Tuesday, September 18, 2012

An army of slaves?

While I've always enjoyed the Friedman/Westmoreland exchange and while (barring an existential crisis) I am on Friedman's side of the AVF question, I do sympathize strongly with commenter Will's point:

"There is something extremely perverse about describing as "slaves" people who live in a democratic country, are monetarily compensated for their service, and receive special consideration for the rest of their lives after this service ends. Ask anybody who served in World War II whether they considered themselves enslaved."


I would say this: Westmoreland decided to be a smart-ass first, so Friedman was a smart-ass right back to him. The exchange is a poignant illustration of the issues at stake in the debate, and a great example of Friedman doing what Friedman does best.

I don't literally think of draftees as slaves any more than I think of the current military as mercenaries. It was precisely Westmoreland's reductionism that Friedman was mocking, I think.


  1. I remember when I first read about metaphorical master-slave relationships. I thought how 19th century European! But I have come to realize that it is not a bad characterization of a number of unequal relationships.

  2. Daniel, it doesn't matter what you think, it sure doesn't matter was Friedman thinks, and Westmoreland was right---it matters a hell of a lot what others think and correctly, where it matters most, our "voluntary army" are mercenaries which badly detracts from its mission.

    Did you ever stop and consider, make room for the possibility, that, if you were an Iraqi that you would never trust a mercenary

    Remember when your favor neocon Rumsfeld couldn't understand why the Iraqis didn't greet his Army as did North Africa and Europe greeted the American Army in WWII?

    1. Oh yes - as everyone knows I'm a HUGE Rumsfeld fan and I just LOVED the idea of invading Iraq.

      Stop commenting anonymously.

      Or better yet - period.

  3. FWIW, I find it perverse that because a policy was initiated in a democratic society, or because they were given some money, that this is supposed to make it OK to send people to kill and be killed against their will.

  4. The payment of slaves was quite common throughout history. Slave owners rapidly realized that they needed to offer a carrot in addition to a stick in order to get their slaves to do good work. I know this was practiced in Greece, Rome, the US South and the Ottoman Empire. (Though the practice was not universal) I am not sure about other instances. So I don't find the payment of draftees to be at all relevant to the issue. If anything, the fact that draftees are paid only fraction of what they would need to be paid to hire them points towards them being slaves.

    The issue of receiving consideration throughout your life is also I think a red herring. Many administrators in the Ottoman Empire were slaves. Their position was sometimes envied and they were often accorded a great deal of respect. Some freed slaves in Rome also rose to positions of prominence and respect. This is quite similar. Slaves like all people can be accorded great respect if what they do earns them that respect. Veterans are highly respected in the United States. The fact that some were slaves is unrelated.

    Maybe it would help if you would clarify your definition of slavery. I find it hard to devise such a definition which includes those we traditionally considered slaves, but excludes draftees.

  5. 'It was precisely Westmoreland's reductionism that Friedman was mocking, I think.'

    Well, maybe, but Friedman had a habit of using reductio arguments to try and make himself sound clever and his opponents sound stupid. Rothbard did the same thing but his were simply laughable - Friedman's were more subtle.

  6. Context is important. Friedman was using deliberate hyperbole in response to Westmoreland's hyperbole. Without context, I think it's fair to assume that the meaning of "slave" most of us think of is what it meant in the United States when slavery existed, not institutions that existed hundreds of years ago far away. So "slave"=no compensation seems like a fair assumption.

    Also: people's view of the draft depends a great deal on whether there is social consensus that the war is worth fighting. There was no such consensus on Vietnam, so people dodged the draft and generally felt burdened by it. By contrast, few avoided the draft in World War II and those who served mostly felt proud to have contributed to the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

    1. Southern slave owners frequently paid their slaves. It's tough to get good work out of anyone with a stick alone. Pay was used to incentivize good work.


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