Should The US Bring Back The Draft?
Tom Ricks thinks so:
Since the end of the military draft in 1973, every person joining the U.S. armed forces has done so because he or she asked to be there. Over the past decade, this all-volunteer force has been put to the test and has succeeded, fighting two sustained foreign wars with troops standing up to multiple combat deployments and extreme stress.
This is precisely the reason it is time to get rid of the all-volunteer force. It has been too successful. Our relatively small and highly adept military has made it all too easy for our nation to go to war — and to ignore the consequences.
The drawbacks of the all-volunteer force are not military, but political and ethical. One percent of the nation has carried almost all the burden of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while the rest of us essentially went shopping. When the wars turned sour, we could turn our backs. …
Resuming conscription is the best way to reconnect the people with the armed services. Yes, reestablishing a draft, with all its Vietnam-era connotations, would cause problems for the military, but those could never be as painful and expensive as fighting an unnecessary war in Iraq for almost nine years. A draft would be good for our nation and ultimately for our military.
Ricks’ argument is fine enough, but it’s not the one I’d make in favor of re-instituting conscription.
Let’s put aside the desirability or wisdom of institutionalized military force and grant that the United States will have a large and extremely powerful military for the foreseeable future. Resolved, as they say.
Now, while Ricks wants a draft in order to spread the pain — and due to what he sees as the likely resulting political consequences of said pain redistribution — I’d like to see the draft come back for more abstract, public-minded reasons. There are precious few institutions nowadays that bring together Americans from disparate social spheres; the military used to be one of them. Implementation in this regard was never perfect, of course; there were fortunate sons. But the general principle that the military was a product of our collective labors, spurred by our collective interests, this was more influential during the time of a draft than it is today.
The new status quo, however, is not one easily understood through a class-based analytic framework. At least that’s what a 2005 Heritage Foundation study reflected. Culture appears to be more influential in this case. Heritage found, and others have noted, that Southern and Western states “provide a much higher proportion of enlisted troops by population” than do their neighbors to the North and East. Some people have attributed the difference to a theorized Southern military tradition, code, culture, etc. Questions of culture are exceedingly messy, and in general I prefer to consult them only when every other reasonable means of interpretation has been exhausted; but there you have it.
Whether it’s because of culture or race or class, what bothers me about a self-selected military is the way it can create and then reinforce a sense among both those who serve and those who don’t that they are inherently and unchangeably different. There’s romance to the idea of a warrior class, but I think history is filled with examples of why, ultimately, the creation of this alienated bloc can be problematic for the health of the republic on the whole. To some degree, the McChyrstal episode of nearly 2 years ago is an example of an all-volunteer army’s downside. While McChrystal never sounded exactly like Col Jessep, there are multiple instances in Hasting’s The Operators during which he sounds uncomfortably close.
Here’s one more reason: for all the possible issues with the professional military, the burgeoning group of modern mercenaries is much, much worse. And make no mistake, despite the total number of US armed forces being smaller than it was during the years of the draft, it’s effectively much larger than what is officially recognized. During the worst days of the US occupation of Iraq, for instance, there were as many as 100,000 contractors in the country. It’s important to note that hardly all or most of these people were carrying guns — many of them were fulfilling other functions, like providing food or cleaning — but they were still doing tasks that previously would have been directly handled by the government.
So bring back the draft, I say. Hopefully Ricks is prophetic in guessing that it will lead to less military adventurism. I certainly think he’s right in saying that the bar politicians will have to clear to get the public’s approval for war will be raised. But even if the draft isn’t the cure for American militarism (and there’s ample reason to guess it isn’t) the other benefits it would provide still make it worth doing.
[Update: I see now that BlaiseP responded to Ricks, too. (I guess Leaguers might have similar interests…) Anyway, his response is well worth reading. He comes at the question from a different angle than I do, but I don’t see anything in his post that I much disagree with. If given the choice between a re-instituted draft and the system of policies he lays out, I’d choose his druthers. What we have now, I’d argue, would be by far the worst of the 3.]