I was speaking to an internationally known Christian scholar a few weeks ago, and I decided to ask about the “All Volunteer Force” (AVF). I don’t particularly know why I asked, but there was a long pause in the conversation, which I hate, so I decided to fill it. He responded that, essentially, he could not endorse a draft, could not support the government in having such an incredible amount of power, to command the will and the body of citizens to conduct national service. I had said “military draft” in my question but his response, if I remember correctly, was more broadly “national service.” I don’t know if the switch was intentional, but it was significant.
Here is why the shift is important – there is a huge (moral) difference between forms of national service. I see military service as a type of national service, and others might be things like the Peace Corps, Americorps, etc. Heck, by now, I’d even include on the list ‘public school teacher.’ While I agree that we should not compel military service, what if national service was made mandatory? What if individuals who are the age of majority had a choice between a number of service opportunities; National Parks Service, Peace Corps, etc., then if, by the age of 25, they have not completed, say, 2 years of service, they were then conscripted into one of the branches of the Armed Forces. We could reduce the recruitment budget tremendously, and the shared experience of service to our country would no longer be one performed primarily by the poor.
But anyway, I am more interested in the question of the legitimacy of the AVF based on three fundamental questions it begs (each of which I voiced that night);
- Does every recruit enter the military with full agency
- Is the contract dissolved if the recruiter has been shown to have withheld or falsified information?
- What does social distress (poverty, family/neighborhood violence…) do to force the ‘choice’ to enlist?
- How does vast monetary incentive corrupt the language of volunteerism
- Why does it require so much money to convince men and women to “volunteer”
- How does financial reward compromise the virtue of one’s service
- What is the social obligation of the individual citizen to the common good
- Should so few bear so great a burden (ex. soldier/veteran suicide rate)
- Why should 99% of America reap a peace they do not sow
I challenge each of you to think about how these questions impact your own life and the lives of the increasingly invisible American service member. Especially given the soldier and veteran suicide rate, we need to reconsider why society allows the few to continue to be so heavily burdened by the psychological toll of combat. When we come home fragmented, weary, and isolated, nobody comes to our rescue, nobody fights for us. When 6 LGBT students killed themselves in one month, it made national headlines. Jim Swilley, a mega-church pastor in Georgia, came out as gay before his entire congregation, saying (of “the recent rash of gay teen suicides”);
“As a father, thinking about your 16, 17 year old killing themselves, I thought somebody needed to say something,” Swilley said through tears.
The AVF is an illusion. It is pretty, painted glass ready to shatter under the weight of repeated deployments, lack of dwell time, and social insulation from the reality of life during war. I think somebody needs to say something. When will that somebody be you?