We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

…”once again the reintroduction of National Service is being mooted by think tanks, this time as a thinly veiled mechanism for enslaving the young. Leave aside the point that, far from bolstering conservative values, the diversity commissars of the Civil Service would turn it into the `national woke service’ from day one. Conscriptin is just about defensive as a way to maintain a military reserve; as a way to extract free labour for the state, it’s morally reprehensible. It’s also economically insane. The public sector is staggeringly unproductive. Labour that is unpaid is labour that is asking to be used in the most inefficient way possible, on jobs that would never be done if the work cost the minimum wage.”

Sam Ashworth-Hayes, Daily Telegraph (£). This is probably one of the best take-downs of the whole “put ’em in the Army and sort out the kids” trope that I have come across in a while.

46 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Kirk

    As a professional soldier, my take on conscripts is this: Don’t want them, and if you have to have ’em, that probably means your nation ain’t worth defending.

    That said, I see one place they’d be useful: Domestic policing. Everyone ought to do that, and be exposed to the issues of maintaining public order. Police work ought to be the same as jury duty; you get summoned for it, do your work, and go home after some minor period of your life, having had to perform the hard duty of maintaining civilization at its most basic terms. Investigations and management ought to be handled by full-time professionals, but the rank-and-file? Average Joe Citizen, selected at random.

    This would have two salutary effects: One, all the numpties would be faced with the reality of dealing with the skellish types on the daily, and two, they’d be there to rein in the idiocy, knowing they were only going to do the job for a couple of years and then return to civilian life. This would tend to rein in the “Us vs. Them” issues with today’s way of doing business, and it’d expose people to the realities of life out there in police-land. Which they absolutely should have to deal with; the average person never sees the end result of not seat-belting the kiddies, or what dealing with actual criminally-inclined people can be like. Put policing on the same sort of level as jury duty, and I guarantee you that you’re gonna see a phase-change in people’s mentality about the whole “law and order” thing.

  • I always demand helotry when it doesn’t affect me.


  • Steven R

    I was introduced to an idea called The Great Divorce when I took one of my political science courses in college, lo, these many moons ago. Basically, the idea comes down to this: with an all volunteer military the families of the rich and powerful and politically connected (and to a lesser extent, everyone else in society) are insulated from military and foreign affairs. After al, their kids won’t be the ones getting killed in far away lands they can barely pronounce, much less find on a map. But, with the draft or national service, their kids share the risk of sucking up bullets too, so those families become far more interested and can apply political pressure to The Powers That Be to not get us sucked into quagmires.

    It’s okay when Pablo Poverty has to join the Army and gets killed in some faraway land, but less okay when Wittington Welloff III has to carry a rifle.

    It’s always been an intriguing idea to me. I’m not sure I buy it entirely, but I also can’t dismiss it out of hand.

  • Stonyground

    Didn’t the rich and powerful in the US just find ways of avoiding being sent to Vietnam that weren’t available to the common folk?

  • Aetius

    Kirk, the British navy relied on the pressgang during the Napoleonic wars. Even so, those wars were worth fighting, and Britain was worth saving.

    At the same time, we really really don’t want National (Woke) Service today.

  • Penseivat

    One suggestion, made many years ago was, rather than a military conscription, which Joe Bloggs from Council Estate on Sea will have to do, but the children of banker/politician/millionaire/man with many contacts can find an exclusion, have a trained emergency action Corps, where young people can be trained to be drivers, engineers, chefs, admin personnel, medics, etc, in case of national emergencies or disasters. If there are no emergencies during their tenure, then at least they will have skills they can use in their future. They will also learn to work as a team, relying on each other or, using their training and skills, as individuals. There must be thousands of ex military, Police, builders,or ambulance crews with all of that knowledge and experience to impart. Of course, the suggestion was ignored, probably by tunnel visioned, single issue focused politicians. Personally, I think it would work.

  • djc

    The police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

    Robert Peel

    Definition of policing by consent

  • Steven R

    Stonyground brought up a great point about the kids of the rich and powerful being able get out of being drafted via various deferments, which is very true. Of course, it has always been like that whenever the US needed the draft. During the Civil War, the Union imposed a draft starting in 1863 and one could get out of it by hiring a replacement or paying $300, a tidy sum that got the rich out of the line of fire (and put much needed money in Honest Abe’s coffers). That led to a lot of resentment and the NYC Draft riots. During Vietnam, college deferments existed and I have no doubt that more than one patriarch of a well-heeled family greased a dean’s palms to keep a scion with poor grades in school.

    That could be sidestepped by not having any deferments whatsoever. Of course, our rich and powerful fathers can call in a few markers with the politicians and get Junior a nice, cushy staff job far from the fighting (as FDR did for his son as did Abe Lincoln before him), but even so, at least then the parents will still be forced to acknowledge the geopolitical and military realities of the day rather than simply worrying about how this war or that conflict or some other police action affects the stock prices.

  • William H. Stoddard

    Steven R: I was IN college during the later years of the Vietnam War (1968-1973). I remember well when it was announced that college deferments had been abolished, and all students were assigned draft lottery numbers based on their birthdate. Fortunately for me, my number was high enough so that I was never called in. But that was definitely the era when male college students talked of emigrating to Canada. It took more than good grades to avoid the draft.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Aetius: Kirk, the British navy relied on the pressgang during the Napoleonic wars. Even so, those wars were worth fighting, and Britain was worth saving.

    Don’t forget another approach: the “carrot” of prize money along with the “stick” of the press. For quite a few lucky sailors and officers, they got seriously rich. The prize money system was an offshoot of the legalised piracy that Elizabeth 1, and other monarchs and UK governments, used to go after France, Spain, etc. It was the mercenary, enterprise angle of warfare that still surpises those who haven’t heard of it. Also, for all the harshness of life on RN ship (although captains varied in their approaches), in most cases life on board a ship was superior to that on dry land for a lot of people: three square meals a day, adventure, clean living quarters, a daily shot of grog with lime juice to prevent scurvy, a sense of cameraderie, and the possibility of beating the French in battle and making some money. The big mutinies that happened in the early 19th century were not usually about brutal discipline, which was accepted with a shrug of the shoulders, but late pay, and terrible rations.

    Several of my ancestors were navy men. Hard as nails and god help you if you played them at cards or tried to out-drink them.

  • TxTransplant

    In response to Steven R’s comment that a draft causes the rich and connected to “apply political pressure to The Powers That Be to not get us sucked into quagmires”:

    The United States had a draft from 1940 – 1973. During that time, the powers that be got the U.S. involved in:
    – World War II (1941 – 1945)
    – Greek Civil War (1946 – 1949)
    – Korean War (1950 – present)
    – Lebanon (1958)
    – Vietnam (1955 – 1975)
    – Dominican Republic (1965)

    The United Kingdom had a draft from 1939 – 1960. During that time, the powers that be got the U.K. involved in:
    – World War II (1941 – 1945)
    – Greek Civil War (1946 – 1949)
    – Malayan Emergency (1948 – 1960)
    – Korean War (1950 – 1953)
    – Mau Mau Rebellion (1952 – 1960)
    – Suez Crisis (1956)

    The French Republic had a draft from 1905 – 1996. During that time, the powers that be got the French involved in:
    – World War I (1914 – 1918)
    – World War II (1939 – 1945)
    – Indo-China War (1947 – 1954), although conscripts did not serve in the combat zones
    – Algerian War of Independence (1954 – 1962)
    – Suez Crisis (1956)
    – Various continuing interventions throughout Africa following the independence of France’s African colonies (1960 – present)

    Basically, the presence of a draft does not deter a country’s political leadership from getting into ill-advised police actions/gunboat diplomacy/military adventures around the world. Reinstating conscription won’t stop misguided foreign policy, aside from considerations that it is basically forced labor and therefore an affront to all liberty loving individuals.

    Even if no deferments are allowed and rules are set in place to ensure that the connected don’t get to game where their progeny end up (either behind a desk or behind a rifle), it still won’t matter because the rich and powerful are a much smaller proportion of the population than anyone else. The risk that one of their children will have to climb some god-forsaken hill under artillery fire is still low enough that I don’t think conscription would serve as a deterrent effect.

  • Steven R

    Fair enough and I’ll walk that one back.

  • JJM

    There’s nothing wrong with military conscription per se. It will be as effective – or as ineffective – as the methodology applied to conscript intake, training, employment and terms of service.

    However, I do think it ought to be reserved for truly existential national emergencies* i.e., general war where there is a need to mobilize all capabilities in defence of the nation.

    Regarding conscription for civic service, I’m afraid I agree with Samizdata here: it would become a mass levée to furnish cheap labour in the service of wokery.

    * Which “climate change” is not.

  • BenDavid

    This is a huge issue here in Israel – as it probably would be in any country under threat. The Left is using the exemption from army service that is granted to religious seminarians as a political and social wedge.

    The army has said that Israel’s population is now large enough that not all need serve – but the days of scrappy self-defense are still fresh in lived memory and military service is part of Israeli identity and collective ethos.

    (Lest anyone mistakenly conclude that the Israeli left is patriotic – they are simultaneously undermining the army by pushing feminist and LGBTQXYZ integration into combat units. And still undercutting our’s justified self-defense on the world stage… Just like your Lefties).

  • bobby b

    Just what we need: a herd of conscripts wandering around enforcing pronouns-of-choice, lecturing pickup truck owners about climate change, and delivering absentee ballots to everything that moves. That’s what our current PTB would have them doing. They would be progressive shock-troops.

    The unions will keep the conscripts from doing anything that could be done by a paid union member. The rest if us will be fighting to keep them from being given any task of importance. The racialists will be fighting to exempt anyone who would be triggered by being considered “free labor.”

    It would cause resentment against society by the conscripts, and be costly to police and enforce. At best, we’d have some cleaner roadsides. Not worth the effort.

    (ETA: And, if we made conscripts into temp-cops, the death toll on both sides would be awful. No thanks.)

  • Kirk

    Here’s the thing: Conscripts are essentially useless in today’s military environment. Unless you’re doing a cradle-to-grave service deal like the Swiss or the Israelis, don’t even bother. The time it takes to train a modern soldier, acculturate them thoroughly, and make them semi-effective? They’re done with their service before you actually get any service out of them.

    Aside from the moral and the morale issues, it’s a waste of time. The only way you can effectively do conscription is if you’re also following a “nation in arms” military system at the same time.

    For the US? Here’s the thing: Most of the average muck of the nation ain’t fit to be a soldier, either morally or physically. Trying to turn the dregs into soldiers is a waste of money, time, and effort for all concerned. The Army (or any other branch…) cannot take the time to compensate for 20-odd years of piss-poor parenting and try to reform the unreformable. Your darling kids? Ain’t worth squat as potential soldiers, on average. Don’t inflict them on the services, ‘cos we ain’t got time to do what you didn’t, which was make decent human beings out of them.

    The canard that most of the service will be performed by the poor is also a crock of shit. Most of the guys who actually served in Vietnam as combat soldiers were mid- to upper-middleclass guys who had their acts together. It was still true as late as when I retired; you saw very, very few “poverty-stricken” types in the ranks, mostly because they were “poverty-stricken” due to moral and intellectual failure in the first place. Military has no use for that sort of human, at all.

    By and large, most of the people who make these arguments have never served, will never serve, and just like to pontificate from the sidelines because they feel like they need to do a bit of moral preening. I’ve no use for them, either.

    Military service has gotten so complex, so onerous, and so technical that the idea of a conscript ever being an effective soldier (absent acceptance of really heavy attrition doing on-the-job training during an actual ongoing war) is utterly, irretrievably ludicrous. The way forward, until there’s another paradigm shift, is long-service volunteer professionals. How you get and maintain those? Well, it won’t be cheap, and you won’t be doing any “social engineering” with them, if you want to keep them. The leftoids in the US are learning this; they created the recruitment crisis with all this LGBTWTFBBQ crap and the rest of the BS they brought in. The actual people likely to sign up to be professional soldiers? Also ain’t the sort of people to put up with that whole line of BS.

  • jgh

    My personal philosophy tells me that I should participate in my local community, and as part of that I’ve had Health & Safety and First Aid training, and the parish council knows I’m available for support in any local emergency to hold the fort until the Heavy Infantry arrive. I have a couple of friends who similarly are lifeboaters. This sort of stuff does not need to be imposed, those communities where it does not rise spontaneously just get exactly what that community has built for itself.

  • bobby b

    September 4, 2023 at 8:49 pm

    “My personal philosophy tells me that I should participate in my local community . . . “

    This works voluntarily, so long as people have a feeling of community. Biggest problem is determining who your community is. Proximity works if rural, but not so much in dense urban. Too many opposing factions.

    It’s good to serve, but you need to know what or who you wish to serve first – your service needs to conform to your own values. I’d not be thrilled with having to serve, say, the progressive City of Minneapolis. I’d be a lousy conscript if it came to serving factions who actively wish me dead. There’s no “community” for me there, but in a conscript situation, I’d have no such choice.

  • Carl Friedrich

    . . . de-lurking after years of reading from the sidelines . . . With 29 years in the USN followed by 7 years as Dept of Navy/DoD civilian, agree 100% with Kirk’s take on conscripts, and the technical nature of today’s military service. One small US Navy example – the Surface Warfare (boat driver) navy did away with formal ship drivers school and sent freshly commissioned, eager, motivated college graduates to learn their trade via on-the job training, resulting in complete failure, with the eventual lives lost on the USS Fitzgerald and McCain. Now, throw conscripted, unmotivated, not physically fit young folks into that demanding and unforgiving environment – we’ve lost any battle before heading out from port. However, the performance, professionalism, ability-to-act/think under life or death pressure of the well-trained enlisted Sailors of those ships though were remarkable to say the very least. The way the services are going now, we will have less and less of those caliber of people in uniform.

    I like Kirk’s idea on domestic policing – going to run that thought by with my fellow (mostly Army) retirees and cop friends – interesting concept.

  • Kirk

    Conscription kinda-sorta made a modicum of sense when war was herding mobs of half-trained armed men at each other. Now? LOL… Oh, yeah… That’s nowhere near the situation these days.

    I won’t speak to the Navy’s issues, but the problem with the Army is that combat has now gotten to the point where the individual and small team has to be fully motivated and trained to act on their own. That’s the way combat has gone; today’s squad leader has more scope for initiative and the need for it than a WWII platoon commander had. Today’s company commander is doing things that we thought were in the “too hard” box for battalion commanders, during WWII. You have to coordinate fires, evaluate effects, take advantage of complex opportunity environments, and all of that just makes the idea of some unmotivated wannabe civilian being at all effective in these roles and positions entirely ludicrous. In a “total war” situation, wherein you’ve run out of modern munitions and trained soldiers? Maybe then you could use conscripts, give them the best training you could, and hope they were motivated enough to do the necessary. The thing is, however… That ain’t the way it works in peacetime. No war? No motivation for most of these slugs; they know that what they’re doing is essentially pointless, they won’t ever use it, and that even trying to be a good soldier is a waste of their time.

    That’s here in the US. Countries like Finland, different situation. There, the entire nation is effectively “in arms”, and conscription is just a management tool to keep track of the people who’re currently “most fit” for combat. The peacetime US environment is totally different; no real threat, no real motivation. Also, no real military tradition. Making soldiers is a lot harder than people think, and if you’re starting off with raw material that doesn’t want to soldier…?

    I’m personally disdainful of most of these “conscription” enthusiasts. Nearly every one of these useless appendages that I’ve ever met didn’t actually ever bother to go down to the recruiting station and sign up for a term or two; they’ve no idea at all about what they’re suggesting, and operate from a fantasy-land idea about it all. You want the draft? Fine; do the draft. Don’t expect me to do anything else besides stand here and laugh at the mess you create.

    I think that there is a case to be made for “social duty” sorts of things; you should be expected, as an able-bodied sort, to participate in maintaining order. You should, as an able-bodied person, be expected to get out there and fill sandbags to keep the levees up. What you should not be doing is being required by one and all to go out and risk your life in combat; that’s a far different order of things, and if you’re not actually fully on board with that sort of thing? I don’t think you ought to be there, for ohsoverymany reasons. Not the least of which is that I don’t want your useless, lazy ass costing me the lives of other good men when your sorry ass doesn’t do your damn job while people are shooting at us. I tell you to move, you need to move. I don’t need you hanging back, hiding out from the risky aspects of the whole thing. One guy doing that can get a half-dozen others killed, and those poor bastards are as much “victims of conscription” as the guy who got conscripted.

    Interesting thing about Vietnam; the constant whinge was about “draftees” being led to slaughter. The guys who were there, and who hung around after to make a career of the Army, who trained me? They didn’t fit the profile, and most of them loathed the draftees, referring to them as dopeheads and stoners. Most of those guys were from successful middle-class backgrounds; my initial platoon sergeant, when I was a private? He’d been recruited by Bear Bryant out of high school to play football. He had a full-ride scholarship, whole nine yards. Should have been a good NFL prospect, too. Thing was, he and his high-school buddies went out on the town after winning an important game, got drunk, wound up at the recruiters, and he and they signed up for the Army. Out of the entire team, he was the only one who passed the tests, the physical, and all the rest. He signed up, sobered up, and was told his scholarship would still be there when he got out of the Army. He had the offer of someone political intervening and “getting him out of it”, but did not take it. Thanks to a VC mortar round, his knee wasn’t still there for his football career, and he wound up making a career of the Army. Combat arms, volunteer, didn’t need to be there because “drafted” or “poverty”.

    There were rather more of that sort of man in the Army than the popular whinge would have it. It wasn’t a “rich man’s war, and a poor man’s fight…”, in the least. Most of the “rich” were the ones who volunteered for combat arms and the difficult jobs like Airborne and Recon. The “poor men” that were there? Were usually smart enough to sign up for jobs that gave them decent career prospects, so they wound up in the rear, with the beer.

    That’s the reality of it. Those facts were still true when I enlisted in 1981, and held true through my retirement in the 2000s.

  • Fraser Orr

    There’s nothing wrong with military conscription per se.

    Yes there is. It is quite simply a form of slavery, and the worst kind of slavery. Some slaves worked in the kitchen, or making up the master’s bed, others worked down the mines with their lives at risk every day. This is the latter kind of slavery.

    However, I do think it ought to be reserved for truly existential national emergencies* i.e., general war where there is a need to mobilize all capabilities in defence of the nation.

    If the emergency is so dire why not just ask people to volunteer? Perhaps under social pressure, white feathers from pretty ladies and all, to do so? It is very similar in that regards to eminent domain — the ability of the government to forcibly buy your property. They can buy it without force — they just have to offer you enough money (or if you are a stubborn ass, redesign their plan around you.) But it is easier to send the marshals to say “get out or we’ll throw you in jail, and, if you cooperate, here’s tuppence for your trouble.”

    But it is worse than that. At least if they steal your house you keep your life. With conscription, since you are the lowest level, least professional soldier, then you are cannon fodder.

    Conscription is one of the greatest evils governments have ever come up with. And National service is just conscription with a lower level of danger.

  • Paul Marks.

    TXTranplant – you are guilty of Rothbardianism.

    You list a series of conflicts and then claim that “the powers that be” got Western powers involved in these “ill advised military adventures”.

    In short in every conflict you assume that the West was wrong and the enemy was correct – even World War II and Korea. For example, to you, the defeat of the Marxists in Greece was not a necessary, and noble, action – it was an “ill advised military adventure” which Britain was “got into” by the “powers that be” Winston Churchill.

    If libertarianism means having to accept a series of Rothbardian lies about the various conflicts you list, then there is something seriously wrong with a doctrine that offers such support to the Nazis and to the Marxists, indeed would have allowed totalitarian forces to take over the world.

  • Paul Marks.

    Kirk – thank you for your service.

    I am glad you do not want conscripts. A nation, apart from in exceptional circumstances, should be able to do without conscription.

    Conscription is a moral evil – it can only be justified the same way that other moral evils are justified, only to prevent an even greater moral evil. The conscription in Ukraine, to prevent conquest by Mr Putin’s forces, is an example of this.

  • Mark

    So nations are OK when they can be used to justify coercion?

    Funny that.

  • jgh

    Something that never seems to be addresses – what happens to personal responsibilities while one is conscripted? If the state siezed my body, the mortgage company would foreclose on me, my landlord would sieze my home, the gas and electic companies would serve CCJs on me – I’d be bankrupted almost overnight.

  • John


    Feminist integration into combat units is obviously a mindless error. I was an unashamed fan of the regular “Ladies of the IDF” photos and videos showing the extremely comely conscripts displaying their weaponry in advanced stages of undress. Alas such morale-boosting material seems to be no more.

  • tfourier


    You lost me with your claims over who served in Vietnam. I have known a hell of a lot of vets over the last five decades, from WW2 (field medic who landed on the beach D Day + 4 all the way to a guy whole effectively ruled Denmark for 3 days in 1945..) and every war since then. Quite a few straight from outside the wire guys in the last decade. A very rough gig.

    Now what the actual Vietnam combat vets (not REMF’s) I have known over the decades have in common is that they were overwhelmingly blue collar / working class. And the people who played the deferment game etc and never served (or were REMF’s) were overwhelmingly affluent middle class and higher. Known a very large numbers of those and heard all the stories.

    Do you know who were disproportionately affluent middle class in Vietnam? The 2’nd Lieutenants and higher. The guys who were almost universally hated by the ranks because they were the people most likely to get a squad or even a whole platoon wounded or killed if they refused to listen to the sergeants and other NCO’s. Hence the fragging stories I’ve heard. In once case they had to do it a few times before senior officers got the message.

    Conscription in the UK makes no sense. The only reason peace-time conscription was introduced after WW2 was because the British government no longer had an Indian Army to help police and defend the Empire. Thats were the majority of the manpower pre WW2 came from. British Indian Army Regiments. Once the Empire was wound down then the need for conscription / National Service disappeared. Very much a special case.

    For small countries with big neighboring enemies its a very different subject.

  • Alex

    Doesn’t the UK technically qualify under that definition? France is approximately 2.4 times the size of the UK. If you think about it further, the UK borders a supranational bloc, the EU, that has no meaningful internal borders (Ireland excepted) and has a common legislative system: a country in all but name. So we doubly qualify.

    I am not in favour of conscription but I am not sure the circumstances in which conscription is justified is easily summed up so neatly. It is and ought to be a difficult question that should be considered carefully unless imminent threat is looming, and even then really.

  • Fraser Orr

    I am not in favour of conscription but I am not sure the circumstances in which conscription is justified …

    If you are not in favor of it why are there any circumstances in which it is justified? These bureaucrats think they are entitled to rip you away from your life, and then have you put your trust in them as to whether you live or die. You are entirely under their control, what you eat, where you go, where you sleep, how much risk you should be exposed to. And if you refuse to jump over the parapet into no man’s land, or storm a beach stratified with machine gun fire then you are not making a sensible judgement call for the most basic human instinct of self preservation, but are a coward, who shall be taken out back and shot anyway.

    The evidence of history is bright as the sun, that when you allow the government to force you into the army, they will treat your life and future very lightly indeed. Whether it be the Somme or Okinawa or Hill 937 “Hamburger” hill.

    We are to trust government bureaucrats with this? I wouldn’t trust most of them with five quid to go down the shops and buy me a pint of milk. And they sure as hell aren’t getting access to my kids.

  • Kirk


    You’re moving the goalposts. What I said was that the “poverty stricken” weren’t the ones volunteering and winding up in combat arms, which by and large most of the actual combat arms vets were and are. Ever go down to an AMVETs meeting, and count noses of the successful small business owners? The guys who didn’t come back and screw up their lives? Where they were before they enlisted, and what they did with themselves after? I did, and it did not conform to the narrative. The vast majority of those guys were middle-class in origin, which wasn’t then and isn’t now entirely the domain of the college-graduate. I think you’re making the mistake that a lot of people make, which is the idea that “middle-class” means “college degree”. Which it manifestly does not; successful tradesmen, business owners, and a bunch of other people fill the ranks of that economic group.

    At least, up until lately, when the plan seems to be to break them through things like anti-competitive minimum wage increases and COVID-related shutdowns. Which, oddly, never seemed to be applied against the big-box stores. Funny, that…

    I have spent a bunch of time around actual Vietnam veterans. They did not conform to the stereotype, at all. The majority of the guys who went over there came back the same as they were before; if they were solid, sane types? They came back still solid and sane. They went over with “issues”? They came back with even more issues. Popular fiction aside, most of the Vietnam-era veterans were even more successful than their fathers and grandfathers from Korea and WWII. It was the popular media highlighting of the dysfunctionals that formed the popular image of messed-up Vietnam veteran, just like the way they portrayed Rambo as a caricature. All the SF guys I knew who’d been in Vietnam were wired pretty damn tight, and were not at all likely to be wandering around the Pacific Northwest as vagrants; most of them were holding down corporate and government jobs in middle America, and doing very well at all of them. I was privileged to be at a reunion where one SF team showed up, and of the 8 guys surviving the war, there were seven millionaires and one guy who’d joined a monastic brotherhood that renounced all material goods. Before he’d joined that, he’d been a very successful private medical consultant after becoming a PA while in Vietnam.

    The majority of the conscripts wound up serving in combat support roles, and combat service support. Which was also, surprise, where the vast majority of the disciplinary problems surfaced..

    Fragging is another one of those things where you hear about so-and-so getting fragged, but you go and investigate? No “there” is there… Yeah, it happened, but not with the frequency that most of the story-tellers tell you it did. One Vietnam vet I know told me that that was how he weeded out the guys who’d actually been there from the ones who hadn’t. All the ones who were posing claimed to have witnessed or participated; the ones who were there would be like “Well, I heard of it happening, over in that one unit…”

    Now, I’ll grant you: Most of my experience with Vietnam vets came from guys who’d gone on to make careers in the military, their friends that I met, and the guys who were most likely to want to show off that they were not the stereotypical “deranged Vietnam veteran killer” that the media portrayed. The dysfunctionals? I knew a few, too: One of them was the drug and alcohol counselor for my unit during the late 1980s. Dude had some stories, but they started before he ever hit Vietnam… Seems like he was stoned for most of the 1960s, starting when he was about twelve. Atypical, though… And, he acknowledged that fact, that he was a f*ck-up, in Vietnam.

  • bobby b

    Fraser Orr: “I wouldn’t trust most of them with five quid to go down the shops and buy me a pint of milk.”

    Quid? C’mon, you’re an American now. 😉

    Kirk: I think it depends on where you go. I’ve had occasion to hang around with bunches of very marginal-type bikers. The Old Guys tend to be mostly grunt VN vets – draftees mostly – who came back and just failed to ever re-connect with society, who don’t function well in it, and who have pervasive psych issues. Too many such guys for it to be coincidence. So I think there’s truth on both sides. Sure, not everyone melted down. But lots did, especially amongst the guys who didn’t want to be there. Among the enlistees, not so much.

  • Steven R

    The issue I had with Vietnam is that the people in charge couldn’t articulate to America why we needed to be in the middle of a Civil War other than “we have to beat the Commies!” I get the whole “we didn’t fight there because Vietnam was important, it was important that we fought in Vietnam” as a way to show Moscow and Beijing that the west was willing to fight Communism, but if you can’t sell the why part to the rubes in Small Town America, why bother? It gets worse when you start looking at the sheer corruption we were backing in Saigon and just who in America had huge financial interests in fighting (Ladybird Johnson and her large chunk of Bell Helicopter stock for example) and how mismanaged the war was under Kennedy, Johnson (especially Johnson), and then Nixon and how the Democrats in Congress turned their back on South Vietnam in 1975, it becomes clear we should have just stayed home.

    And because DC never learns, we ended up in yet another endless war in Afghanistan that ended with the NVA, I mean Taliban, chasing the US out, and now backing Ukraine.

  • Fraser Orr

    bobby b
    Quid? C’mon, you’re an American now. 😉

    When I get enraged my core Britishness peeks through. Though I’d have though “go down the shops…” would be a much more British expression.

    Kirk: I think it depends on where you go. I’ve had occasion to hang around with bunches of very marginal-type bikers. The Old Guys tend to be mostly grunt VN vets – draftees mostly – who came back and just failed to ever re-connect with society, who don’t function well in it, and who have pervasive psych issues.

    I definitely defer to Kirk’s expertise in this field, but TBH I don’t understand why people weren’t WAY more messed up than they are. All I know about the Vietnam war is what I see in the movies, so I am sure it is skewed, but even toned way down — to live significant amounts of your time waiting to see if a bullet or booby trap will kill you. To watch your buddies’ bodies eviscerated before you, and hear them beg for their mammas as they died in excrutiating pain. On the flip side to be reduced in humanity that you blow someone’s brains out, or see an accident where innocent civilians, women and children are horrifically killed, or to do the killing yourself. How does someone come out of that and not be mentally damaged beyond repair? Even if it only happened once? I mean we live in a world where kids need therapy if someone uses the wrong pronoun, or disagrees with their politics, or calls them by the name on their birth certificate. If someone is subject to a violent crime we are certainly not at all surprised when they need a lot of help to overcome it. Compared to that? I don’t know how these kids weren’t much more damaged. You can be sure they didn’t get any help from the military to deal with it. Once they government enslaves you, they use you up and throw you away.

    Guys like Kirk who volunteer, who prepare themselves, surely they can build themselves mentally to prepare. But some 18 year old kid who last month was at the sock hop at their high school, and this month is dragging the body of his best friend, trying to stuff their guts back in while his friend screams for his momma, cries for morphine, pleads for a bullet to put him out of his misery? And to know that any minute now, you could be in the same state? How can that not traumatize you for the rest of your life? I’m not saying that every day was like that, but isn’t one day enough?

  • Fraser Orr

    @steven R, I think your analysis is spot on. Again it reminds me of that exchange between Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley at the GOP debate. Where she says he isn’t qualified to be president because of his lack of foreign policy experience. Vivek didn’t deal with it well, but the answer is simple — “Experience in foreign policy? American foreign policy has had us continuously in war for thirty years, all of which we lost, spectacularly. And not because of the military, who are very capable, but because of the interference of the foreign policy establishment. And now we are in ANOTHER war in Europe, caused by a total failure of American foreign policy, in which we are once again paying from six thousand miles away while Germany, on the border, is paying almost nothing. Not to mention that we seem to have troops in almost every country in the world, every war in the world, defending every border in the world, except our actual home border. American foreign policy has been a continual disaster for fifty years; so to be “experienced in foreign policy” should be a point of shame not pride or qualification. What we need is entirely new blood, an entirely new perspective to try to fix the mess that you “experts” have made of if for the past fifty years.”

    OK, thanks for letting me get that out of my system. It has been bugging me since the debate. FWIW, I love this guy Vivek. I understand that he won’t win, but it gives me some joy in the midst of the utter depravity and collapse of America, to hear one sane voice, one decent man, one man who I agree with about the large majority of his views. I really don’t think that has happened since Harry Browne.

  • bobby b

    @Fraser Orr: Re: Vivek:

    Back on Aug 18, PdH posted a four-part article by Claire Berlinski touching on, among other things, Ramaswamy.

    I had issues with the article, but I think her treatment of VR was on point.

    If you haven’t read that – all four parts – it would be worthwhile to do so. VR impressed me to start, but then . . . well, read it if you get the chance.


  • Steven R

    VR may very well be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but the above quote about how ineffective and outright counterproductive US foreign policy has been since Vietnam is dead on. I’d argue it goes back to the Wilson administration and how they handled WW1, then the 20s and 30s with US getting into the Banana Republics and Caribbean, then WW2, then the Cold War, Korea, more Caribbean adventures, Vietnam, overthrowing, destabilizing, and outright invading nations who had governments we didn’t approve of, Carter giving away the Panama Canal, how we handled the Middle East since 1947, Clinton and the Peace Dividend, the breakup of Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq and Iran and Syria, Obama’s Arab Spring, Russia since they decided to take Crimea, and now Ukraine it has been one unmitigated disaster after another where Foggy Bottom and Langley are concerned.

  • William O. B'Livion

    I’m not a professional soldier like Kirk. I’ve got 4 years active and 5 or 6 years reserve though.

    I’ve opposed the draft most of my life.

    Until recently.

    See, the lack of female participation in the military is a *clear* sign of bias and misandry, so we need to draft enough women to make the sex ratio in the military match the civilian world.

    They don’t like it? Too bad. They wanted more State, now they get more State.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    Hey, TxTransplant. The United Kingdom was in WW2 from 1939 until 1945. Close to 6 years.
    As for useless gestures, Britain sent some men to help the Norwegians repel the Germans in early 1940- The Germans wanted to secure their iron ore. The British lost, but, far from being totally useless, they took some Norwegian Resistance fighters with them, and had enough contacts to attack Telemark later. (Heavy water, atomic bomb)

  • Roué le Jour

    So the idea is to collectively punish all young men rather than the ones causing problems, because that would be racist?

    So long Western Civ, I’m glad I got to see you while you were still worth fighting for.

  • Paul Marks.

    Kirk – you know the grim situation you face, better than anyone outside the American military.

    You are a man of honour, and I am sure your military service has been honourable,

    But it is increasingly obvious that the regime you serve is not honourable – it is an evil regime, and I do not use the word “evil” lightly.

    In your position I do not know what I would do – perhaps stay in the armed forces and hope that a better government comes to power, but that does seem very likely (not with election rigging, the systematically corrupt court system, and all the rest of it).

    At some point the words “I do not serve the regime – I serve the nation” break down. When a mixed race (part black) Hispanic man is smeared as a “White Supremacist” and given 22 years in prison for a protest (a protest against an obviously rigged election – a protest that a tiny part of was then hijacked by government agents, and led into the Capitol building), they were not-even-at, that point may (may) have been reached.

    Still it is only just over a year before the November 2024 elections – perhaps stay in the military and see if these elections are rigged (as the last Presidential election was) or if the candidate the people support is even allowed to be on the ballot.

  • Fraser Orr

    @bobby b
    I had issues with the article, but I think her treatment of VR was on point.

    Really? I read it (though admittedly not in detail since after a few paragraphs it just struck me as the usual insipid baloney). What does it say — VR isn’t one of us because he is successful. He played the Wall Street system and made it work. He put his family on the payroll so that they could be successful. Some school teacher invested in something that lost money. He has no experience of running the government. He wants to shut down the FDA to create massive personal benefit. Oh and let’s make sure to mention that he has one of those iky Indian religions in passing — we can’t disapprove because we are woke, but let’s make sure you know anyway. He has no foreign policy experience. And on and on with the same themes again and again.

    It just seems to me to be the usual froth, the normal anti change agenda, the sort of thing you’d expect on an exposé of VR on MSNBC or the NYT. Maybe I need to read in more detail, but after the first introductory paragraphs explaining how “this is what Trump has wrought” it seemed that the author was signaling her position quite clearly. He isn’t an establishment politician and therefore isn’t qualified. He’s not one of the Washington set, so to even run for President is an insult.

    Like I said on foreign policy I consider these massive assets. For example, if he gains from shutting down the FDA, god bless him, at least it means that millions of Americans will have access to life saving medications that the FDA is blocking.

    If you disagree with his position on the Ukraine war, I can certainly see that as a principled disagreement. I certainly don’t — in fact I think he is one of the few sane voices on the subject. But at least there is a substantial discussion here. Heck, even if you disagree on his FDA policy or his desire to shut down large amounts of the Federal government, that is a debate worth having. But the rest is just vacuous fluff, just your typical anti MAGA, pro establishment banalities. I think you are a smart guy who I mostly agree with, so perhaps I missed something. Was there some specific part that you found particularly condemning of VR that I missed?

    Maybe I’ll come back later and read it a bit more carefully.

  • bobby b

    @Fraser Orr: Yeah, you reacted to her essay much like I did. I was enraged at her attitudes and slurs. Go back to the comments on that post and see mine – pretty much mirrored what you just said. https://www.samizdata.net/2023/08/samizdata-quote-of-the-day-putin-is-not-a-mystery/

    But her treatment of VR does match more and more of what I’m reading elsewhere. The impression I’m getting is that he says smart things at the right time, but has also said contradictory things whenever it seemed politic. There’s no “there” there.

    Of course, maybe that’s what we need right now.

  • Kirk

    Paul, I retired well before Obama took office. If I had been in, unable to retire, with all the crap he put in place? I’d have voted with my feet, and gotten the hell out. Bush is who signed my retirement certificate, thank God. Well, his autoscribe, anyway…

    You have to make a choice. I questioned a lot of what my bosses told me to do, but they never quite reached the point where I thought it would have been justifiable to say “Yeah. No. Not me, not on my watch…” They did reach that point after Obama came in.

    The biggest thing you have to remember regarding the military is that it’s a reflection of civil society. You want faceless men who’ll do what they’re told? Set the conditions such that those are the only ones who join and prosper. That’s basically what Obama did; the committed “citizen-soldier” types, the real-deal Cincinnatus analogs? They all read the handwriting on the wall, observed that nobody in Congress or the public was raising a fuss about all the “inside baseball” stuff that was going on, and said “Screw this…”

    Which is why the left-over dregs running the place are as awful as they are. They drove out the committed competent types, and kept the committed ideologues who nodded along with the sophistries like “Put women in combat arms; that’ll have no effect on capabilities…”, while ignoring the very thorough and valid Marine Corps tests that said the diametric opposite. The Corps were the only ones that bothered, by the way. The rest of the idiots just nodded along and bleated “YES!”

    Same with what was going on in Afghanistan. Here’s a rule they teach you in any counterinsurgency course: Your first task is to isolate the battlefield from outside influence and support. Can’t do that? You can’t win an insurgency. That’s all over the damn doctrine, in every course, and in every history book.

    Now, look at Afghanistan. Did anyone make any attempt to do that? No; we did not. Was it doable? Well, if someone had possessed the balls to go after the Pakistani ISI that created, operated, and ran the Taliban…? Yeah, it was probably doable. Would have likely meant war with Pakistan, but ya know what? Who cares? They had to have known and approved of the plan for 9/11, being as one of the conditions set by the Taliban for bin Laden was that he kill Ahmed Shah Massoud of the Northern Alliance before launching 9/11. Massoud was killed on what, the 10th of September 2001?

    Pakistan had to have known of the plan. Did they warn us, their “ally”? Nope. Then, they kept supporting the Taliban throughout the period we were trying to get Afghanistan onto its feet. Still are, to their (highly ironic…) own detriment.

    Signally, none of the extremely well-paid “elite” officer types have gone on record with the public saying the very obvious: We weren’t trying to “win” in Afghanistan. It was a cash-cow, for the Pakistanis. Who I presume were paying the US politicians off, because how else do you make sense of us giving fungible military aid to Pakistan, who turned around and paid the Taliban to go into Afghanistan to kill Afghanis and American/Coalition soldiers?

    And, none of these “model modern major general” types thought to go on record and object to the very basic question raised by that set of facts…?

    Yeah, we’re not being led off to war by the smartest or most competent people available. The most venal and incompetent? Perhaps… I want to know where the money was going, and just what the reasoning was for Wasserman-Schultz to have had all those Pakistani nationals doing IT work for the Democratic Party congressional caucus… Which still hasn’t seen the light of day, in terms of prosecutions or any real investigations being done.

    You can’t tell what is going on from what’s in the news, but you can damn sure get an idea of what is really happening based on what you don’t see or hear about.

  • Fraser Orr

    @bobby b
    But her treatment of VR does match more and more of what I’m reading elsewhere. The impression I’m getting is that he says smart things at the right time, but has also said contradictory things whenever it seemed politic. There’s no “there” there.

    It doesn’t surprise me that you are reading more of that. In the past he was irrelevant, but now he is pretty significant. If they do manage to take Trump out there is a VERY good chance he will be the GOP nominee (MAGA guys aren’t going to go with Desantis, and, although the establishment GOP will push Haley hard, I don’t see her being able to win over him.) So he is a pretty significant threat.

    So obviously the media is a lot more focused on him and obviously they hate everything he stands for, so of course he is going to get the standard treatment that you see in the article, and the standard “you say this but this tweet from 2003 says that…” which on examination was taken out of context. One recent example, he suggested that every household in Taiwan be armed and supplied with ammunition. The foreign policy wonks laughed so loud, as if that will solve the China problem. However, they only quoted that tiny part of his proposal, he had a much more extensive proposal for the defense of Taiwan, much stronger than anything any American President has done (blocking the Malacca straits for example.) Whether you agree with his strategy it is not the Disney strawman the media is mocking.

    I don’t know much about his life story, but I do know about his businesses. His pharma company picked up things big mega corps dropped and moved forward to produce useful drugs. Picking up and running with corporate cast offs, being nimble to get around the bureaucratic state, is EXACTLY libertarians do. Then he talked a big game on Wokeism, but he didn’t just talk, he started an investment fund investing contrary to woke, which is doing very well. (I was going to put some money in there, but never got around to it.) This is CLASSIC libertarian thinking. It is my old rule — when a democrat sees a problem they start a government agency, when a republican sees a problem they institute a tax cut, when a libertarian sees a problem they quit politics and start a business to fix it.

    Ironic since he is going INTO politics, but his investment firm is a PERFECT example of this. No bitching and moaning about Woke, instead taking a contrary position to profit from it. This is EXACTLY what libertarians do.

    I understand that if you are a big supporter of the Ukraine thing that you cannot support him and that is a fair position, but if not I’d advocate you give him another look without the filter of the nonsense media.

  • bobby b

    “I understand that if you are a big supporter of the Ukraine thing that you cannot support him and that is a fair position, but if not I’d advocate you give him another look without the filter of the nonsense media.”

    I will take another serious look, based on what you’ve said. Problem is, people seem comfortable with flat out lies about candidates other than their own, so I can never know when smoke is being blown up . . . uh . . . me. Who should I read?

    (Not a big fan of any ideology re Ukraine, so not an issue.)

  • Fraser Orr

    @bobbyb and others.
    If you are interested in more about VR, I’d suggest you watch this podcast. It is an interview by a conservative commentator who is fairly hostile to VR, and pushes the whole “you’re a fake” theme. He touches on a LOT of the issues that VR has been criticized for, and VR goes through and carefully puts each in context, which completely changes the meaning. Listen for example, to the discussion on his drug company and how he handled it all. There are no histrionics here, just a plain, honest, discussion of the facts.

    I think another thing that is important is that VR does do interviews which are hostile toward him. You will see this all over the place, both from TV and radio interviews with pretty hard left guys, to the way he handles hecklers in the crowd at his rallies. Me? I think that is pretty admirable. Can you imagine Joe Biden agreeing to an interview with Sean Hannity or Tucker Carlson? (BTW, Gavin Newsom DID do an interview with Hannity, and kudos to him for doing so. My respect for him jumped several notches, even though I strongly disagree with many of his policies.)

    You might not agree with all of VR’s policies, but, as far as I can see, he is the real deal: an actual libertarian with a non zero chance of winning the US Presidency.

    Anyway, if you have forty mins to spare it is worth a watch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6Kj_73K5ps&t=0s