- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
By Eric Schuck
Best Defense department of AVF issues
Two years ago, I was happily leading the life of a dilettante economics professor, spending a month roaming across southern England and western France with 14 economics majors. Hey — it’s a tough gig, but someone has to do it. And then came a phone call. Not just any call — THE call. The call where I stopped being Dr. Schuck and instantly transformed to LT Schuck, SC, USNR. It was 23 January 2010, and I can still tell you exactly where I was (a lovely little bistro named L’Auberge de la Reine Blanche on the Ile de St Louis) and what I was doing (enjoying the last of my tarte tatin). Everything after that point is a blur — heading home, telling my family, rearranging my classes for the spring and fall, training to deploy and ultimately spending the better part of a foot fungus filled year coastwatching in Kuwait.
The past is prologue, and that is my past. Here is my present. I’ve been home for almost a year, and yet I still do not quite fit in. I wander around a campus both achingly familiar and hauntingly distant. I am back where I started, but it is not always clear if I am back where I belong. It’s hard. But stating that is not enough. I am, after all, an academic. I cannot help but try to sort this all out. Rather obviously, I am different from when I left. Being recalled to active duty and mobilizing was a crucible event. It will, for the rest of my days, mark a coda in my life, mark the defining point of ‘before’ and ‘after’. No one else around me has that. More critically, no one else around me has EVER had that. Where I have been and what I have done is simply completely beyond their scope of comprehension. Most of the time this manifests in an unfortunate but typically well-meaning ignorance. When other professors talk about my deployment, they either describe it as if I had the worst sabbatical ever or as if I taught in some horribly misguided semester at sea. They simply cannot bring themselves to say — or to acknowledge — that one of their own went to war. Such things are simply not dreamt of in their philosophies.
Nine years ago I joined the Navy Reserve for one simple, clarion reason: because people like me don’t. I found — and find — that fact to be utterly abhorrent. So, much to my wife’s rather pronounced but mercifully understanding displeasure, I instituted my own personal one-man draft. I have never regretted it. Not for an instant. Make no mistake — I am not some Fox News watching Red State zealot. I’m a Subaru-driving, green-tea drinking, registered Democrat, college professor from Oregon. To say I stand out in the military is a bit of an understatement. But I serve with the same honor, courage and commitment that all sailors show and I do it because I love my country and I love the Navy. Simply put, this is a duty I must fulfill.
Unfortunately, few people feel this way, and the AVF makes it all the easier for them to do so. Under the AVF, the military is a job for ‘other’ people (and at the risk of putting too fine a point on it, in the context of a college campus ‘other people’ means non-upper/middle class people). That’s not good. It’s corrosive to our society. Yet it is the corrosive effects on the military itself that are most worrisome. It allows the military to adopt a culture and identity that is distinctly different from the society it defends. For the record, I do not call myself a ‘warfighter’ or speak of a ‘warrior ethos’. I’m a logistics officer, and a part-time one to boot. Faux-Spartan affectations grow in the military, however, because they enable the military to justify its distance from the rest of society not as a failure of society but as a sign of elitism. Civilian society encourages the creation of a ‘warrior caste’ because it frees them of the guilt of not serving. That needs to stop. So while as an economist I fully recognize that there would be a loss in productivity by moving from an AVF to an at least partially conscripted force, any losses in efficiency would be more than offset by gains in equity within society. And if we hold true to the idea that ‘all… are created equal’, does that not have some weight?
In short, I agree with you: Even as a volunteer in the AVF, I believe the AVF era should end.
Eric Schuck is a professor of economics at Linfield College in Oregon, where he specializes in natural resources and water usage.