I agree with your observations and insights based on how you framed it for the most part.
GEN McChrystal recently proposed bring back the draft. I have been discussing this concept for a few years now and support it for the same reasons he does.
I think if we would have had a draft, we might have avoided Iraq...at least politically.
When the public is not invested in the process and is detached from it...it is a dangerous situaiton to be in. The draft is a means of investment for the public.
I think a big part of the issue deals with the perspective of threat from both sides. It has to be balanced. Threat that if you support it, you also may have to go, or you might have to send your child or neighbor.
Looking back, I think there are some very interesting reasons why we abandoned the draft. One of the big ones is it gave a great deal of control over to the government on the use of the military.
Thanks for your comments George.
I date from the old Viet Nam days. I was the last class ('74) to get a student deferment. The anti war movement was small and ineffective until we started seeing our nice white middle class kids coming home in body bags. Then the educated voting public started asking whether the sacrifice was worth it and it became increasingly apparent that most folks couldn't really see why we were there and couldn't square what we were doing with any moral imperative. The media access was by comparison with today, almost unrestricted.
So, after that experience, we went to a professional army and learned the techniques of public relations to control how the public perceives what we are doing. The result has been an almost non-existent anti-war movement coupled with a military that volunteered to serve so that there is comparatively little resistance to the war from within the ranks.
I think that the only truly democratic war in our history was WWII. EVERYONE served. Rich families had their sons in combat, it wasn't just the poor who supplied the combat forces. JFK and George Bush senior being good examples. This was due to the fact that the reasons we were in the war were readily apparent to all. The level of support for the war on the part of the public and the soldiers themselves was unprecedented in our history. This allowed a solid sense on the part of the soldiers that what they were doing was "moral". They genuinely believed they were fighting "evil" and I do not think they were wrong.
The vast majority of our other wars had to do with economic factors and trying to enhance and maintain our economic position in the world. This being the case, most of our military actions were kept fairly short and sweet so that they came and went almost too fast for the public to really notice what was happening. The longer we stayed in, the more the public doubted the stated rationales for being there as in the Philippines incursions after the Spanish American War.
Anyway, the actual guys doing the fighting are usually the last ones to doubt the mission. There is a need to feel as if the sacrifice is morally justified and worth it. When they lose that, it's a disaster for the military. As long as the powers that be understand this, they will use the military reluctantly and when they do, they will make sure the engagements are as short as possible, as George Bush Sr. and General Colin Powell did with the First Gulf War. Whether one felt we should or should not have gone in, we did it quickly, efficiently, and with enough force to end it without our own folks losing many people. Decisive victory tends to make moral questioning by the participants a moot point.
Once you have the predominant factors behind the use of military force being ideology and economic greed, it's harder to maintain the sense of "rightness" and moral questioning sets in. So, the real question is whether, once a soldier loses the sense that the combat in which he is engaged is morally justified, is he then immoral for participating simply because he swore an oath and it is his job? If you decide that the people to whom you swore the oath are themselves immoral, then how does one justify continuing to obey orders? The age old way that soldiers have always handled this, consciously or not, was to collapse the world down to the unit. It's about the guy next to you and not letting your mates down. As soon as combat starts, it really isn't about patriotism or about the larger "mission" but it's about protecting the guys who are next to you and who have your back. Even soldiers who do did not have the willingness to kill the enemy will stay on the front line in order to support their buddies.
This is why I simply do not hold the soldiers in combat accountable on a moral level for their actions, (unless they get out of control like a My Lai). In my own thinking, as a democracy, we put them there. Our leaders should be accountable for their decisions but the soldiers themselves can shrink their view of what is happening to the point which the terrible job they have to do is justified and moral because it ends up being about protecting their buddies.
As far as I am concerned guys like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, etc are immoral and criminal and should be in jail. But once we commit troops anywhere, we need to support them totally, treat them respectfully, and not make them accountable for their actions since they were ordered to be there. We did not do this during Viet Nam and now we seem to understand this better. Doing this while strongly opposing what the power elite has asked our soldiers to do is difficult but needs to be done in a democratic society. I think that depriving our soldiers of the moral correctness of their actions is inappropriate and wrong. At the same time, I'd like to see the guys who misused this precious resource suffer the consequences rather than simply get richer and more powerful which is what normally happens.
Takuan Zenji's letters to Yagyu Munenori have an extensive discussion of how a samurai should separate his "duty" from the moral consequences of what he is ordered to do. His solution, very Buddhist, was to not be "attached" to the actions. It's a sort of "just a job" approach. But I don't think it's terribly different from what every soldier has done in history. Soldiers can get to the point at which they can simultaneously maintain a strong sense of duty and obligation to the guys in their unit and at the same time, lose any sense of the purpose or rationality of what they are being asked to do... SNAFU being the predominant viewpoint point. So, I think that this adjustment of the soldier's moral compass keeps their actions "moral" even when the decision to commit them was immoral. That's my take on it anyway...
Of course, this is dangerous for the establishment if it goes too far since the guy who fragged an officer who wanted to take the unit into danger was, in his own mind, protecting his buddies and one could argue, at that level it was just as moral as continuing to kill an enemy when any sense of moral correctness had been lost.
Actually, the guys I have always found interesting are the Chaplains in he military. Clearly, their religious faith calls for not killing people yet they have historically been a part of keeping the troops in line and functioning. I find it fascinating that they can justify this and square it with their faith. Thou shalt not kill being fairly clear, I think.