David R. Henderson  

Hell Nyet, We Won't Go

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The late Milton Friedman was the one of the strongest and most eloquent opponents of military conscription. In all my conversations with him, though, and in all of his writing on the draft, I don't recall whether he took a stand on draft dodging. His good friend and fellow Gates Commission member, the late W. Allen Wallis, was also a strong, principled opponent of the draft. But, in December 1976, after Gerald Ford had lost the presidential election to Jimmy Carter, I failed to persuade Allen to contact Ford and try to persuade him, as one of his last official acts as President, to grant amnesty to draft dodgers. Wallis disagreed and thought that draft dodgers should be punished. As I say, I don't know Milton's views; my hunch, though, is that he would be heartened by the anti-draft movement going on in the Ukraine.

Here's a news report on the extensiveness of draft dodging and an eloquent speech by a Ukrainian woman who argued against the draft.


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COMMENTS (18 to date)
Glenn writes:

In the presence of existential threats, conventional economic arguments against the draft go out of the window. It didn't make sense for Vietnam; it probably makes sense for Ukraine.

Friedman's arguments on the subject were largely philosophical. It is easy to wax poetic from the safety and comfort of the contemporary United States. In times of crisis, however, the market costs of military service would be uncompensatable: the lawyer would rather take his chance in a post-invasion occupation than accept any wage a state in dire peril could afford to offer.

Similarly, the concern is that deploying a volunteer military force to conflicts of less pressing concern may be too cheap. Since the lawyer isn't asked to sacrifice - and the outside options for the volunteers not as lucrative - the politician finds it less politically costly to engage in international action. On the other hand, when such operations become more difficult than originally anticipated, it is often politically too expensive to muster the will to finish. The result are half-commitments that linger for years (decades) with no clear end, or rapid fire assaults that accomplish a limited set of objectives without fully resolving the issue precipitating crisis.

The surge strategy in Iraq represents perhaps the only successful use of a volunteer military force in a conventional military operation, and the political costs to the outgoing administration were so high that the subsequent may have been willing to forgo all those gains than pay even the fraction required to keep them (although the remains to be seen).

Thomas writes:

Glenn,

No, they don't.

When an existential crisis threatens, two things happen: the price required to get someone to volunteer falls (because existential threat); and the population's willingness to pay for volunteers rises (because existential threat).

Of course, if the potential conqueror can credibly promise to be no worse than the incumbent government, then neither of these things will happen. Indeed, if the potential conqueror can credibly promise to be better than the incumbent, the price of volunteers may be high, and the population's willingness to pay for them may be low.

But, what if, in an existential crisis from a malevolent conqueror, the population simply cannot pay enough to raise an army, even when volunteers are cheap? This amounts to saying that volunteers could own the whole country after the war - and yet there still aren't enough of them. In that case, the war is lost anyway: the population simply doesn't have the economic resources to win.

Economic arguments survive entirely intact.

Glenn writes:

On the one hand, the entire history of civilization. On the other, your abstraction.

If the wealthiest super state on the planet couldn't defeat an enemy with the GNP roughly of New Mexico without suspending, at least temporarily, the trappings of "volunteer" military service and fielding what was basically a highly trained, very well compensates conscript force, then it simply isn't practical on its face for wars approaching the cost of, say, the World Wars.

Mark V Anderson writes:

Glenn -- Are you saying that the U.S. couldn't have beaten Vietnam with a volunteer army? Never mind that we didn't defeat them with a draft either. We certainly could have beaten them with either type of army if we were willing to spend more lives and money, or were simply more ruthless in tearing up North Vietnam. I am not saying we should have done any of those things, but the draft vs volunteer army had absolutely nothing to do with it.

I found Thomas's argument pretty persuasive, although I'm not sure if it is totally true, since the U.S. found it necessary to have a draft in WWII even with tremendous support by the people.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Mark V Anderson,
Is your evidence that “the U.S. found it necessary to have a draft in WWII” simply that the U.S. did have a draft?

Glenn writes:

"Are you saying that the U.S. couldn't have beaten Vietnam with a volunteer army?"

Practically speaking, no.

"Never mind that we didn't defeat them with a draft either."

So what? Conscription has been a necessary condition in every successful, conventional military campaign in history, to my knowledge. Where conventional is defined as involving two state or near-state belligerents, where one or both parties takes and occupies ground formerly held by the other.

However, I never claimed conscription was a sufficient condition. That would be almost as stupid as the straw man that because a conscript army has been defeated, conscription does not work.

I will concede the point when any commenter here cites a single real world example of conventional armed conflict without conscription, defined as a fighter - even if previously volunteer - is made to continue fighting by force of law rather than condition of employment.

Chad Seagren writes:

>>
Conscription has been a necessary condition in every successful, conventional military campaign in history, to my knowledge. Where conventional is defined as involving two state or near-state belligerents, where one or both parties takes and occupies ground formerly held by the other.
>>

In the First Gulf War, the primary members of the allied coalition (US and UK) had all-volunteer military forces, and it satisfies your definition regarding occupying ground formerly held by the other.

A bit farther back in history, the US Army relied entirely on volunteers in the Mexican-American War. This is probably a slightly better example of peer-to-peer competition.

In addition, in the early years of our republic, conscription was notoriously ineffective in raising the requisite number of troops (for War of 1812 and for the Revolution). Legislation was difficult to pass and difficult to enforce. It isn't necessarily accurate to call these forces "all-volunteer", however, because many were militia-members called up with a varying levels of compulsion/voluntariness.

While it might be safe to say conscription is (or has been) the norm in general, it is not accurate to say conscription is a necessary condition of successful military operations throughout history.

Thomas writes:

I'd go so far as to argue that the reason the US lost in Vietnam was conscription. Talk to officers who were involved in that campaign about discipline, morale, effectiveness, and officer casualties.

The loss wasn't just military, either: the blow to the nation's soul, from what it did to its young men, still resonates.

Thomas writes:

(That's why we all instantly recognize "hell nyet we won't go" as a reference to a slogan from over 40 years ago, but probably none of us could recite an anti-Gulf-War-I slogan.)

David R. Henderson writes:

@Thomas,
I can recite an anti-Gulf-War-I slogan: No war for oil.

Thomas writes:

David,

Touché!

Glenn writes:

"In the First Gulf War, the primary members of the allied coalition (US and UK) had all-volunteer military forces, and it satisfies your definition regarding occupying ground formerly held by the other."

The Iraqi army tried and failed to occupy parts of Kuwait, with or without conscript forces. The United States - directly and through allied forces - stopped at the border.

OEF and OIF are the better comparisons; both were of uncertain success, are ongoing, and required at peak varying degrees of coercion to maintain force levels.

It is one thing to volunteer to sit in a camp in Kuwait; it is another thing entirely to volunteer to go door-to-door in Fallujah.

Chad Seagren writes:

@Glenn, you wrote:
>>
The Iraqi army tried and failed to occupy parts of Kuwait, with or without conscript forces. The United States - directly and through allied forces - stopped at the border.
>>

The Iraqi Army invaded Kuwait on or about 2 August 1990 and occupied that country until they were removed by allied forces (the US made up >70% of the coalition) in February of 1991.

The campaign to eject Iraqi forces from Kuwait was led by nations with all-volunteer military forces who provided not only the command and control necessary, but the vast majority of the manpower. In addition, the operation itself involved taking control of land that was once held by the other beligerent. Hence, it seems to constitute an example of a successful military operation that did not rely on conscription. (Unless I am missing something.)

You're correct that the US Govt indulged in some level of coercion to support OIF and OEF (i.e. stop-loss in 2003, for example). So, OIF and OEF are not good examples of successful military operations with all-volunteer forces (for that reason, as well as many others). But your claim was that conscription "has been a *necessary* condition in every successful, conventional military campaign in history."

And that simply is not an accurate statement. The First Gulf War fits your own definition of military campaign. American involvement in the Mexican-American War is another. And those are just two examples from American history.

A libertarian writes:

Jesus, David. A women spewing out all the propaganda put out by Russia is giving an "eloquent speech?" Perhaps you should diversify your reading to other sites besides antiwar.com.

If I was to say I refused to join the U.S. army because they were actively trying to rape my wife and kidnap my baby to sacrifice to the great ape Obama, would you call that an eloquent speech? Or the ravings of an ignorant person who reads too many Ron Paul newsletters?

Bedarz Iliaci writes:

Glenn,
single real world example of conventional armed conflict without conscription

India-Pakistan conflicts--1947, 1965, 1971, 1999.

The British Indian Army that fought in Afghan wars and World wars 1 and 2 was also voluntary.

Thomas writes:

Irish War of Independence: the winning side was all-volunteer.

John T, Kennedy writes:

Does anyone know if MF opposed conscription during WWII, when he helped come up with the withholding tax to finance the war?

John T. Kennedy writes:

Glenn,

It seems like the threat in the Ukraine is (mostly) existential only for an abstract entity, the local government. Why would that threat justify conscription?

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