From Armchair Generalist
, an LA Times proposition
by military writer Max Boot:
The military would do well today to open its ranks not only to legal immigrants but also to illegal ones and, as important, to untold numbers of young men and women who are not here now but would like to come. . . .The simplest thing to do would be to sign up foreigners for the regular U.S. military, but it would also make sense to create a unit whose enlisted ranks would be composed entirely of non-Americans, led by U.S. officers and NCOs. . . .Call it the Freedom Legion. As its name implies, this unit would be modeled on the French Foreign Legion, except, again, U.S. citizenship would be part of the "pay." And rather than fighting for U.S. security writ small — the way the Foreign Legion fights for the glory of France — it would have as its mission defending and advancing freedom across the world.
I can't tell if his substitution of "Freedom" for French is ironic--the whole piece seems a little wild-eyed in its enthusiasms, especially considering Boot
is not a scribbling columnist on weekly deadline, but a senior fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, and an award-winning war historian.
According to Boot, "only
" (his phrase) 7% of our military is foreign born, and only 2% consists of noncitizens. According to Census Bureau data released
this week, 12% of the American population is foreign born, and if I've crunched the numbers from the 2003 age and citizenship report correctly, 12% of the 15-29 year-old age bracket is foreign born. (It occurred to me that the foreign born population might disproportionately consist of babies and old people, but apparently not.) By the way, I find lumping naturalized citizens in with noncitizens rather distasteful--the only occupation it's relevant for is President. Unfortunately, to compare with 19th century statistics, it seems necessary.
Boot compares this to the apparent glory days of the 19th century, citing a 20% foreign born military, including a German-speaking regiment during the Civil War. According to this Census table
, our foreign born population spiked from a fairly steady 9.7 percent in 1860 (and much of the Cold War Era) to a steady flow of 13-14% between the Civil War and World War II. So, war aside, our population immigration mix is very roughly similar to the Civil War and post-Civil War era, but our military immigrant mix is not. Boot doesn't bother to provide an explanation for this discrepancy before exhorting Uncle Sam to recruit illegal immigrants and people who haven't even gotten here yet.
Our current legal
immigration stream tends to be a lot more educated than in the 1860s---fewer people come here to be farmers and factory workers. So there are a lot fewer economic
incentives to step off the boat and put on a uniform. Citizenship makes an interesting carrot, but globalization might decrease its value--not to mention our demonstrated willingness to ignore citizenship
when it comes to holding people without a trial. I'm not sure why opening a separate branch would make them feel so much more welcome, as opposed to simply upping efforts to recruit them into our regular army.
This proposal does have a significant advantages over what we're currently doing by default: outsourcing large chunks of the war to private contractors and mercenaries. (Summary of a new Foreign Affairs article
.) Besides making it easier to manage security within a single chain of command, it will also make it easier to keep track of the true cost of a war
: a foreign legion will have to report its dead and wounded like any other branch of the military, unlike the currently difficult to track list of private contractors killed
. (Assuming, of course, that the officially reported numbers are true
.) It would be upto the citizens who vote, of course, to make sure that these foreign soldiers didn't get wasted like canon fodder on ill-conceived war. But we owe that to our regular army already.