit of years of training. Very few people can be successful soldiers, especially in a modern battlefield.

The military isn’t like high school — it’s not a place for mandated government instruction in citizenship. It’s a professional arm of the United States government, and deserves to be treated as such. Mandatory service, while not a bad idea in itself, doesn’t work when applied to the military because an effective military requires trained, motivated, and skilled volunteers. We don’t need conscripts because conscripts tend not to be effective soldiers. Expecting to plunk down someone straight out of basic into a place like Iraq and have them fight isn’t realistic. It would not only weaken the military, but destroy the espirit de corps that keeps our military together.

The United States military is an elite brotherhood that is rightfully set apart from society and held as a higher organ than the rest of society. The threats of the future require a trained force of professionals, and only a segment of our population has the requisite skills. The arguments for some kind of mandatory government service makes sense if you want to instill people with a sense of personal responsibility for the body politic — but if the goal is to help the military, the best way to do that is to recognize our troops for the professionals they are and stop treating the like children.

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