Tuesday, July 7, 2009

An All-Volunteer Military Force

It makes my blood boil when I read or hear the words, our all-volunteer military forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. In my mind, this reference to service in the armed forces obfuscates the meaning of volunteerism. It is an inappropriate definition, a euphemism, and a hijacking of the word to suit the propaganda purposes of the U.S. government. During the Vietnam War, those not conscripted were simply called enlistees. They were not referred to as volunteers. Therefore, today’s armed forces are all folks who have volunteered to serve; but they are not volunteers.

A volunteer by definition is a person who performs or offers to perform a service voluntarily (willingly, of your own accord, of your own free will, happily, gladly, freely; in law it is a person who renders aid, performs a service, or assumes an obligation voluntarily.)

To be a volunteer certainly encompasses the above definition, however, it always means unpaid service (if one is being paid then they are not a volunteer), and they are free to leave that service anytime one wishes without consequences (no one will be thrown in jail). If one was to embrace the meaning, as it has been government designated as an all-volunteer military force, then their services would be unpaid, and an enlistee would be free to leave the service at anytime he or she wishes.

Members of the armed forces simply have a job. They simply volunteer, as we all do, when we apply for work, and if accepted perform that work. Who in this world thinks of himself or herself as a volunteer when going to work? Other than the definition qualifications of happily or glad (at least for many people), the definition of volunteer is fitting, but at a job you are free to quit without legal consequence. At a person’s work, there is no such thing as individual ready reserve recall, AWOL (absent without leave), nor is there a stop-loss program (a program the Department of Defense uses to retain soldiers beyond the term of their contracts). If it was volunteerism, these words could not be associated with their service. Moreover, if their service is authentically volunteerism, words such as fragging (the intentional killing of an officer or noncom by an enlistee) and desertion would not apply.

The only difference between conscripted service and the new volunteerism is that when conscripted you are forced to join the armed services, and when you volunteer you are joining of your own free will. However, once you have joined there is no difference, you are then certainly not a volunteer; nor do you have the freedoms of a traditional job, for if you refuse to kill you are not simply fired.

In A Secret History of Dissent in the All-Volunteer Military by Tom Engelhardt and Dahr Jamail the volunteer misnomer is implicitly dispelled.

When, in January 1973, before the war was even over, President Richard Nixon announced that an American draft army was at an end and an all-volunteer force would be created, this was why. The U.S. military was in the wilderness without a compass, having discovered one crucial thing: you couldn't fight an endless, unpopular counterinsurgency war with the kind of conscript army a democracy had to offer. What resulted, of course, was the AVF [all-volunteer force], a moniker that, as Andrew Bacevich has written in his book The New American Militarism, was but "a euphemism for what is, in fact, a professional army... [that] does not even remotely 'look like' democratic America." Citizenship and the obligation to serve were now officially severed and, from the 1980s on, most Americans would ever more vigorously cheer on the AVF from the sidelines, while it would be a force theoretically purged of possible Vietnam-style dissent and refusal. Dahr Jamail

So, in fact, the U.S. Military is a professional army, not volunteers, and, not mentioned here for that’s entirely another issue, a mercenary force made up of private contractors fulfilling many of the roles – some combat, mostly non-combat and security -- that the military of yesteryear once performed.