So I wrote about this the other day, because it’s partly an ad for the new Call of Duty. Like pretty much everything, the more you learn, the less clear-cut it seems, and I want to say simply that you have three choices when it comes to waging contemporary war.
1) Conscription. Draft young men and send them to die in shifts. If enough people do this the misery of war will be spread out over a hopefully large enough number of people that the survivors will be able to cope with the psychic debris of warfare.
2) Mercenaries. Allow the free market to run wars for you, using the best soldiers in national armies, saleable to the highest bidders, with plenty of efficiency but no oversight and not even a nod to moral duty.
3) In the name of patriotism, recycle a shrinking number of G.I.s through tour after brutal tour in the thickest parts of the battle until they A) die B) break down mentally C) quit to do something else or D) survive and do God knows what later. Convince the majority of American citizens that the wars they’re fighting ended years ago. Use broad powers granted by fiat at the turn of the century to continue running and interfering in various wars across the globe without an act of Congress to give it the seal of democracy. Run them into the ground. Show no mercy to their families. Require them to fight until they are physically incapable of doing so. Treat them like criminals when they return to their home country. Shortchange them on equipment that will keep them safe in order to keep costs down; use the money saved (plus more) to innovate ways to use every part of their minds and bodies more fully. Under no circumstances should you allow them tours at home or in less volatile places—that might push you over the edge into requiring more money or more people, and that sort of thing annoys voters. Above all, forget about them.
So, yes, mercenaries are a bad solution. The way we’re doing it now, I would argue, is much worse. The draft actually seems to be the most moral option. But that’s why I’m a pacifist.