The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Coming Draft And The Future Of Coercion

So, the American military can’t make its enlistment quotas:

According to widely-reported leaks the US Army missed its recruiting target by an enormous amount in FY23 and will shrink by some 24,000 people going into 2024 – over 5% of its end strength. Apparently most of the positions being cut are already empty.

It’s no mystery why this is happening – most of the recruiting crisis is attributable to a catastrophic drop in accessions among white men. This is a huge demographic which disproportionately seeks to join the combat arms, so the impact to the Army’s combat power is disproportionately large even in comparison to those bleak numbers.

The usual explanation given for this is the one given at the link: it’s primarily about woke politics.

I’ve spent some time hanging around where US veterans talk, and there’s something to it. The people who aren’t enlisting seem to be disproportionately the children of previous veterans: those veterans used to encourage their children to enlist, now they are telling them not to. These are often families where members have served for generations.

But it’s not all culture war, and I’m not sure it’s even primarily culture war: complaints about under-pay, terrible base housing (including black mold) and forever-war abound. The only really good thing the army has going it for it now is that it still pays for college— or that’s the consensus. And enlistment issues were developing under Trump, even before Biden, it’s not primarily a partisan issue.

None of these problems can be easily fixed. The US military budget is already huge, but raising pay would require paying less for equipment and to contractors, and that’s how politicians, important donors and ex-generals get rich. Fixing bases might be slightly easier, since it can be done by contractors, but it’s not as high return to the political donor class as vastly over-priced equipment and shitty weapons. As for Forever War, well, the neoliberal and neoconservative factions are united in support.

There are two obvious solutions. The first is a draft and there has been floating of the idea. I think it will happen. Among the veterans and military hangers-on there’s a lot of doubt about it for a variety of reasons. It would require the army to organize to work with a draft, among other things, but one criticism is that it would be hard to enforce the draft because America is full of dangerous men with lots of guns and seizing people off the street the way the Ukrainians do wouldn’t go well.

I tend to agree, but that’s not how it will be done. Instead, if you don’t report, they’ll freeze all your accounts and forbid all financial institutions, including credit card companies, paypal and crypto exchanges from doing any business with you, including transferring money or even cashing endorsed checks (though checks are barely a thing any more.)

If your family aids and abets you, well, the same thing can be done to them.

This was pioneered en-masse during the Canadian truckers protest. I didn’t like the protest, but the way it was shut down was absolute totalitarian garbage. It worked, though. People can’t survive without money in this economy, and the cash economy is miniscule. Back in the late 80s I lived in it for a while, and it was easily do-able with very minor sacrifices, at least at the lower-class level. Tons of businesses would accept endorsed checks and checks were the main way wages were paid, for example. Landlords would take cash and didn’t sneer at it, nor did they check your credit rating. Full time jobs even existed which would pay in cash, and tons of part time jobs and casual labor paid cash, plus every business accepted it.

Now, not so much. No need to go into details, we all live in our near-post-cash shitty economy.

The reduction of the cash economy is the hall mark off all semi-totalitarian systems: systems which want to enforce how you spend your money and how you get paid. Much as I like them in other ways, this includes Scandinavian systems and much of Europe. Almost the first thing Modi in India did was remove all large bills from circulation, this was part of his authoritarian bent, and was economically disastrous.

Paper cash is freedom. Centralized electronic exchange is tyranny. As with all tyranny, it’s great for strop crime, but “crime” is defined by politicians and judges owned by oligarchs. Not sending your child to die for your country? Crime.

Now the second way around this is still not quite possible, but it will be very soon: autonomous killer robots. I remember reading that in the invasion of Armenia some people were killed by them, but they’ll soon be mainline because they are resistant to jamming and they don’t require operators.

Internally this is great: you don’t have the “will they fire?” issue that troops and even cops sometimes have when faced with dissent. All you need is techies to maintain and program them and someone to give the orders, none of whom have to be right there doing the killed and hearing the screams of the people they’re killing, right up and personal. Plus there’ll be lots of profit opportunities for the oligarch class, retired generals and politicians and their families.

Externally it’s great too. Who cares if your population won’t sign up for forever war killing gooks who never did anything to you?

Welcome to the future of war. Join the military or starve, and, increasingly, be killed by a robot.

(This will be a brief era, though it will seem long to live thru. Civilization collapse will deal with it, though not as fast as we’d like. Now that they’re perfected, drones/robots are not that hard to build. Rescue from them will probably require collapse of the semiconductor or battery industry.)

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  1. Chipper

    I’ve thought that one of the lessons the elites learned from Vietnam was not to have a draft, because once people learned to organize to protest the draft they started to use those skills to protest against other things. I did still worry that they would institute a draft in the 00s when the US was overextending itself in Afghanistan and Iraq, but when they didn’t, I figured that was because of the experience with Vietnam.
    But that was a long time ago and I’m sure there could be an argument for how it’s different now for reasons x y and z; even if the argument is nonsense, they could convince themselves otherwise.

  2. Carborundum

    One of the key reasons, probably the key reason after the labour market, they are not making numbers is because they are a peacetime force. Once you’ve seen a force that goes down range, everything else pales.

    Formerly war footed forces are really not fun places to be, particularly for the new guy and particularly far enough out from combat that the bulk of the experience is indirect (i.e., people who heard how it was done rather than the ones what done it). Bullshit accretes and it accretes rapidly as the bureaucracy and old norms rush to reassert themselves.

  3. Jefferson Hamilton

    Yes, I think the overwhelmingly likely possibility is we just make PKD’s “Second Variety” (written in 1953!) reality and just dump “claws” everywhere. Ever since reading The Shield of Achilles close to 20 years ago I realized that with autonomous warbots the elites wouldn’t have to make any of the concessions to regular people that mass human-fought wars made necessary, and as we creep closer to that day, those concessions get pared further and further back. That book is well worth a read, although even at the time I knew part two was far too utopian, as events have borne out.

  4. As a society we can’t fix

    “under-pay, terrible housing (including black mold) and forever-war”

    Because doing so would interfere with

    “politicians, important donors and ex-generals getting rich.”

    But don’t worry.
    The oligarchs control the media. The populace has been conditioned since birth to view the rich and powerful as god blessed genius saints. There are plenty of social issues and minorities to use as distractions and scapegoats.

    So instead of addressing any issues of substance we instead get endless discussion about pro-nouns, bathroom use, and if Mexicans need to be kicked out.

    We live in a society that is so vapid that discussing why the last several seasons of Game of Thrones was trash is the most intellectual discussion in common spaces.

  5. I was just young enough to miss the draft experience that more than a few of my fellow African American YMCA members underwent in the 60’s. They would get a summons to appear for a physical exam and upon passing it would be escorted to a bus that delivered them to boot camp. Amazingly, none of these men express any hatred for their country as they all ended up in Vietnam.
    I’m white and a little less old and while the lottery took away things like college deferments, the war was winding down and since my number was 313 (my best friend was #2 and never got called) the draft was no biggie.
    But for white guys in my hood that were the same age as the men I referred to in the first paragraph, the mechanics of the draft were way different. There were deferments and the ability to have your own physician conduct the physical.
    I gotta wonder if the same uneven selection process will apply to present day kids when the Selective Service gets rebooted.
    A frozen debit card will definitely drag many to the induction physical, but the computer code that enables this will be closed source and I predict there will be loop holes for the well to do.

  6. Feral Finster

    The average frustrated Talib or Houthi is not only far more determined and more resourceful than his average frustrated fatass American counterpart (and europeans are effeminate weenies who make Americans look like hardass macho types by comparison), he also is far tougher, in that he has less need for non-essential resources and is not addicted to The Good Life, and therefore has far few pressure points.

  7. Sub-Boreal

    Additional contributing factor: how about scarcity of young men due to “excess deaths” (COVID, “deaths of despair” etc.) and general poor health (obesity, addictions) in the demographic segments traditionally contributing enlistees?

  8. Purple Library Guy

    An easier way would be to make military service a guaranteed path from immigrant status, illegal or otherwise, to citizenship.

  9. Feral Finster

    @PLG: the military has long used something like this. I know a Ukrainian who did this to secure citizenship for himself and green cards for his family. His words about his fellow enlisted are choice.

  10. Soredemos

    Cultural explanations are always bullshit. Look to material conditions: being a soldier sucks and no one wants to do it.

    I have a nephew who joined the marines (I’m not going to play the kowtowing game where I capitalize their name). He found them stupid and annoying, and basically spent four years being nagged by his desperate sergeants to please, please at least do the minimum fitness exercises. He ignored them, along with plenty of other examples of trolling, and they just had to shrug and tolerate it because they couldn’t find anyone else, especially not someone who wasn’t a blistering moron (they gave him a specialist technical job). Even after all that they begged him to sign up for another four years and offered a big bonus. He refused.

    Suffice it to say he doesn’t have do any of the Semper Fi, Hoorah, Devil Dog bullshit. At least he got a four year vacation to Tokyo at government expense.

  11. Forecasting Intelligence

    I’m super sceptical about this.

    Most young people are not physically fit enough to join the army and/or have mental or drug issues.

    Forcing young people – assuming they even pass the basic tests – who don’t want to be in the army, is a real challenge for managing the army.

    If I was the army, I would recruit desperate illegals with the promise that with service they get a pathway to citizenship. That would also be controversial but if things get desperate enough that might end up the option our elites choose.

    Europeans will recruit foreigners – indeed its already started.

  12. Mark Level

    I don’t buy the fundamental premise of this post. As one commenter noted, protests would be a result, & I will say a quick & virulent one. Additionally, look at the Executive & Legislature’s complete inability to do anything that they haven’t been doing since Reagan. Look at the bungled & ridiculous response to Covid. Imagine those turds in the House & Senate having to pass laws to start a draft & the immediate pushback they would get from most constituents!! It’d make the past efforts to gut Social Security look like a Tea party (& no, I don’t mean the silly we-hate-Obama crowd of a dozen years back.)

    In the meager probability that they could pull off such a feat, I’ll agree with Finster. There aren’t enough healthy (neither emotionally nor physically) US youth to dragoon in. People will resist with drug O.D.s or malingering if they’re ever dragged in. And as already pointed out, with all the guns ‘Muricans love so much they can’t be dragged off the streets & shoved onto a Ship or Plane off to the theater of war as happens in Ukraine.

    The Empire is crumbling– my soundtrack for this is the old Hendrix classic, “Castles Made of Sand” they melt into the sea, eventually!!

    I will agree on your assertions about how they’d try to force people to go with the freezing of bank accounts, theft of resources, etc. But escalating to that point kind of negates the whole “freedumb” narrative. I thought the evil Heathen Chinee were the only ones who had “Social Credit Ratings?” The dupe shit-libs would likely support this (unless their kid was selected to be dead meat), but I don’t think most grassroots Republicans would go along with this. And as we all know, the Dems hate their base, but the R’s FEAR their base so, again, I don’t see mass mobilization happening.

    Off topic but should be shared: George Galloway won his local election in Britain & will back in Parliament. In his Victory speech, he directly threatened the smarmy & idiotic Keir Starmer, that he is coming for him & representing “the people of Gaza” as well as his local constituency. Europe is crumbling (massive farmers’ protests across Europe including shutting down the Polish border with Ukraine for over a month & counting).

    Pick your metaphor: sand castles or Humpty-Dumpty. “All the King’s Horses & All the King’s Men” can’t put that shambolic shit together again. Reagan’s “Shining City” never existed & now the belief that it did is empty & null.

  13. mago

    Money, ain’t it funny. I knew a big time east coast pot dealer in the 80’s who paid cash for everything. He rented a private garage and parked one of his cars in it with a trunk filled with bundles of the stuff.
    One of his competitors remarked to me that when the guy walked into a store to buy a rug, people knew what he did for a living. Probably so. It was interesting to watch the way he operated.

    I beat the draft lottery by one number to my great relief. I have a slew of stories about what friends did to avoid the draft, some hilarious and some tragic.
    My brother joined the navy to avoid the draft and claimed it was the best thing he ever did. Helped finance his house and education.
    When I try to explain that it’s not the 70’s anymore, he’s dismissive. Our sensibilities differ on many things.

    I come from a military family and received a lot of grief for my refusal to join.
    Anyway, I agree with those here who say most of the young uns these days are not fit for military service.

  14. 1980: 7% of young people had at least 1 chronic illness
    2024: 60% of young people have at least 1 chronic illness

    Our societies response: How do we get more people to join the military?

    A sane societies response: Maybe we should stop poisoning our air, water, food and injecting every kid with heavy metals?

  15. Joe Marchal

    Fragging was a real problem with draftees.

  16. capelin

    @ Purple Library Guy “An easier way would be to make military service a guaranteed path from immigrant status, illegal or otherwise, to citizenship.”

    That’s what the Right is on about, “importing military age men who have no loyalty to the country” (as in, can be deployed domestically).

    I too think a draft would be a hard sell with lots of individual armed resistances, but given how effectively they’ve marketed up-is-down lately, who the hell knows.

    And yeah, a soft sick screen-raised generation. Here, put on 40 lbs of kit and run up that hill. I mean, sand dune.

    Apparently there were three instances of successful popular uprisings against Hitler.

    They all occurred when there was a direct impact to the “Good Germans” – ie they tried to take Jews who were married to “Good Germans”. The resistances all dissipated once the impacts shifted back to abstactable others, like the poor.

    A large percentage of the grunt-force of the U.S. is recruited from Tennessee and Mississippi(?), areas kept deliberately poor to help drive enrollment. A Harper’s or New Yorker article from years ago.

    Free-roaming robots are gunna suck/get stuck in the real world. Or tip over. s/. Some nasty controlled applications, checkpoints, etc. But a human can truly think. And drag themselves through a swamp, climb up a rope, run across a field, get their foot out of the rock crevice it jammed into, steal a car, roll it into a lake and swim to shore. Then replicate.

  17. GrimJim

    Biden and the Dems even talking about a draft is a grand way to endure a massive Trump victory and probably give the Republicans a solid grip on the House and Senate.

    All Trump would have to say is that he would end US involvement in both wars and he’d win in a landslide.

    Not that more folks would vote for him, but less would vote for Biden and his militarist supporters.

    He’s already lost my vote over the Gaza Genocide, and I’m not remotely draftable.

    Hed lise pretty much every vote from the under 30’s and those who have highly draftable children.

    They better come up with those Terminator Series 001s pretty soon if they want to keep up these wars. They are running out of warm Ukrainian bodies to sacrifice…

  18. HHawhee

    As far as I can tell, the social coercion that Ian mentions (cutting off bank accounts and so forth) is all premised on digital technology.

    When reliable electricity goes away, digital data storage and the the internet go away. Bank accounts (as currently implemented) go away. Electronic payments (direct deposit, pensions, and so forth) go away. Credit card processing goes away. Crypto currency goes away. And those are just some of the digital implications of the grid going down.

    There will be immense hardship, but perhaps also less chance for us to be monitored and controlled. We would be thrown back to a cash or barter economy.

    Then there are the “hard-world” consequences of no or at least unreliable electricity. Some random examples: gas station pumps go away, sewage treatment goes away, and clean water delivery goes away.

    This probably won’t happen in one big overnight crash, but more as a process of degradation, which may or may not happen fast.

  19. VietnamVet

    Without the restoration of government by and for the American people, the imposition of the draft is guaranteed to overthrow the current oligarchy. The Deep State sees the writing on the wall. It issued a 6-year sentence for a Jan. 6 protestor who smoked weed in the Capitol. The law is also being used to try to dismount Donald Trump.

    The volunteer army is failing for a number of reasons. War zone tours are guaranteed. Possible enlistees are not healthy, overweight, smoke weed or worse, and targets of contempt by the overlords. But mainly, it is a colonial army fighting endless wars that cannot be won so war mongers can profit.

    Sixty years ago, the US Army was very much middle-class. Before I was drafted, my parents offered to support me if I moved to Canada, but I didn’t have the guts and enlisted for one more year to be a supply specialist. That is why I am still here. Afterwards, I visited Vancouver BC and met a friend of a friend who was a dishwasher there to avoid being drafted. Neither of us was happy about being forced to make these choices.

    The Deep State thinks that the proxy World War 3 can continue until a new offensive is mounted against Russia in 2025. This is insane. The US middle-class needs to be rebuilt to avoid a devastating second civil war. The current globalist NGO importation of foreign labor must stop. Unless there is a UN Armistice signed and a DMZ built on the Line of Contact staffed by Eastern Europeans and a two-state solution in Israel implemented, a nuclear war is likely.

  20. Some Guy

    Interesting post, but I am going to take an opposing view on this one. History tells us that as societies decay, they don’t recover the ability to force their citizens into the army. Instead they rely on mercenaries until they collapse. I think we are already seeing this play out. Purple LG makes a good point that we will make use of foreigners in the army as well as via mercenaries, but I would be very surprised if the draft ever comes back, we are way too far gone for that, in my opinion. But I am no expert, you may well be right, time will tell, as it always does.

  21. Stewart Millen

    What PLG said! I have been thinking the same thing when I glanced at this post a few days ago.

    There are plenty of young, relatively fit people who would be willing to fight for us if we gave them a chance. That has been (unfortunately) the best way for a marginalized group to get equal rights beanies in the US. (Most of the times our verbiage about human dignity and rights comes across as heartfelt as the commandments of the pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm, “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”).

    Ian, from where I sit, in Appalachia, our young people aren’t fit due to the opioid crises. I’m leery of AI- or high-tech substitution for boots on the ground, given the history of we turning tail and running from combat against ragtag militias over the past 60 years.

    The reason we don’t have enough boots on the ground and no draft is that movement conservatives saw high tech as their savior to circumvent the “Vietnam Syndrome” where the US public was against sending forces overseas to fight for Exxon-Mobile or United Fruit. Conservatives thought by not having too many boots on the ground they would keep lots of body bags coming home (and those that did would be going home to the poorest and politically weaker groups of US society) while still promoting capitalism “freedom” throughout the world.

  22. Altandmain

    If the military and ruling elite is stupid enough to do this, then it will backfire badly.

    They will be stuck with troops with low morale and with a low motivation to fight. Such a military would be eager for a charismatic figure in the military to take charge, think someone like a 21st century Julius Caesar or Napoleon, although one key difference is that the military will be less eager to attack other nations than those 2 figures were.

    Having poorly motivated conscripts doesn’t just hurt the morale of the conscripts – poor morale is contagious. The direct junior officers will have their hands full with poorly trained, low morale, and high desertion rates. In reality, mobilizing in this manner can often hurt armies.

    To a degree we are seeing this in Ukraine in the AFU today. Towards the end of WW2, Germany mobilized the Volkssturm as an act of desperation, which like the Banderists in Ukraine today, consisted of the young, the old, and those who were not in good health, as Germany was already in total war.

    I suppose given the lack of competence of the ruling elite and their disdain for studying history, believing they are exceptional, this is inevitable.

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