Why can't you just quit the army?

I was reading about these involuntary Marine recalls to Iraq and it got me thinking. Does the military have some separate legal status from other employers where it’s allowed to force its employees into service in this way? The closest analogy I can think of is employees under contract to work, but even then, the worst that can happen is some financial liability. Do the armed forces have some kind of special legal status that allows them to “own your ass,” as my soldier buddies say? They’re allowed to prosecute crimes separate from the normal legal system, as far as I’ve heard; how far does this legal independence go?

I believe that “desertion” is a crime in military circles, and just not showing up for your tour counts as desertion.

I must admit, that I have no cite or anything. So my answer probably doesn’t belong in GQ - but hey, lookit that, here it is anyway.

Yeah, I know it’s a crime and such, the question is more: how is it legally a crime? What kind of legal status does the military have as an employer?

Without getting into specifics (because I’m too lazy to look them up), of course the military is different. The military is a creature of the federal government, and the defining characteristic of governments is that they have a monopoly on the use of force for the maintenance of societal order.


The military is not like just another employer. It is an entity charged with ensuring the safety of the citizenry. It’s goal is safety. The goal of almost any other employer is profit. Even thosethat are not, The Red Cross, say, their “harm” can be rectified by money. Not so with the military.

You can’t just quit from active duty. If I decided to quit right now, I’d probably be court martialed. However the end result would probably be a dishonorable discharge though I could get jail time for it. Note that I’ve been on active duty for 16 years. The army figures I should know better by now, so penalties would be more severe for me than say, an 18 year old kid that decided to just quit after 9 months of duty. They’d just discharge him and he’d probably be eligible to reenlist again after a few years if he changed hs mind.

A peron in the Inactive Ready Reserve, though, I don’t know. If they refused to show up I’m not exactly sure what would happen. I’m guessing that it wouldn’t be anything very harsh since the government doesn’t want him on CNN talking about how the armed forces are “ruining his civilian life to send him to Iraq”. But then the government isn’t going to just make it easy for a person to slide out of their obligation either.

Would you rather soldiers be allowed to just quit whenever they want? Does that seem like a good idea to you?

Actually, it sounds like a great idea to me. We’d be in a lot fewer unpopular wars if those who fought them were allowed to say “this is wrong and I won’t do it. I quit.” Or even “my government isn’t giving me the support I need for reasonable (admittedly wartime) safety. I quit.”

(This is GQ. I’m trying to decide if my comment is inappropriate. I’m posting because it’s an answer to a direct question, but if a mod feels it necessary to reprimand me, I’ll understand.)

Well, strictly speaking, not in this country, between the police, the private militia and private ownership of firearms, but I understand your point. Also, I wouldn’t choose the words “societal order”, what with Posse Comitatus and all, but I’m just nit-picking. :smiley:

Don’t you think such a policy might adversely affect the ability of the armed forces to, you know, win wars?

Quitting isn’t acceptable on a “whenever basis” because that destroys the concept of a unit, allied and committed to completion a task.

As a firefighter, the concept of someone tapping me on the shoulder and saying, “Y’know-this is a tad nastier than I though-I’m leaving” is wholly unacceptable.

Crews, companies, teams, armies-we all go in together, and we leave together.

Well, the cops are also part of the government. You’re right that I elided an important qualification – it’s actually that governments have a monopoly on the use of force beyond certain limits. But that’s neither here nor there.

Also we can ignore Posse Comitatus for the purposes of the OP, because imagine that there’s a deserter on U.S. soil – the Army still has jurisdiction to court martial him for trying to quit his job whereas GM wouldn’t.

kawaiitentaclebeast, this is GQ. The OP asked a factual question and in my oh so humble junior modding opinion, you’re spoiling for a Great Debate. They’re down the hall.

dances, that’s true, but it’s true of engineering teams at GM too (even if lives aren’t as directly on the line). L’esprit de corps is not limited to the wearing of a uniform.


Well, I would have to consider TimeWinder comments in context. The average American has never experienced a Nazi or Soviet occupation, or even the threat of any such thing, “National security” to the American consists of surrendering nailclippers at the airport. The idea of war as anything more than a hobby for bored Southerners to expend their energies on in some jungle or desert on the other side of the world is totally alien to them. So why SHOULDN’T soldiers be allowed to quit whenever? As long as you think of the military as a somewhat more enthusiastic country club that doesn’t actually have to win any wars, and the security of the nation as a simple non-issue (and for the US, is it really?) it does indeed seem perfectly reasonable.

So there, I’ve answered my own question. :slight_smile:

Military service is above and beyond a job: those who serve render an oath, which essentially states that said person will defend the constitution against all threats, foreigh and domestic; will obey all lawful orders from superior officers; understands the obligation and takes such freely.

The US UCMJ is the legal framework for soldiers; it has similarities to, and differences from standard civilian law.

Military professionals operate willingly under a different set of laws and obligations than, say, civialians working for IBM or WalMart.

The Marines being called up from IRR serve in such as part of an eight year obligation: the usual way is to serve four years in active service, then to servet he remainder in the reserves, or in the IRR. Either way, no additional obligation is being imposed: the obligation was incurred at enlistment.

Members of the armed services execute deadly force in the service of their nation. This is a solemn and imprtant duty, and requires a legal and moral framework that transcends the usual work-a-day civilian framework of civil and criminal laws.

The rigorous requirements include working in a well-defined team structure and heirarchically explicit network of peers, subordinates and superiors. One’s role in the whole is essential to the successful execution of the missions.

Allowing service members to “vote with their feet” after enlistment is impractical. There are a number of ways to buck the mission as a service member or as a recruit: 1)don’t join; don’t take the oath; 2)refuse orders and accept prosecution via UCMJ; 3)Attempt recognition as a Conscientious Objector.

I believe that officers, at least, can resign from the army if there is no ongoing national emergency. For example, when someone is accepted into one of the service academies they agree in advance that after graduation they will serve for a certain stipulated period of time. After that time has elapsed the can submit their resignation at any time.

All other things aside, these folks signed a legally binding contract saying that they were fine with being called up and sent to the far side of the world for whatever reason the government felt it necessary. If they didn’t consider that the terms of the contract might be called into effect, that’s not really the government’s fault.

As for not letting them quit “whenever”, it’s counterproductive to running an organization which necessitates many of it’s personel being put in mortal harm. Very few people in their right minds WANT to be put in serious risk of being maimed or killed, I would think, so it stands to reason that whenever you’d NEED the military most, you’d HAVE it the least. I’m curious as to how many Allied soldiers would have shown up for the Normandy or Iwo Jima landings if they knew what they were getting into AND had the option of turning in their rifles and catching the next boat to New York or San Francisco.

The problem of soldiers voting with their feet is also a big reason why we now have the National Guard instead of the State Militias. Military commanders found that too often, if the Militia didn’t like how their current conditions were (or, in some cases, if they were disciplined for breaking the rules), they would just go home, usually during the times when the military needed the extra manpower the most (ie: they were more likely to go home if the war was going poorly than if it was going well).

But the military isn’t a country club.

And the US doesn’t face an invasion because in part, we have a well organized and professional fighting force. Being able to quit willy-nilly would be a horrible idea. Not just in war, either. Imagine this:

Captain: Sergeant, I need you and your squad to perform maintenance on this equipment.
Sergeant: Damn! I hate this job! I quit!
Captain: Private, the sergeant quit, you’ll have to take over his duties.
Private: Screw that, sir…I don’t want his job, I quit too.

The military can’t work that way. If soldiers could pick and choose what orders they want to obey we might as well not have an army. Saying “I think this war is wrong! I quit!” is a nutty idea. I don’t particularly like the situation in Iraq, (been there, it sucked then and i’m sure it sucks now) but we took an oath to follow orders. If it makes people upset they need to complain to the elected officials that gave the orders.

Bored Southerners?

Slightly off the topic: I assume you don’t have to stay for life, so how often do you get the chance to quit? Is there like a day every year when you renew your contract for another year or something like that? Or is it that you can always say “I quit”, but have to stay for another three months afterwards or something?

Even officers have obligated service for various reasons. They must fulfill that obligation before resigning. For enlisted, it’s a contractual obligation, and the contract provides that you can’t just up and quit.