Comment on the Origins of the Species
by David T. JonesWithout taking exception to Dr. Mattox’s astute observations on the origins of our species diplomatus(noteworthy for its pin stripes), I would like to add a codicil or two.
Indeed, the twenty-first century U.S. diplomatic service is now “central casting,” that is, it is designed to look like the U.S. population as closely as honest entry examination testing permits. Even if the very best diplomatic corps could be constructed solely from our elite private universities, it would no longer be an acceptable U.S. diplomatic and consular service. In truth, that reality is not a recent construct, but one extant for at least thirty-five years, as my entering class was drawn from a wide range of U.S. colleges and universities.
But one element that Dr. Mattox strongly reflects in his biographic collage of Foreign Service members really no longer exists. I refer to service in the U.S. armed forces. For much of the Cold War and throughout the mid-1970s, substantial numbers of Foreign Service officers had military experience prior to entering the Foreign Service. They were “graduates” of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and — most importantly — children of the draft. These young males (as no women were drafted) anticipated they would encounter military service; the question was whether to await the draft, try to dodge it or embrace military service either by volunteering as an enlisted man or seeking an ROTC commission. Choosing the ROTC was an intelligent, logical personal decision, as well as a patriotic one; the same variety of logic also interested such young men in the Foreign Service. Consequently, my A-100 class had a good range of men with military experience.
The end of the military draft in 1974 reversed this logic. There was no expectation of involuntary military service; hence there was no reason to plan for it. It was now illogical to “waste” two to three years in the armed forces, rather than immediately beginning a professional career such as in the U.S. diplomatic service.
Current entering A-100 classes reflect this reality. First, approximately fifty percent of all entering classes are women; it is a rare woman capable of passing the Foreign Service exam who has any personal or professional interest in politico-military issues, let alone active duty military service. Second, as noted above, without the incentive of a military draft, few high-achievement university men are interested in subjecting themselves to the rigors (and perhaps dangers) of several years of service in the armed forces. The result is a far smaller number of FSOs who have any experience with or in the armed forces.
I will not address the philosophical issue of how a society selects those who defend it or who implement the decisions of leaders to resort to force of arms. Nor do I suggest that there is any unique virtue in military service. I believe that I myself benefited from both my active duty and extended Army Reserve career, but that experience also matched my personal predilections.
The more specific problem for our current diplomatic corps is that without any military experience (or colleagues with such), officers will fall back on stereotypes of “the military” that will be counterproductive in devising and implementing U.S. foreign policy into the twenty-first century. A mutual contempt between “snake eating war lovers” and “tree hugging airy-fairy pinkos” becomes harder to avoid. Moreover, without an appreciation of how the U.S. military functions, young diplomats may generalize from their experiences in early assignments to countries where the armed forces are often corrupt, incompetent and engaged in domestic politics, perhaps by coup d’etat.
The United States military is historically almost unique in its willing acceptance of civilian control and its nonpolitical role in society. It takes direct experience fully to recognize this reality, however, and I wonder if currently serving Foreign Service officers have that experience.
David Jones is a frequent contributor to American Diplomacy.