Whenever you see photos of the young men killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, it's hard not to react by thinking, how tragic for these fine young men to be cut down at such a tender age.
Wouldn't it be less tragic if it were old men sacrificing their lives in these wars? After all, older men have fewer years in front of them anyway. How many parents of those killed in action haven't wished that they had been the ones taken instead?
When wars were fought with bows and arrows and swords and maces, physical speed and strength and endurance were key. (Back then, old fought beside young anyway.) When armies went on long marches, or even long horseback rides, and had to perform on minimal food and sleep, youth was a huge advantage.
Today war is more technology-based. You'll always need elite soldiers who are highly fit and can withstand hardship with the resilience of youth. But a fifty year old can drive a truck, or remotely control a drone, or operate a computer, or shoot a rifle from inside a vehicle, or serve as a cook, just as well as a twenty year old.
You sometimes hear people say that wars should be fought by old men because they're the ones who get us into wars. But the number of old men who actually make that decision is very small. (And it would be fine with me if those old men were conscripted.) The vast majority of oldsters have no more say than anyone else.
What is true is that an older guy is simply giving up less future.
So why not have wars staffed by, if not the elderly, at least the older? One potential problem is that older people might not take orders quite as well. And they might be less susceptible to the sort of mild brainwashing that the military sometimes uses (think the few, the proud, the Marines). But these are small tradeoffs given what's at stake.
We should raise the upper age limit for enlistees from 42 to 60. You wouldn't get all that many older enlistees, as older men lust for engagement and adventure less, and feel less need to prove themselves. But you would get some, especially with this recession. Deploy them overseas in positions which don't require the ability to march for twenty miles with a forty pound pack. Older men can't do that as well. But they can die better. Or at least less tragically.