George Washington said, “When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen.” But the differences between a professional military and a citizen’s army are profound, and each makes its own demands on the nation.
The professional military requires the commitment by the soldier of a significant part of a lifetime to the study of arms, and to the pursuit, at all costs, of national purpose when arms are called upon to effect that purpose. Having a professional military demands of the taxpayers that they pay for the services – all of them – that their hired professionals require.
The citizens’ army counts on a small cadre of professionals to maintain the training and leadership base, and requires of all citizens a commitment to some small portion of their lives to service. Through both taxes and through voluntary associations, they bear the burden of the survivors.
The suspension of the draft in 1973 defined the armed forces pretty much for all time. The American people did not want a citizens’ army – they wanted a professional army, calling it “All-Volunteer” so that it didn’t sound so “professional.”
All administrations have left much of the long-term help for the wounded and disabled soldiers to volunteers. By doing so, they have it both ways. They get the professional army they want and they don’t have to pay full price. They go so far as to re-direct veterans to voluntary organizations for assistance instead of expanding the formal organizations such as the VA to handle the cost. They short-change the formal organizations, and appeal to the patriotism of the citizenry to support the veterans. Instead of buying the wheelchair or the prosthetic, they praise the volunteers who sacrifice to do the government’s job and then take credit for inspiring that volunteerism to cover their own failures.
Those volunteers are disappearing. The large organizations peopled by WW II, Korea and Vietnam War veterans are getting smaller and smaller as fewer people join. Smaller, community-based organizations seem to thrive only when local personnel serve: without that involvement, they tend to die out.
As the true citizen army moves further into the past, so does the willingness of ordinary citizens to volunteer to help the veteran. Citizens who had already served felt a camaraderie for those who also served. Very few citizens serve these days; very few are capable of understanding exactly what price the veteran pays.
With a professional army, the moment that a soldier takes the oath, the government must be committed to continuing care for a lifetime. The professional soldier gives up almost all other possibilities for personal advancement and most possibilities for personal wealth. They also give up some of their rights as citizens. In exchange, they should receive good pay, full medical benefits for life and a respectable pension.
Maybe we should collect a separate sum from each taxpayer that is their portion of the costs of both war and the maintenance of a professional war-making force. The current war is costing $250 M a day; each taxpayer could receive a separate bill for war expenses of $300 per family member. The taxpayer could then receive another separate bill for the maintenance of the armed force. At $481 B for 2008 that would be $1,600 more for each family member as a continuing cost. The bill could be delivered by a disabled veteran.
There are not enough volunteers to handle the problems we are growing daily, and veterans are falling farther behind on the scale of interest of the American people. As an example, at justgive.org. that advertises itself as a gateway to one million charities, there isn’t even a category for veterans.
We need to get things back on track. We need to tell everyone that they cannot have it both ways. If you want a professional force, pay the price. If you don’t want to pay the price, restart the draft.
It is past time for America to pay the complete price for having the military force it wants.
It is also well past time to decide what sort of foreign policy we will have and what the size scope and mission of the force that is called for in that policy will be.
But that is another story.
25 Feb 2007