In the first two articles about Mandatory Military service, I reviewed the issues surrounding the Army’s new program to qualify young people for service and the historical arguments in favor and against compulsory service. In the second article, I examined the historical functions during peace and war and the value of brief mandatory service for all men and women. In the recorded history of mankind, these are the only two political states, with war being more common than peace. But we must turn our attention to what is achievable and what is desirable.
What Can We Achieve
I still believe that compulsory service in some form for all young men and women should be required and is in our national best interest. There is enough evidence that a shared interest and experience builds national unity, and even though it is a long and arduous road, it is one I think is worth traveling. If we want to move toward a healthier society, this is one step on that long road our youth must take.
Thinking we can go from a position of voluntary service and complacency to mandatory service and shared national pride quickly is a fool’s errand. We now have generations that have lapsed since World War II, and voluntary service has been in place since the end of the Vietnam War. If we want to move toward compulsory service in some form, it will need to come in steps with some end goals that consider past technological obstacles and trends.
As a first step, several branches of the military are reevaluating how we determine health. Today, we have the technology to evaluate a person’s physical fitness far beyond waist size. Many traditional fitness measures will always apply, but we need more ways of looking at fitness.
“No man is entitled to the blessings of freedom unless he be vigilant in its preservation.” – General Douglas MacArthur
Service for All
In earlier installments, we noted that there are many nations where compulsory service is still required. One of those is China, our most likely future adversary, unless something happens to change the trajectory of political events. But, like the United States, China requires registration but not conscription unless needed.
Israel is on the other end of the spectrum, requiring military service for all men and women. However, their religious practices can interfere with military service and have been a source of national debate for decades. Given Israel’s place among nations, should some part of the population devote itself to prayer for peace and victory if war breaks out? These are similar arguments for conscientious objectors here and in other Western nations.
We have proven in the past that national service and military service can exist side-by-side. My key is finding a compromise that instills health and rekindles national pride in those outside the military. These two critical issues must be addressed if we want to survive.
Today, generations of our youth and waves of immigrants believe protest and disruption are the norm. Many of these people fall into the category of disqualification because of health or mental issues. With Congress on the path of legalizing marijuana, this can only get worse; ask residents and drug addicts in Oregon.
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” – Winston Churchill
Right Sizing Our Military
All of this started with a discussion about improving the military recruiting pool and continuing to have a force that can preserve our freedoms. The obvious issue is what size force we need. There will always be religious and medical obstacles to universal military service, but not to national service. A required commitment to one or the other has positive implications for building national unity. But our discussion here is about military service, so let us focus on that part of our population that can qualify for military service. No matter what size we need, the pool of available men and women must improve.
But the physical side of our military qualifications may need to be relaxed for some segments of our new technical forces. If the future of warfare involves unmanned autonomous fighting platforms, then it is massive brainpower and not just manpower that is critical. Do we need parallel service tracks for technology versus traditional fighting forces? Does creating the Space Force as a fifth branch of the service signal this change?
“True patriotism isn’t cheap. It’s about taking on a fair share of the burden of keeping America going.” – Robert Reich
In September 2023, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks testified before Congress that we are rushing down the path of thousands of drones capable of being deployed in swarms. These drones can digest a mission and act autonomously once released. She was not discussing everyday Pentagon actions but thousands of lower-cost drones capable of working in the air, sea, and over land. To date, this work has been known as “Replicator.” My bet (hope) is that we are already there, or just about there, and this announcement is nothing more than our military putting others on notice of our capability.
Adding more drones to our military capability is nothing new; we have seen drones in action in the Middle East for years. What is new is the emphasis on AI-based drones capable of acting in swarms, using AI to find targets, and the ability to run autonomously in extended missions for months. Also new to the mix is the disposability of drones. Historically, we have focused on the resiliency of military weapons and platforms, but less expensive, disposable drones bring a whole new element to warfare. We can assume the heavy involvement of DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), who are always at the forefront of such developments.
Breaking with tradition, Deputy Secretary Hicks said that introducing these new fighting platforms could be done within existing budgets. This is a move to block Congress from turning down funding for what some might view as controversial. As in World War II, our nation has always functioned best militarily in a public/private partnership. This unleashes the collective skills within our economy in proven ways and overcomes some of the obstacles to enlistment.
In Ukraine, we can see a definite shift in future fighting strategies. Ukraine, the underdog in the fight, can take out Russian fighting equipment costing millions, with off-the-shelf drones costing hundreds or thousands. It is there for all to see on YouTube and probably illustrates a significant shift in future fighting. It is as if the Russians are fighting a guerilla war on hundreds of fronts where conventional definitions of “winning” do not apply. All wars in the future may be wars of attrition or financial fatigue, wars where attrition of technology is equally important to the deterioration of human resources.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams
Watching the Ukrainian War is a surreal experience. Their war is one where front-line soldiers often deploy drones as an adjunct to front-line action. After you watch about ten videos on YouTube, you become desensitized to the real implications of what you see, like watching a video game where the people killed and the property destroyed are fictitious. But from the newsreels of the destruction and aftermath of bombings, it is evident that the action is anything but imaginary.
Herein lies the danger in high-tech warfare. Technology being deployed in the Ukraine is minor and rudimentary, the trailing edge of what we can do, not the leading edge. We have no idea about the long-term psychological effects on the drone operators or the impact on civilians from such a war.
We also lack understanding of the implications of genuinely autonomous AI-powered drones if they go off track in their mission and find the wrong targets. Who is at fault? The drone builder, the programmer, the mission control specialist, or the drone itself? Once you build AI into the process, will we understand how the drone decided? Many of these questions may be unanswerable because they will be real-time decisions and actions unique to the situation. But we must consider the risks of falling behind our adversaries in development.
A Shift in Skills is Needed
There will always be a need for people within our military because deploying drones and other technologies is only part of the solution to victory in war. However, a shift in skills is needed with a bifurcation between new technological deployment and historical combat skills. Increasing the pool of recruits for the military is essential, and the recruitment of highly technical applicants will be critical. This shift means that we need the best and brightest in our nation for defense, and I circle back to some form of mandatory service being a rite of passage for our youth.
An Unfortunate Confirmation
Since starting this series of articles, world events confirm the details we discuss here. Hamas’s unprovoked attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, proves that the world’s natural state is conflict, not peace. It is not what rational people want, but there are irrational people out there who seek power by any means.
Every American should demand the southern border be closed by our military. We can only pray that terrorism has not come to our shores from our southern border.
Resources Used in This Article
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Army Opens its Doors to Recruits Who Fail to Meet Initial Body Fat and Academic Standards Amid Recruiting Crisis, by Steve Beynon, Military News, military.com, July 26, 2022.
Army opens Prep School at Fort Jackson, by John Harlow and Chris Rasmussen, U. S. Army, army.mil, Augusta 4, 2008.
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