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Well Prof Becker with your emphasis on costs/benefits do you suppose that were we to actually raise taxes, ala LBJ's surcharge, that we might strike a vein of protest in aging Vietnam era folk who're in the taxpaying class?

It does seem politically cute and handy to be able to throw a war manned by "volunteers" (or economic refugees???) that asks no sacrifice from us and indeed may toss some war profits or federal pork our way.

Despite the claimed "uselessness" or lack of committment of draftees I recall draftees who had less reason for toadying for rank keeping things straighter than they would have been. I guess I'd favor a random, no escape, draft to fill out 10-20% of the military ranks just as a national "gut check" to connect the "volunteer" class with others, as was something of a benefit in the V-era. Regardless of economic "costs". My guess is we'd save a bundle in throwing fewer "nice little wars" if more might have skin in the game.

mike kenny

another incentive for people to protest in the vietnam era would be their desire to keep loved ones from going to war. the draft imposed a cost on the people drafted, and also the people who suffered because a son or friend or significant other went to war. with a volunteer army, perhaps, this incentive to protest is diminished, because the objection for a loved one to be sent away wouldn't be with the government, but with the individual choosing to join the army. the decision-making process as to who goes to war and who doesn't becomes decentralized by and large, it seems. parents or friends, et c., who wanted to argue with the decision making person or people, wouldn't aim at the government officials in power, but rather with the individual person choosing to join the army, when there isn't a draft.

F.E. Guerra Pujol (Paco)

Professor Becker, I generally agree with your post, but I would emphasize the meagre benefits of protesting today, as opposed to the large costs. In essence, in the absence of conscription (where there is then a strong personal incentive to protest), today the protesters find themselves in a kind of 'prisoner's dilemma'or 'tragedy of the commons' situation: the individual cost protesting is large relative to the small benefits of signalling one's opposition to the war in Iraq. That is, the benefit to ending the war would be enjoyed by everyone (assuming, of course, that a US withdrawal would not make the situation in the Middle East worse), while the costs of trying to end the war must be borne by a small number of radical protesters. In the absence of a personal incentive to protest (such as the fear of being conscripted), we have a classic free rider or social dilemma.

Mike Kruger

Another factor at work is that there's no obvious solution.

There were protests BEFORE the Iraq war -- in part based on the idea that we were getting into a morass. Well, now we're there and we are in a morass.

So where's the slogan? "I told you so" isn't so good "Let them wallow in chaos" isn't so great either.

In Vietnam we could lose to North Vietnam, which was a highly organized society that resulted in a stable state. We don't have anybody to lose to now. That's a big problem.

By the way, "I told you so."


I agree with Becker. I read an article that quoted a soldier who did a good job of summing this up. He said to the effect of "I'm tired of listening to people complaining about how "we" are at war. I then ask them who's "we." I tell them that right now America is not at war, only the American armed forces are. Regular Americans haven't sacrificed anything in this war, so right now "you" aren't at war." I think this helps explain why people aren't out marching in the streets.

Ray DeGennaro

Another factor that reduces protests today: The employment rate is very high. If people are at work, then they aren't protesting. True, one can protest after work, but the cost of foregoing leisure is then higher.

Mark Shapiro

The factor that hasn't been discussed: demographics.

The Vienam protesters were largely baby boomers. There were large cohorts of teenagers and young adults, with less adult supervision than today. Note that there were also large protests in Europe at the time, which had similar demographics but no draftees going to Vietnam.

What makes this relevant today is that Middle Eastern countries have had near continuous baby booms for several decades. We find ever growing numbers of young males and outnumbered adults. The young are undereducated, underemployed, and undersupervised; they are ripe for protest.

This suggests a difficulty.

Bruc e G Charlton

I believe Becker is correct in pointing to the draft as the key variable.

It seems mistaken for some of the commentators to complain that the military is increasingly autonomous, and that the whole society is not conscripted into the war effort.

This is a fundamental aspect of the division of labour which is intrinsic to modernization. And such specialization of function greatly increases societal efficiency - as seems to be tacitly acknowledged by those who would wish to restore the draft purely in order to trigger protests and resistance which would inhibit the prosecution of the war.

griffith King

Don't you think that the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001 still has an effect on how people think of the war in Iraq?


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Hi guys. Order is not pressure which is imposed on society from without, but an equilibrium which is set up from within.
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