When I was a younger man, every able-bodied American male was eligible through the draft process to serve in the United States Army. They could also enlist in US Navy or US Air Forces. I will not try to tell you that the draft process was an entirely fair process. People of means often found ways to avoid the draft. I came of age during the Viet Nam War. Did I want to serve in Viet Nam. No. Did I enlist to do so rather than wait for the draft? Yes.
As fate would have it, I was in medical school when the draft board said to report for induction. However, they gave physicians-in-training an opportunity to enlist and then to finish their specialty training so that they could enter the chosen Armed Forces as a specialist – the Armed Services needed all types of specialists. This was one of the several inequities in the draft process – but, I was happy that it was “unequal” on my behalf. I did not want to be a general medical officer treating tropical ulcers – so-called “jungle rot.” I took that route, enlisting in the United States Air Force, and was scheduled to report to the 15th Air Force Hospital at Ton Son Nhut Air Base – the largest such base in Viet Nam – upon completion of my training. The war ended during the last year of my residency and I served “state-side” instead of Viet Nam. I would be a liar if I said I wasn’t ecstatic to receive that blessing.
However, my point is that the military draft was a great equalizer (although admittedly it fell short in that regard). All young men might be required to serve. This had a salutary effect on the nation and citizenship.
I was a visiting professor in Israel several times and couldn’t help but notice how pleasant Israeli’s were when dealing with people in service positions. Finally I asked, “What’s up with that?” The guide told me that everyone (not quite true – there are some exceptions) in Israel serves in the military. Their rank is not based on their education, wealth or civilian job, but how hard and well they fought for their country. He told me that the waiter that just served my humus might be a colonel in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and greatly outrank everyone in the restaurant.
The IDF have mandatory conscription of both men and women. The IDF is one of Israeli society’s most prominent institutions, influencing the country’s economy, culture and political scene. National military service is mandatory for all Israeli citizens over the age of 18. Men serve three years in the IDF, while women serve two. The IDF women who volunteer for several combat positions often serve for three years, due to the longer period of training. Women in most combat positions are also required to serve in the reserves after they leave regular service. After personnel complete their regular service, the IDF may call up men for:
- reserve service of up to one month annually, until the age of 43–45
- active duty immediately in times of crisis
The following short essay was written by Nick Palmisciano, co-owner and co-founder of Ranger Up. It has been around and around the internet many times. It has been variously misattributed to General David Petraeus, General Norman Schwarzkopf, “A Marine in Iraq,” and a host of others. I believe it speaks of a truth that has weakened our nation. I believe that the “all volunteer” army has made for a better fighting force, but it has subtracted a vital aspect of citizenship.
I remember the day I found out I got into West Point.
My mom actually showed up in the hallway of my high school and waited for me to get out of class. She was bawling her eyes out and apologizing that she had opened up my admission letter. She wasn’t crying because it had been her dream for me to go there. She was crying because she knew how hard I’d worked to get in, how much I wanted to attend, and how much I wanted to be an infantry officer. I was going to get that opportunity.
That same day two of my teachers took me aside and essentially told me the following: “David, you’re a smart guy. You don’t have to join the military. You should go to college, instead.”
I could easily write a tome defending West Pont and the military as I did that day, explaining that USMA is an elite institution, that separate from that it is actually statistically much harder to enlist in the military than it is to get admitted to college, that serving the nation is a challenge that all able-bodied men should at least consider for a host of reasons, but I won’t.
What I will say is that when a 16 year-old kid is being told that attending West Point is going to be bad for his future then there is a dangerous disconnect in America, and entirely too many Americans have no idea what kind of burdens our military is bearing.
In World War II, 11.2% of the nation served in four years. In Vietnam, 4.3% served in 12 years. Since 2001, only 0.45% of our population has served in the Global War on Terror. These are unbelievable statistics.
Over time, fewer and fewer people have shouldered more and more of the burden and it is only getting worse. Our troops were sent to war in Iraq by a Congress consisting of 10% veterans with only one person having a child in the military. Taxes did not increase to pay for the war. War bonds were not sold. Gas was not regulated. In fact, the average citizen was asked to sacrifice nothing, and has sacrificed nothing unless they have chosen to out of the goodness of their hearts.
The only people who have sacrificed are the veterans and their families. The volunteers. The people who swore an oath to defend this nation. You.
You stand there, deployment after deployment and fight on. You’ve lost relationships, spent years of your lives in extreme conditions, years apart from kids you’ll never get back, and beaten your body in a way that even professional athletes don’t understand. And you come home to a nation that doesn’t understand. They don’t understand suffering. They don’t understand sacrifice. They don’t understand that bad people exist. They look at you like you’re a machine — like something is wrong with you. You are the misguided one — not them. When you get out, you sit in the college classrooms with political science teachers that discount your opinions on Iraq and Afghanistan because YOU WERE THERE and can’t understand the “macro” issues they gathered from books with your bias. You watch TV shows where every vet has PTSD and the violent strain at that. Your Congress is debating your benefits, your retirement, and your pay, while they ask you to do more.
But the amazing thing about you is that you all know this. You know your country will never pay back what you’ve given up. You know that the populace at large will never truly understand or appreciate what you have done for them. Hell, you know that in some circles, you will be thought as less than normal for having worn the uniform. But you do it anyway. You do what the greatest men and women of this country have done since 1775 — YOU SERVED. Just that decision alone makes you part of an elite group.
Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.
You are the 0.45%.
And thanks to JM for forwarding this to me.