Last Update: 05 Feb 00
Tell me what YOU think!
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I have served proudly in the US Army since 1982. It has been the best decision of my life and one that I would do over again in a heartbeat. My Army career has allowed me to do more, see more, and learn more than anything else in my life. I've been around the world and have served three Presidents directly. Not bad for a farm boy from small-town North Dakota.
There's a lot that's good about military service. There's also some things that, shall we say, could use a bit of fixing. Before I get into the details, I should say that the following opinions are purely my own and don't necessarily reflect the views of the military itself or anybody else in the military (even though I know better...*wink*).
I believe that the all-volunteer military is the best way to go. So long as there are still ample numbers of desirable recruits, there should be no need for the US to reinstitute the draft or to adopt mandatory military service. Most other nations require anywhere from 1 to 3 years of military service after getting out of high school. They have little choice, as limited populations and/or the unpleasantness of military service in those nations would make it impossible to field a standing army if only volunteers were used. However, conscript armies are, in general, rather poor ones. Conscripts are rarely motivated to perform their duties at more than bare minimum standards and they are largely treated like dirt by the career members of that nation's military -- which further lowers the conscripts' morale. While the volunteer can still complain about his duties, he will almost invariably perform them to a much higher level of efficiency.
That said, I think it would still be a good idea to implement a program of 1-2 year active-duty military service that could be performed by any qualified individual under the age of 21. It would still be voluntary, but would be an alternative to the current 4-6 year commitment. The training, both physical and mental, that a new service member undergoes would be beneficial to just about anybody. Not to mention that there are a large number of new high school graduates who really don't know for sure what they want to do with their lives. A short period of military service might help them in their eventual decisions. It's also a great place to learn skills that could translate into the civilian market.
So, what needs fixing? Several things, really, but I'll just touch on a few. First, the military needs to resist the special-interest pressures to be the "proving grounds" for social experimentation. The military is a unique place where the political correctness of the civilian world just doesn't apply in all cases. The best example is the question of whether or not homosexuals should be permitted to serve. The evidence is overwhelming that their presence causes more harm than good, so the answer should be clear - bar them from service.
The next thing is a bit of a sore spot with me and that is the disturbing preference for looks, perception and appearance over reality. The military is expected to be competent, precise, and capable at what it does. This, without question, should be the case. However, there is a growing mentality that seems to believe that an Army that *looks* good *is* good. This is, in my opinion, very dangerous thinking. With recent "Zero Tolerance" policies, it seems as if it is becoming preferable to cover up deficiencies rather than to correct them. In reality, however, this is as silly as attempting to hide a serious flaw in a building by covering it up with a fresh coat of paint.
It sometimes gets to the point where a soldier's physical appearance becomes more important than his exemplary performance of his duties. Now, the military has necessary standards of appearance and uniformity that are all well and good. However, spit and polish never produced a good soldier. It might enhance one who is *already* good, but only training and motivation can make him good in the first place. It is interesting to note a historical phenomenon known as "the Sukhomlinov Effect". This states that the *loser* of any given war is most likely to be the side whose leaders wear the better uniforms. Go back in history for hundreds of years and you'll find that, in every major war over that time, this effect has been borne out. Is it coincidence? I'm not so sure...
All in all, the US military works well. It is the butt of many jokes, of course, of which only a few aren't deserved. But, even a cursory comparison of our armed forces to those of other nations will quickly show which system works. Again, I'm proud to serve.
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