We Should Emulate Israel’s Idea of Military Service

on 29 Comments

An opponent of the draft, Greg Mankiw, a former Bush economics brain, now a professor of law at Harvard,  says that both Milton Friedman and John Kenneth Galbraith were against the draft, and approvingly quotes a recent WSJ piece:

is one price control that John Kenneth Galbraith joined Milton Friedman
in opposing in the 1960s: military conscription. He wrote, “The draft
survives principally as a device by which we use compulsion to get
young men to serve at less than the market rate of pay.”

But why are markets so central to our civic life? John O’Keeffe raises the reason I’m for the draft, the moral hazard:

Political decisions are a public
good….Is society so complicated that someone as public-oriented as JKG decided that he could not trust the political process enough so
that his sons would serve in a war that could be justified? He had to
know as the elites escaped the consequences of decisions they would
have even less stake in ensuring a good decision in the 1st place or
that the army would have the right equipment during the war or medical
care when they came home.

Friedman and Galbraith got rid of wage-slavery. They thereby separated statusy public service from the most important and onerous form of service there is. If there had been a draft, we might still be in Afghanistan (a war I supported), but we certainly wouldn’t be in Iraq and we would probably have Osama Bin Laden by now. Great national interests there. The problem with the current system is that hawks and neocons and other war-promoting elites don’t have to see their sons go off to war. That’s the moral hazard. Armchair warriors. I am for elites. A society depends upon them to manage its affairs. (If you don’t think there are elites in the army, then you haven’t seen a good war movie. Al Gore was a paper pusher in Vietnam. So was Donald Graham.) But I like the Israeli culture on this one; if you didn’t serve, you have no right to lead. We should adopt Charles Peters’s idea: a year or two of national service for all.

29 Responses

  1. Richard Witty
    July 10, 2008, 12:41 pm

    TWO things stimulate public scrutiny on the desirability of a war proposal:

    1. Who will serve? (Draft in your example)
    2. Who will pay for it? (Taxes, or future generations in Bush's example)

    I consider the tax question to be more important in this war. I dislike the draft. It is forced labor, and still for largely imperial military purposes.

    Taxes however brings it home to tax-payers (rich and poor), especially if separately stated on a separate line.

    "Iraq War surcharge" 2.3% of Adjusted Gross Income.

  2. Riley
    July 10, 2008, 12:46 pm

    if we had the non interventionist foreign policy advocated by George Washington, Lindberg, PJB and Ron Paul then we would need no draft because we would indulge in no foreign expeditions.

    having a standing army creates another moral hazard, Weiss: the temptation to use it….

    We must break up domestic lobbuies like AIPAC that would lobby for wars on behalf of their co ethnics.

    The 1st draft among English-speaking peoples was in 1862 in the South. Remarkable that Elizabethan England, Continental US at the time of the French Indian and War of Independence had no need for a draft. (BTW pls confirm…my data is from David Frum!!! Yaeh, I know reading the devil himself…..)

  3. Jim Haygood
    July 10, 2008, 5:05 pm


    Riley is right. Use the armed forces for their noble and legitimate mission of defending the country (which they grossly failed to do on 9/11), and you'll get more volunteers than you can use. But send them overseas for wars of aggression and occupation (virtually the only kind of wars the U.S. fights anymore), and you're simply supplying the war machine with cannon fodder.

    Thomas Jefferson and other eminent Founders regarded a standing army as a great evil. Today, we not only have a standing army, but a permanent empire of overseas bases in Japan, Germany, Korea, U.K., Italy, Bosnia, Iran, Afghanistan, and plenty of other places. Until the U.S. finally demobilizes from WW II (63 years late, but better late than never), closes down NATO, and adheres to the constitutional requirement for Congress to declare war, a draft simply gives aid and encouragement to the vast military empire which is sucking the lifeblood out of the U.S. economy. If this continues (as appears likely), the U.S. will become a second-rate power like the U.K. within this century. And it will richly deserve that fate.

    Israel is a bad example for the U.S. to follow. Its heavy defense requirements are a result of Zionist land grabs committed within living memory, such that the victims are still fighting back. Normal nations with normal defense requirements (think Costa Rica) do not need national service, and often not even a standing army.

    The root problem with national service is that the US fedgov has slipped its constitutional traces and become fundamentally evil. That some lefties support national service shows how socialism and militarism mix like gin and tonic (Hitler's party wasn't called the National Socialists by accident). Don't serve the Beast; don't feed your children to it. Shun and resist it.

  4. Jim Haygood
    July 10, 2008, 5:09 pm

    'Iran' should be 'Iraq' (para 2, line 3)

  5. LeaNder
    July 10, 2008, 5:30 pm

    I am firmly on Richard's side on this issue. No draft. In one of NF's books I read that by the age of 55 every Israeli has spent 9 years in the army. (if I get the number right?).

    But I don't like the idea of a general tax. Why not make a plebiscite/referendum. Everyone who is for war is automatically registered and will pay war tax. ;) ;) ;)


    And Jim, I surely hated the Taliban. But did you support the war in Afghanistan?

  6. Anonymous
    July 10, 2008, 5:48 pm

    Since congress is the sole recipient of the right to declare war it would be fair to make the draft mirror its ethnic composition.

  7. MM
    July 10, 2008, 6:40 pm

    I also think 1-2 years of required military conscription is a great idea, at least in countries where the military apparatus could conceivably be labelled defensive–say, Austria. Skills and valuable experience, plus a notion of civic and martial duty, applied to the real world.

    The problem is when the resources and infrastructure available to a country's military end up forcing its hand into asserting hegemony, and tilting public sentiment as well by virtue of the chaos, in a vicious cycle of increasing militarism.

    In Japan before all the modernization of the Meiji Period, the national slogan was sonnō jōi: Revere the Emperor; Expel the barbarians.

    After industrialization and military conscription, Imperial Japan selected a new national slogan. Fukoku kyōhei: Enrich the Country, Strengthen the Military.

    As in Israel/the United States, in Japan the nature of the militarist expansionism was rationalized as defensive.

    Since Israel/the United States has shown a virtual addiction to asserting militarist hegemony and expanding its region of influence under various supposedly defensive rationales, there would really have to be a massive reorientation and shift of consciousness for a conscripted, standing military to be a good idea.

    I am gonna go ahead and venture a guess that Phil doesn't have any kids, or his opinion here might be a little more prudent.

  8. Todd
    July 10, 2008, 8:26 pm

    I don't need to join the military to feel attached to the United States. The military has done quite a bit to harm the nation by shoving its melting pot, big government and democracy spreading doctrine down the throats of recruits.

    Why anyone would suggest that the U.S. copy Israel on any social policy is beyoned me. But to remodel U.S. society around Israel's military example is absurd. Israel is a mess!

    I think it is time that our immigrants and sons of immigrants stop trying to change the nation and truly asimilate or leave.

    Putting Israel up as an example for the U.S. to follow shows a lack of knowledge and respect for American traditions. The U.S. needs to be a peaceful nation that minds its own business and enforces sensible laws across the board, not some third-world multicultural empire that has to enforce a phoney culture and cohesion from above.

  9. Richard Witty
    July 10, 2008, 9:50 pm

    There is NO CHANCE that the US will be a peaceful nation.

    Its too big, and has too many "interests".

  10. Richard Witty
    July 10, 2008, 9:51 pm

    I take that back. There is a chance. It is not pursued by isolation, but by positive constructive involvement.

  11. wnt4
    July 10, 2008, 10:14 pm


    Israel's military service is of course exclusive of Arabs, Bedu excepted. The idea that military service is the ticket to a public life serves to exclude Arab Israelis, just like the current Knesset bill to expel most senior Arab politicians, just like the racist housing policies, etc. Israel's militarization in the face of asymmetric war predates and parallels the current US experience, but it's not something we should seek out. And what good has their military advantage done Israel? They might be able to murder any Palestinian leader at will, but this has just allowed their own religious fanatics to steal more land, making Israel's political problem even more intractable as the two-state solution has faded. That's a lesson for the US.

    But the United States military has certainly transitioned from an apolitical organization, in which officers traditionally did not even vote, to one which is a nakedly conservative actor – see the must-read article "The erosion of civilian control of the military in the United States today", Naval War College Review, Summer, 2002 by Richard H. Kohn. This is almost certainly the result of that crowning liberal achievement, the end of the draft, which allowed conservative officers to dominate the corps and Republicans to claim they were uniquely patriotic and sympathetic to the armed forces. More generally the militarization of civilian life in America, from bombers doing Superbowl flyovers, to nearly any recent Hollywood movie, to the rise of the security state, privileges conservatives, hawks and chauvinist patriots.

    Can liberals take the military back? I don't think they should even want to. The use of force by the powerful to settle disputes is fundamentally Rightwing and illiberal. Instead, I believe the very notion of a standing military has to be questioned. Military spending is just as big a shibboleth in this country as Israel, maybe more so. But what do we get for it? Do we need an army, a navy, an air force at all? Can't we get by with a coast guard, a national guard and maybe a few Boomer subs for deterrence? Of course, even asking these questions provokes howls of rage from most Americans, but it's a fact of evolution that useless appendages tend to disappear over the generations. The American military is a gigantic waste of money and we can't afford it any longer.

    By the way, may I say that I've had years of enjoyment from reading your blog, and I appreciate both the frequent updates, the genuine knowledge of the issues and your willingness to engage with comments and change your mind given new evidence. Thanks!

  12. Paul Easton, Bensonhurst, Brooklyn
    July 11, 2008, 2:51 am

    Jim Haygood says 'That some lefties support national service shows how socialism and militarism mix like gin and tonic', which seems to imply that he thinks Phil is a leftist.

    No way. Phil has always been up front about his 'elitism', which comes down to a narcissistic self-regard based on the delusion that he is a member of the Ruling Class. Basically he is a standard yuppie striver type who happens to have a bee in his bonnet about zionism.

    I guess people here have dismissed Phil's 'elitism' as a harmless aberration, but now we must accept that it is not so harmless.

    Phil gets points for being honest, and he seems to be a decent sort of person. But I am tired of reading this sort of drivel, and lets face it, Phil is not very bright. I think we should consider moving the whole discussion over to Martillo's blog.

  13. Jim Haygood
    July 11, 2008, 6:04 am


    "And Jim, I surely hated the Taliban. But did you support the war in Afghanistan?" – LeaNder

    "Hating the Taliban" is a result of the MSM's calculated "two minutes of hate" campaign against the villains du jour. The Taliban are no better or worse than most repressive Third World governments. I don't read German, but a country that tolerates Angela Merkel as a "leader" has to be as deluded and propagandized as the U.S.

    Pursuing Bin Ladin into eastern Afghanistan (if that was even the objective) in no way required overthrowing the government of Afghanistan. NATO's invasion of Afghanistan was wrong, illegal, and put it into the same losing position as the Soviets, who also found Afghanistan ungovernable and got driven out of there with their tails between their legs.

    NATO has already lost Afghanistan. It's just a question of how many more young Americans, Canadians, Brits, Dutch, Germans, etc. have to die before the political elite pulls the plug on their suicide mission. On current evidence, probably several thousand.

    Human life is cheap in the 'developed' West.

  14. LeaNder
    July 11, 2008, 6:27 am

    Thanks Jim, I surely should have spend a little more time pondering on the right term instead of hate.

    But I see, we agree.

    If I remember correctly they even offered to extradite Bin Laden given evidence of his guilt by the States. Why did the FBI never put Bin Laden on his top terrorist list? And what was all the media production about that looked partly rather suspicious. Shouldn't it have been top priority to catch Bin Laden? Why did that never happen? Instead these poor sods got rounded up or sold for a few bucks.


    Concerning hate: I don't like systems that don't allow girls any education. Were they have to hide their bodies and were their vision of the world is heavily restricted. No it's not hate, but it is a questioning of the double standards guiding these rules.

  15. LeaNder
    July 11, 2008, 6:30 am


    Thanks, wnt4, interesting note. It would be nice, if more voices like you would reduce the "signal to noise level" much of it produced by the Judonia "research" it feels, at least lately.


    Paul, you should take careful note that Phil speaks of a responsible elite. That is a line of thought that has deep roots in history way back beyond the king's two bodies. …

    link to en.wikipedia.org

    "The King's Two Bodies, which explored, in the words of the volume's subtitle, "medieval political theology." In particular, the book traced the ways theologians, historians and canonists in the Middle Ages and early modern period understood the office and person of the king, as well as the idea of the kingdom, in corporeal and organological terms. The figure of the European monarch was a unique product of religious and legal traditions that eventually produced the notion of a "king" as simultaneously a person and an embodiment of the community of the realm. The book remains a classic in the field."

    If you think this "responsible elite" is an illusion you should tell us why:

    link to en.wikipedia.org

  16. Richard Witty
    July 11, 2008, 6:52 am

    One thing that is unique about the Israeli army is that it is a genuinely popular army, in that among Jews (noted) the vast majority are HAPPY to serve.

    It is social for them. A right of passage. A community badge of honor (with very little shame associated, unlike the residue of America's majority imperial military efforts in recent history – since WW2).

    It isn't regarded as an army of colonization, but genuinely an army of defense and community service.

    The systems of real honor that the US military does engender are important and what shifts character from out of control to within control, and mostly through the medium of self-discipline.

    In the elite and "intelligence" corps of both the US and the Israeli militaries, honor is more flexible, more resembling ends justifying means, than an internal code of discipline, and clear expectations to serve community as well as mission.

  17. LeaNder
    July 11, 2008, 7:25 am

    Jim, I didn't intend to use the blog.

    But then? I just published my favorite Merkel cartoon for you.

    I have to ask the artist for permission.

    link to artig-artig.blogspot.com

  18. LeaNder
    July 11, 2008, 7:57 am

    Sorry, that's really easy. Now it has moved down a bit:

    link to artig-artig.blogspot.com

    Gone for today. Have to finish reading my microfiche (NF thesis).

  19. Todd
    July 11, 2008, 8:11 am

    "One thing that is unique about the Israeli army is that it is a genuinely popular army, in that among Jews (noted) the vast majority are HAPPY to serve."

    Are you sure about that? From my experience in Israel, I didn't get that impression from many of the young Israelis that I met. Those who don't serve are social outcasts, and punished also.

    There was a real rift between young Israelis and their parents. I met plenty of young Israelis who just wanted to leave the country, and was told that there is a large group of young people who refused to serve living on the margins of society. I even met a few. I don't know if their claims were exaggerated or not, but one kid I knew fairly well went AWOL from the service, and told me it was because he didn't want to beat children. He returned because of strong pressure from his family and friends.

    Israel is nothing to copy. We have our own traditions, and those who refuse to accept that should think of leaving.

  20. Charles Keating
    July 11, 2008, 8:22 am

    re service in the IDF:" It is social for them. A right of passage. A community badge of honor (with very little shame associated, unlike the residue of America's majority imperial military efforts in recent history – since WW2)."

    In all the little US towns in fly-over country, military service remains a community badge of honor–look at the towns where so many of our Iraq War dead come from–the other motive for enlistment is, of course, lack of viable jobs for the lower middle class and working poor.

  21. Charles Keating
    July 11, 2008, 8:27 am

    Witty has provided a viable template regarding war proposals. That's why it's never done.

  22. Charles Keating
    July 11, 2008, 8:52 am

    Bush's blue collar war:
    link to newstatesman.com

  23. Joachim Martillo
    July 11, 2008, 12:29 pm

    Since the US instituted an all volunteer army, the private military service and private military business has grown. In addition, the appetite of the State of Israel for weapons systems that go well beyond its regional defense requirements has grown.

    Following the Friedman paradigm, the public service sector of the USA has been gradually dismantled while equivalent private sector businessness associated with Judonia have proliferated.

    At present, Judonia has access to the nuclear-armed Israeli military as well as to private military, private military service and private military technology businesses, in which Zionist Jewish American oligarchs are heavily invested.

    Should we be concerned that the day seems to be quickly approaching when Judonia will no longer need to piggy-back on Western militaries but will be able to mobilize its own military force with truly global reach or am I simply misreading the trends?

    In addition the Judonian private military sector may one day be able to cripple the US military by simply refusing to provide services and personnel at a critical moment (in the interests of the Jewish people or the State of Israel of course).

  24. Anonymous
    July 11, 2008, 2:27 pm

    What exactly is wrong with a superbowl flyover by the blueangels or thunderbirds? Were I there I would cherish the moment for the rest of my life.

    Americans are by and by taking the greatness of their country for granted.

    And what exactly was mr. KOHN doing when the military was being coopted to the Iraqi adventure? Singing "with a little help from my friends" along with preemptive Wolfowitz.

    Through this whole debacle the best examples of military courage came from those who collided with the zionized civilian leadership. I guess mr. KOHN do not like this kind of MAN.

  25. Laurie
    July 12, 2008, 6:05 am

    If the elite/politicians can't convince the people that a war is important enough to their interests to serve then perhaps it isn't.

  26. Laurie
    July 12, 2008, 6:11 am

    "Since the US instituted an all volunteer army, the private military service and private military business has grown. In addition, the appetite of the State of Israel for weapons systems that go well beyond its regional defense requirements has grown."

    Correlation isn't causation.

  27. Charles Keating
    July 12, 2008, 9:49 am

    Traditionally, American arms companies have occupied the top spot in the global arms market, with Britain, Russia and France vying to be the runners-up. Over the past five years the top arms exporters have been the US, with $63bn worth of sales, UK ($53bn), Russia ($33bn), France ($17bn) and Germany and Israel ($9bn each), according to government figures.

  28. Charles Keating
    July 12, 2008, 10:11 am

    And let's not exclude the privatation of war:

    link to guardian.co.uk

    You can also google all the enmeshed official memorandums and
    overlapping US funding as between the USA and Israel regarding
    new military product development, intelligence exchange, etc.

  29. Glenn Condell
    July 13, 2008, 8:56 pm

    ''TWO things stimulate public scrutiny on the desirability of a war proposal:

    1. Who will serve? (Draft in your example)
    2. Who will pay for it? (Taxes, or future generations in Bush's example)'

    I think some of us might wonder 'is this right?' or even 'is this necessary?' before we'd venture into who serves and who pays.

Leave a Reply