For some reason, whenever you find yourself needing a “worst example of…” something to point to in the press, you won’t have to look much further than Dana Milbank and his ongoing series of opinion pieces at the Washington Post. In an apparent effort to never disappoint us, particularly in this holiday season, we find yet another sterling demonstration of this trend with his recent article on why we should bring back the draft. While I know, as a veteran, that the volunteer nature of our force has resulted in a vast improvement in our military readiness and capabilities, not to mention the overall quality of our forces, I have had times when I’ve felt an emotional reaction which made me feel sympathetic toward those who would see the draft restored and a couple of the reasons they cite. Milbank’s argument, however, does not fall into this category.
There is no better explanation for what has gone wrong in Washington in recent years than the tabulation done every two years of how many members of Congress served in the military.
A Congressional Quarterly count of the current Congress finds that just 86 of the 435 members of the House are veterans, as are only 17 of 100 senators, which puts the overall rate at 19 percent. This is the lowest percentage of veterans in Congress since World War II, down from a high of 77 percent in 1977-78, according to the American Legion…
Because so few serving in politics have worn their country’s uniform, they have collectively forgotten how to put country before party and self-interest. They have forgotten a “cause greater than self,” and they have lost the knowledge of how to make compromises for the good of the country. Without a history of sacrifice and service, they’ve turned politics into war.
I first noticed this article because it had been covered by Dr. James Joyner, who was no more impressed with Milbank than I.
That few in Congress have served in the military is lamentable for many reasons, the most obvious of which is that it not only makes them less intimately familiar with the demands of combat but also tends to undermine civil-military relations by making our civilian leaders afraid to challenge our military brass. But the notion that having worn a military uniform somehow makes one immune from partisanship and foolishness is absurd.
Milbank provides no evidence for this assertion, by the way, other than the fact that Congress seems to be more dysfunctional that it used to be.
Personally, I find military service to be a significant plus on the resume of any candidate for elected office, but it won’t be my only consideration. The willingness to actually serve your nation, even at the cost of placing your own life in peril, speaks volumes about the person’s character when they come along later asking to serve in a different, less physically dangerous capacity. But I’m equally positive that prior service not only doesn’t need to be a requirement, but that it shouldn’t be. We keep the leadership of the civilian and military worlds separate for a reason, and we keep a very close eye on the one place where they overlap. (That being the dual nature of the President of the United States also being the Commander in Chief of the armed forces.)
Instituting the draft would still only affect a tiny portion of the civilian population under the most optimistic of Milbank’s envisioned circumstances. The odds that any significantly larger portion of the electoral candidate pool would wind up being veterans are too low to calculate. The only way that formula would change is if military service became mandatory for every adult in the nation, and I don’t think anyone is seriously discussing that. This is a foolish premise and shouldn’t be taken seriously by anyone.