Monday, January 08, 2007

American Foreign Legion

[posted by Callimachus]

Colby Cosh says it's inevitable.

America was once able to promise young men pensions, access to higher education and lifelong health care in exchange for military service. But today, every American enjoys Social Security and Medicare as a matter of right, and college is no longer an upper-class game preserve. Military service has become an evaporating social duty unsupported by economic incentives. And with family sizes decreasing, parents are becoming more sentimental toward children and less likely to urge them toward the profession of arms. To put it bluntly, military recruitment is easiest where human life is held less dear.

The prestige of soldiering in the United States is being annihilated by American virtues: high social mobility, low unemployment and infinite possibilities for the young. Because of the same virtues, hundreds risk their lives every day just to physically enter the bounds of the U.S. If they were asked to face similar hazards on behalf of the American cause, in exchange for English-language instruction and access to genuine American citizenship, the queue would girdle the globe.

Some find the idea of recruiting "American" soldiers in Mexico or India distasteful. The concept has already inspired talk of "blood money" and "coercion" of the world's poor. And foreign military recruitment is dangerous to national security in the long run, as the Romans (and the French) discovered. But for the U.S., there is no other way out of the immediate dilemma. Sooner or later, under one name or another, there will be an American Foreign Legion.

I think it's a reasonable idea, if done fairly. Especially if we are to raise the bar for immigration at the same time, as we appear to be intent on doing. It certainly isn't a new thing. Both the Revolution and the Civil War (on the part of the North) were fought largely by immigrant armies, in the latter case often recruited directly from Europe.