DOASKDOTELL BOOK REVIEW of Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer, AWOL - The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes from Military Service -- and How It Hurts the Country; Philip Gold: The Coming Draft: The Crisis in our Military and Why Selective Service Is Wrong for America; Erin Solaro: Women in the Line of Fire: What You Should Know About Women in the Military;  Jacobs, Century: If Not Now, When?


Author (or Editor):  Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer; Foreword by General Tommy Franks

Title:  AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes from Military Service ** and How It Hurts Our Country

Fiction? No

Publisher:  Collins

Date:  2006

ISBN:  0-06-088859-8

Series Name:

Physical description: hardbound, 241 pgs, not indexed

Relevance to doaskdotell: draft, conscription, “pay your dues”


AWOL, for those readers not indoctrinated with the military mind, is an acronym for “Away Without Leave” which in my days of the draft in the Vietnam era, could bring time in the post stockade.

The authors are paired off: he is a Republican, author and filmmaker with a son who enlisted in the Marine Corps. She is a Democrat who served in the Clinton White House and is married to a career military officer.

The book is in nine chapters, and contains a lot of long quotes from military members, often framed in narrow columns that waste a lot of space on the printed pages. The authors write back and forth, separately, and then sometimes together. They trace the history of military service and its relationship to civilian society. Very critical to the American system is civilian control of the military, which was particularly apparent in the Clinton years. Mass mobilization has always been understood as a contingent possibility, with the concept of the citizen-soldier, but we did not have the longterm draft until the Civil War, when the rich man could buy his way out, and then again in World War I, when the government ironically feared that we needed a draft to protect the pool of future leaders!

The more recent history, with Vietnam, is well known. The role of privilege became controversial with the student deferments in the 1960s, a development that would personally become very important in my own life. The authors seem to believe that our involvement in Vietnam may have had more historical justification, as part of the war on Communism, than is now generally accepted, even with McNamara’s admissions in his own book.

The authors develop the paradigm for the role of the military and gradually build up their case that the tendency for few of the privileged to serve is harmful. They discuss the refusal of many colleges to admit military recruiters or to allow ROTC because of the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy (on p. 44), and they seem to feel that the behavior of institutions is more a reflection of anti-military values than an expression of support for non-discrimination against gays. Of course, with the Solomon Amendment, universities have wound up allowing recruiters for face loss of funds. They discuss the provision of “No Child Left Behind” that allowed military recruiters to have access to high school records in order to find students to approach.

In the next to the last chapter, the authors imagine a future that we could have if the current trends continue. One outcome is a third party, which they whimsically call “The Libertarian Homefront” wins the white house and withdraws America from most of the world, leaving it in chaos. Another has a military coup of our government.

In the last chapter, the authors suggest a solution. Kathy wants to “ask” the privileged to serve in the military. Frank, ironically for a Republican, supports a mandatory national service program with carrots for military service. A variation could be a lottery for national service. Women and men would both have to serve. He does not say specifically what happens with gays, but presumably the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy would be abandoned. But authors who promote the draft need to take up the military ban seriously. Charles Moskos, after 9/11, has advocated conscription and an end to DADT simultaneously—yet he was the military sociologist who, with Sam Nunn, made so much of the “sexual privacy” issue in the barracks.  Frank writes that “Service would be tough.” Both writers see that an emphasis on national service could make it easier to meet other needs, ranging from law enforcement to fire fighting to childcare and even teaching special needs children (that is, special education) who need personal attention. Even in these issues  the participation of gays, since they have been driven away from these professions by mistrust and by years of urban “ghettoization”, needs serious attention in debate. But what we are definitely seeing in books like this is an increasing credibility in the “pay your bill and pay your dues” paradigm.

There is more editorializing on this on my books blog, here.

Philip Gold. The Coming Draft: The Crisis in our Military and Why Selective Service Is Wrong for America. New York: Ballantine, 2006. ISBN 0-89141-895-4. 231 pages, indexed, hardcover. The author is Senior Fellow in National Security Affairs at the Discovery Institute in Washington DC. Now, this book, despite its title, really does not make a case that the rantings of Charles Rangel and Charles Moskos are really likely to result in the restoration of conscription. That the underlying "threat" remains however seems to be evident from a long history of conscription, which the author provides, as he covers the Civil War, both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and the recent 9/11-driven (and Iraq-driven) debate. In fact, even in the War Between the States, the draft itself did not result in large percentages of men being dragged into service, nor did it during succeeding wars. Rather, the use of a Selective Service system with the use of local boards became a way to localize the socialization of young men, to make the "playing God" function seem well-intended and locally supervised, it not even inspired. Deferments varied from time to time, but for a time in World War I and again up to Vietnam, married fathers were typically deferred. The funky ideology of Woodrow Wilson, and his rationalizations for mobilizing for "The War to End all Wars," tied with the sedition laws of the time, did a lot to reinstate conscription "culture." On p 124 Gold describes the convoluted reasoning of the Supreme Court to get around the obvious charge that the draft amounts to involuntary servitude, a concept that I developed in my second book, "Our Fundamental Rights" (1998). After Nixon ended the draft, the "Abrams Doctrine" of using (or essentially impressing) guards and reserves into overseas duty became a way to build up forces. (While we are at it, remember what caused The War of 1812?)  The early part of the book does discuss the issue of recruiting goals, the lowering of standards and raising of enlistment ages.   

The author mentions the military gay ban in one place, p 89-90. "Homosexuals were another special category." Gold summarizes hastily the migration of homosexuality in the military from a criminal paradigm to one of necessity (the realities of mobilization in World War II meant that gays would definitely serve), to the evasions of the Vietnam era to "don't ask don't tell" today.  Of course, if there were a draft and gays were still excluded, this would provide a circular excuse for renewed discrimination in other areas.

In his last chapter, Gold unleashes a surprising concept, the unorganized militia. United States Code, Title 10, Section 311 defines "the militia of the United States" as comprising "all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 3132 of title 32, under 45 years of age"  who are or intended to be citizens. That is, the citizen soldier. Indeed, a friend of mine who teaches history at The Citadel in Charleston, SC counts himself as part of "the South Carolina unorganized militia." During colonial times, there was an informal process of dragging

The obligations of citizenship, Gold believes, are real, but their implementation must always be somewhat informal. Rather than a monolithic idea of religious conscientious objection, there should be fine delineation of conscientious objection. Much more attention can be paid to the way ordinary security skills of average citizens can be used in domestic disasters (like Katrina). Gold suggests mandatory CPR and First Aid training as part of drivers licenses. (While I think of it, remember how a supposedly 14-year-old Clark Kent, old enough to drive on a Kansas film, executes CPR perfectly on Lex in the first episode of Smallville?)  Should national service be mandatory? Gold doesn't quite say, but social and business pressures (and strong carrots) could make it a practical necessity, maybe throughout life and not just in youth, and for both men and women. Gold does suggest a surtax for those who don't "serve", but doesn't that sound like the buyouts of privilege during the Civil War?  Blogger.

Erin Solaro. Women in the Line of Fire: What You Should Know About Women in the Military. Seal Press, 2006, ISBN 1-58005-174-X. Foreword by Volney F. Warner, US Army Retired. Paper, 408 pages, indexed.  The author is an Army reserve officer, journalist, and horse and dog trainer, and somewhat anti-militant feminist. Her basic treatise is that female soldiers really do serve in combat and bear comparable risks to men, so military policy and public policy should recognized this truth (seemingly "inconvenient") openly.

The book has an Introduction, Conclusion, and eight rather long and detailed chapters, that about half way through start introducing some very interesting comparative tables. The early chapters chronicle her experiences in Iraq and then Afghanistan as a journalist paying her dues as such. (She obscures the fact that she is a writer at first when around soldiers because she doesn't want them to Google her name and get distracted!) Gradually the book turns from narrative to analysis and policy recommendations (more or less as mine did). She is quite concerned about the example American women can set for the Middle East, and she also notes that Arabs were involved in the slave trade in earlier centuries. She gives interesting narratives about what life is like for women in different cities, varying from Dubai to Kabul.

One of her most interesting observations is the anthropological reason for the way most societies treat women when it comes to participating in combat. That is, until probably the 1950s or so, female mortality during childbirth was a significant risk, comparable or often greater than that endured by males both in battle and in many dangerous workplaces. Many ideas about male pseudo-superiority and the whole value system of many tribal and patriarchal  cultures (especially in the Middle East) probably grew out of this fact. There is also another observation, made by writers as diverse as George Gilder, Randy Shilts and Andrew Sullivan, that female sexuality is in some sense "superior" because it can bear children, so men compensate by controlling the political and military apparatus so they will be "needed." Of course, then we get to the idea that "women tame men."

She does give detailed recommendations on how to end inappropriate military gender norming, or at least fine tune it to scientific and biological facts. She comes down for zero tolerance of sexual harassment in the military, and for a nuanced policy for military female pregnancies. She never discusses the gay ban directly, but at least twice she acknowledges the presence of gays and lesbians in the military as an obvious fact that ought to be accepted without much controversy. 

Toward the end, she discusses candidly the possibility of resuming the draft, as a kind of "inconvenient truth." She reviews the legal and judicial record for the male-only draft, and maintains that a one sex draft would be morally indefensible today because the legacy problem of female childbirth mortality is largely resolved by modern medical care. Like Philip Gold, she discusses the "unorganized militia" as a vehicle for public or national service (such as SAR, search and rescue missions) and encourages a change in federal law to include women.  Blogger.

Col. Jack Jacobs and Douglas Century. If Not Now, When? Duty and Sacrifice in America's Time of Need. New York: Berkeley, 2008.  ISBN 978-0-425-22359-8. 291 pages, indexed, hardcover.  Foreword by Brian Williams, Anchor and Managing Editor, NBC Nightly News.

A Jewish American, now chairman of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation recounts his military career, starting with Vietnam. He calls for universal military service at the end, is critical of the deferment policy during his (and my) coming of age, and pulls no punches on reporting other remnants of our moral notions of the past. For example, men got "points" for coming home from WWII deployment, and being married and having children did earn points. Blogger.




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