Note: This is cross-posted from its source on Information Dissemination.
James Fallows has written an important article for The Atlantic, "The Tragedy of the American Military" , one whose hosannas are currently lighting up the web. There is in this piece, much to like, and much to praise. I utterly agree with Mr. Fallows about the degree to which the society and its military have become estranged, and the implications this distance has had on policy. We have created a ducal military made up of other people's children, and we applaud it unquestioningly out of a sense of both appreciation and guilt. Recent elections that brought more and more vets into the Congress have modestly addressed the lack of military experience in that branch, but it remains a body hamstrung by its own cowardly inability to directly question the military and assumptions made about it.
There is however, in Fallows' arguments the whiff--no, the stench--of irony and hypocrisy. His arguments are not obviated, but he is an imperfect messenger for them. Throughout this piece, we see a yearning from its author for days gone by, when the military looked more like the populace it served and when society's entertainments lampooned its military. This gauzy time seems to have --for Fallows--prevented acquisition program nightmares and poor decisions to employ the military (both incorrect). But to the extent that a closer relationship between the military and its parent society existed, Fallows completely misses the centrality that the draft played in supporting such a link. I do not write today in favor of re-instituting the draft, only to raise the point that wistful yearnings for days long gone by need to analyze more closely the conditions that brought them about. One cannot credibly assess this past time of civil/military relations without also acknowledging the draft's impact upon it. Fallows does not do this, and it seems a giant error of omission.
But it is not an omission, it was an act of commission. To have spoken of the impact, and to have ascribed importance--let alone centrality--to the draft in sustaining closer civil/military relations would repudiate the actions of the young James Fallows, who in 1969--with the aid and comfort of fellow students at Harvard-- including those studying to be doctors--willfully evaded the ongoing draft. Fallows acknowledges the act in his Atlantic piece, which I applaud him for. In fact, the link in the last sentence was provided by him in his Atlantic article. Fallows writes of the time:
"In the atmosphere of that time, each possible choice came equipped with barbs. To answer the call was unthinkable, not only because, in my heart, I was desperately afraid of being killed, but also because, among my friends, it was axiomatic that one should not be “complicit” in the immoral war effort. Draft resistance, the course chosen by a few noble heroes of the movement, meant going to prison or leaving the country. With much the same intensity with which I wanted to stay alive, I did not want those things either. What I wanted was to go to graduate school, to get married, and to enjoy those bright prospects I had been taught that life owed me."
Who could honestly blame the young Fallows for his fear of being killed? I cannot. Nor can I honestly say what I would have done in 1969. My formative years were the early 80's, when Reaganism reigned and conformists (which I was, and which Fallows appears to have been for his time), did not think like Fallows did. Clearly, Fallows was conforming then to his cohort, and my decision to join the Navy reflected the values of mine.
We are not presented with the young Fallows in the Atlantic article, but the old one. The one who has on many occasions owned up to his draft evasion and who continues to appear to believe that it was essential to his ability to "enjoy those bright prospects I had been taught that life owed" him. I have no quibble with his decision then nor his pride in it now. I do however, have a problem with his usual weather eye being turned blindly to how his actions and those of his friends and cohort at Harvard (and elsewhere) directly and substantially undermined the very system for which he now pines.
Fallows has done a service here, raising a series of important questions. His well-earned status as a writer and analyst guarantees that they will receive more emphasis, and for that I am grateful. I only wish that he had more thoughtfully considered the conditions that created a system that he seems to have considered to be self-regulating, but which obviously was not.