Military Overdraft

Should we force a million men to march?

Should the United States reinstitute the military draft? With President Bush’s war czar coyly popping the question to the national press, the issue is fast regaining currency—even among Americans who aren’t still suffering PTSD or LSD flashbacks from the Seventies.

The case in favor of a draft is fairly straightforward. Our armed forces are overextended and overtaxed in a series of overseas wars that show no signs of abatement. New troops must come from somewhere, and traditional forms of recruitment are posting diminishing returns. The case against a draft is equally straightforward. Unwilling conscripts make unsatisfactory troops, a universal draft would induct some of America’s least competent into the services, and compelled labor is downright un-American.

The traditional pragmatic argument against the draft isn’t holding up too well these days. Conscripts might not always make for the highest quality troops, but the bar for recruitment has been steadily dropping. And, as indcolts1813 points out, the Army’s current call-up policies are pushing their own share of unwilling troops onto the front lines. If an overstretched military poses a danger to American security—and, as RonB52 points out, even George Bush should appreciate that it does—we have two practical courses available: increase our force size or decrease our force commitments.

Fraysters have no shortage of inventive proposals for bolstering the Army without imposing a draft. According to Madai, we could afford to increase military pay if we really wanted to. More fancifully, jumpinjackflash thinks an army of convicts would be preferable to an army of conscripts. Cora Squires proposes military service as a mandatory alternative to child support. With all this inventive thinking, I’m surprised nobody proposed the genuinely American approach: outsourcing.

For sixty thou and citizenship per soldier, we could fight international poverty and global terrorism at the same time, while giving George Bush the immigration reform he so desperately craves. With an army of mercs, everyone would win—except the terrorist sympathizers, of course.

Withdrawal presents itself as a tantalizingly sensible option… until one starts considering all the places we still have to invade. One possibility is to go with specialization of labor; jwschmidt proposes using the American military as the “tip of the spear,” and leaving the messy job of occupation to coalitions. Queen Phil thinks we could make love and war at the same time by weaponizing Ecstasy. While it might lack a creative flair or a long-term vision, there’s no shortage of advocates in the Fray for the obvious—withdraw from Iraq.

If the price of our security is truly war without end (a debatable proposition), we might as well start discussing the merits of a draft. Would compulsory national service, civil or military, be good for the American people? Or, is the power to assign labor to American citizens a form of slavery more consistent with the powers of Egypt’s Pharaoh than America’s President? When should we start drafting women into our citizen army? Whisper it softly, but what about gays? Why not the disabled? After all, isn’t lcvega67 right that everybody is useful for something? If the draft curbed America’s enthusiasm for foreign engagements, would that increase or imperil our national security?

Though it might just be a thought game, the question of the draft raises an awful lot of issues to discuss. Stop on by the Fray and join us in talking it out. GA12:10am PDT

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Even as the subprime mortgage crisis ripples across the world’s financial markets and imperils real estate as the default topic of conversation at suburbanite cocktail parties, the enthusiasm for all things housing seems to be undiminished in the Fray.

The proof of this fascination can be found in the slow but burgeoning trickle of readers who have thoughtfully weighed in over the past week on Wytold Rybczynski’s pre-fab housing slideshow documenting a form of shelter as populist as it is avant-garde, as ripe for mass production as it remains a niche, both historically and in the present market.

The Modernist pre-fab movement is built on this contradiction, using standardized building materials in service of an individualist and non-conformist architectural aesthetic.

Not always as practical and easy as assembling pieces with an instruction manual, dragginalong vents the considerable frustration of attempting to do pre-fab in a northern Virginia county with “zoning from he**.” buckloy, on the other hand, sings the praises of his nearly maintenance-free Lustron home constructed in the very same region of the country over 50 years ago.

After insightfully noting that “the main cost of middle-class housing is not in the structure but rather in the land/location,” fsilber throws a nasty polemic into the debate: for a neighborhood to be desirable, real estate must be pricey enough to “exclude disadvantaged families whose children often have educational and social problems – children who are at greatest risk of falling into gangs and street crime.” Qwell takes offense at fsilber’s ass-backwards reasoning: “Perpetuating the ghetto and the trailer park is the cause of the social behavior you deplore. Apparently you feel it’s killing the middle class too.” maroci further admonishes us not to blame the underclass; mixed-income neighborhoods can thrive just fine.

North River finds the focus on cost per square footage in Rybczynski’s article a misleading index of affordability:

the same people who are drawn to modern prefabs are the very people who are willing to have less square footage and to streamline their lifestyle…In short, if the modern prefab costs 50% more per square foot but is 50% the size of a suburban McMansion, the price winds up the same – and is within reach.

But before we engage in too many self-congratulatory accolades for our commitment to environmentally conscious living, MacAdvisor throws into question the supposedly waste-cutting benefits of pre-fab construction.

Do you live in pre-fab housing? Come over to the Architecture Fray and throw a few stones. AC2:20pm EDT