Should The US Bring Back The Draft?


Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a freelance journalist and blogger. He considers Bob Dylan and Walter Sobchak to be the two great Jewish thinkers of our time; he thinks Kafka was half-right when he said there was hope, "but not for us"; and he can be reached through the twitter via @eliasisquith or via email. The opinions he expresses on the blog and throughout the interwebs are exclusively his own.

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24 Responses

  1. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Wile I agree with the idea that the military should draw upon all walks of life, a draft is not the way to go about enforcing that ideal.  Amongst those for whom the military is tied into their culture, a draft is nothing.  For those who find the military repulsive, it will be something to actively rail against, and for all those in-between, conscription will be but a thing to endure for 2 years before moving on.  It’ll be little more than an extension of High School.  A few may stay & make a career out of it, but not enough to be worth the headache & the loss of efficiency a professional all-volunteer force has.Report

  2. Avatar BradP says:

    Why should I not believe that it is the service, rather than the belonging, that leads to an alienated bloc?Report

  3. Avatar North says:

    I kindof agree with you Elias regarding BlaiseP. What we have at the moment is your proposal (the Draft) which we know how to implement but we know will be riddled with loopholes for the affluent and even modestly well connected (thus making the draft in essense the epitome of regressive policies); BlaiseP’s preference (a war tax) which would likely be more progressive and would actually bite the plump behinds of those in power but which we don’t know how to really put into law and of course the status quos which generally sucks.Report

  4. While I agree with the larger point about a military ethos which sees itself as above civilian criticism, Hastings has proven to be an untrustworthy source.Report

  5. Avatar b-psycho says:

    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.

    …so how ’bout at the least cutting back on all the war-mongering, rather than worrying about who makes up the tip of the spear?

    To force someone against their will into military service is to enslave them. There is absolutely nothing that can make up for that.Report

  6. Avatar Robert Greer says:

    The Heritage Foundation’s analysis of class in the American military is incomplete because it doesn’t consider that class might matter after people enter the military.  It’s a good bet that there are class differentials in ASVAB scores, and if this affects who gets sent to the front lines, then it may still be the case that the burdens of military service fall disproportionately on the underprivileged.Report

    • Is there any reason to believe this would be any different if we had a draft?Report

      • To the extent that’s true, I mean. I’ve heard there are actually a lot of reasons to believe it’s not. That the most dangerous jobs go to those that seek them out, while those that enter for economic reasons are often specifically looking for the more technical and less exciting jobs. I’d be interested to know one way or the other.


        • Even that analysis would be complicated by the intense propaganda instilled in the troops by their superiors.  When a person is purposefully broken down to be used as a tool in a war effort, arguments appealing to soldiers’ agency lose a lot of their bite.Report

      • Yes, if you set up the draft in the right way.   It’d be pretty straightforward to have a draft for who sees combat.Report

        • Re: This comment: To what extent do we favor putting the right kids in the line of fire versus having a military operate as efficiently as it is capable? There comes a point where you’re Hunger Gaming it. Hoping dead kids (young people), involuntarily put in the line of fire, have the right effect on certain people’s frame of thinking.

          Re: Previous comment: Granted, I don’t know a *lot* of military people, but the ones I do know or have known suggest that they are not the automatons you’re suggesting, break-down-and-rebuild philosophy notwithstanding.Report

          • I wasn’t trying to suggest that everyone in the military is a brainless lemming, but I nevertheless think it’s fair to say that significant low-level propaganda is bandied about when it’s time to pick who goes into combat.

            Regarding your first point, I think “efficiency” in the military can often be code for “we’d rather this person than that person die,” and when questions of a soldier’s usefulness can be explained in part by his prior educational and other socioeconomic opportunities, the characterization gets ugly real quick.  I guess I wouldn’t be arguing in good faith if I didn’t tell you that I was a pacifist, but this kind of consideration is what led me to that conclusion in the first place.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Robert Greer says:

              But if we put the pacifists on the front line to be shot and killed, only people who aren’t pacifists will be left!Report

            • From my perspective, there are two main reasons to enlist in the military where one or the other are going to apply for the vast majority of people who serve (as NCOs). The first is financial, the second adventurism. There’s also patriotism, but that motivation is usually going to be combined with one of the other two. I would suspect that people who join for financial opportunity are going to be disproportionately from the underclass and they’re going to be joining more for the reason of furthering their financial prospect. On the other hand, those from the middle class on upwards, on the other hand, don’t need the military for a paycheck or technical training. They’re there because they want to be there. If they’re going to be in some server room somewhere, then why join the military at all?

              It seems a little odd to me to rest on the notion that people from less underprivileged backgrounds are going to join the military only to seek to be as deep into the sidelines as possible. I find it much less difficult to believe that someone who joins for financial opportunity would be far more resistent to low-level propaganda.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Robert Greer says:

      [using race as a proxy for class,] Historically, (since the AVF started), actual front line combat troops happen to be whiter than the military as a whole. And the Army as a whole has fewer African Americans today as a percentage of the force than it did at the start of the century,  (but somewhat better than it was doing mid decade)

  7. Avatar Will Truman says:

    A few thoughts:

    1) I think we should cease stoploss measures to prevent people who have enlisted from departing when there time is up. I am also in agreement about military contractors. If these two things were to make it so that we needed a draft, it would be something we’d have to consider.

    2) “Need” being the operative word. Having a draft and putting young people in the line of fire specifically to alter the views of their parents strikes me as particularly distasteful. If we need them, we need them. I’m not opposed to a draft on principle, but I think it’s wrong to do it in order to make a point.

    3) Unless we went all the way down to the road to putting kids in war zones even when they’re not necessary in order to make a point, I don’t think that this would even make the point successfully. I believe the end result would be greater attempts at minimizing American casualties. We toppled the Taliban and Hussein in rather short order and with a really minimal loss of life. The hard and bloody part was trying to keep things together afterwards. It would be easy enough to forgo the second part and simply say “We will repeat process if the next guy isn’t as cooperative (and we don’t care what happens domestically in the meantime).” I suspect it’s this, and not a breakout of peace, that would happen.

    4) Living in a part of the country with very high military recruitment, it’s interesting to note what happens if you soak up the military slots with draftees. The people here, who want to serve, will more frequently be left out in favor in involuntaries. The military, as a path to bigger and better things outside of the world of this state, is scotched. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it, but it’s something to consider.Report

  8. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    “In the course of his [General Westmoreland’s] testimony, he made the statement that he did not want to command an army of mercenaries. I [Milton Friedman] stopped him and said, ‘General, would you rather command an army of slaves?’ He drew himself up and said, ‘I don’t like to hear our patriotic draftees referred to as slaves.’ I replied, ‘I don’t like to hear our patriotic volunteers referred to as mercenaries.’ But I went on to say, ‘If they are mercenaries, then I, sir, am a mercenary professor, and you, sir, are a mercenary general; we are served by mercenary physicians, we use a mercenary lawyer, and we get our meat from a mercenary butcher.’ That was the last that we heard from the general about mercenaries.”
    – Milton and Rose Friedman, Two Lucky People, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998, p. 380.


    “… I came back and introduced legislation into Congress as a young Congressman and then I went and testified before the House and Senate Armed Services Committee, which was a rather intimidating thing to do for a Junior Congressman to set there with Carl Vinson and Eddy Abear and Richard Russell and various people and explain to them why the system that they had really wasn’t quite the right system and walk through all the difficulties with it.  Well we did that and then as of course as a young cabinet officer with the encouragement of (Inaudible.) President Nixon grabbed issue and persuaded Congress to approve the All-Volunteer Service.


    The men and women in uniform today are as I’m sure the people in this room know without question is the finest military in the world and I would say probably the finest military the world has ever seen.  This concept of an All-Volunteer Force has been a booming success, it works.  I suppose the most enjoyable job I have as Secretary of Defense is to be able to go out and meet with U.S. troops, these young men and women all across the globe and look them in the eye and thank them for the fact that they did volunteer, they did step up and say send me.  They made that choice to serve their country, to put their lives at risk, to preserve freedom in this country and that’s a wonderful thing.  It is a great strength for the Armed Services.  We may have the most precise weapons on the face of the earth and we may have the most lethal capabilities and vast resources to call on but clearly the greatest resource we have is the character and the courage and the spirit of the men and women in uniform.


    We’re so fortunate that so many are willing to sign up and they have a remarkable sense of mission.  In the last thirty years our All-Volunteer Force has liberated millions of people, they have won the cold-war, they’ve liberated Grenada, they have removed the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, they’ve ousted the forces of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, they are helping along with all elements of national power to put terrorist on the run all across the globe, working with law enforcement officers, intelligence people, the Treasury Department trying to close bank accounts and do all the things that are necessary.  It’s different from fighting Armies, Navies or Air Forces to be sure, and it takes some time to adjust to those different responsibilities and roles but in deed they are doing so.”

    Secretary Rumsfeld Remarks at the All-Volunteer Force Conference [2003]Report

  9. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    “There are precious few institutions nowadays that bring together Americans from disparate social spheres; the military used to be one of them.”

    But other than in times of major war, relatively few of them.  If you started today, there are about 5M men and women reaching service age each year.  The total size of the US armed services is about 1.5M.  Not all of that 1.5M can be filled by draftees: officers, most non-coms, the myriad of assorted specialists, none of those are going to be people doing a two-year (minus training) hitch.  You can’t rotate 5M a year through a million positions.  Draft for civilian tasks and you’re back to some of BlaiseP’s arguments.  How many of those jobs wouldn’t be better filled by civilians with more extensive training willing employed and being paid a reasonable wage for their efforts?  And what value if the majority are make-work positions?  How do you explain to the parents of the drafted son/daughter who was killed in military action (or worse, training when there’s no war going on; equipment involving large amounts of energy kills those learning to operate it from time to time) why their child didn’t get the task of sorting caterpillars by how their fur feels (with apologies to Bob Heinlein, who was actually describing the opposite problem, that of finding tasks so that everyone who volunteered could actually serve).Report

  10. Avatar Liberty60 says:

    The idea of using the draft as a way to provide a brake on warmaking has a lot of appeal. And the idea that military service acts to blend and defuse class distinction also has merit.

    But ultimately, I see those as insufficient. “Spreading the pain” seem like using the rest of us as collateral damage- and the draft never really hit the upper classes anyway, since as has been pretty well documented, they have all sorts of tools to evade them anyway. We could just as easily make a Constitutional Amendment to require that wars be paid for via spcial taxes, making the financial pain of war immediately and drastically felt by those with the money to do something about it.

    And using military service as a community bonding experience is a lot like using it as a jobs training program; probably true, but thats not really the point of the military- the ancillary benefits of service are just that, ancillary to its mission. Its a bit like saying we need to build bombers so as to spur the aerospace engineering field and put some idle people back to work.

    Ultimately, I think reducing the scale and scope of the American Empire needs to be a change in popular opinion; as long as “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, BombBomb Iran” gets votes, draft or no draft, we are going to war.Report

  11. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    (Responding via phone so apologies if this point was already made)

    I dont favor a draft specifically but rather mandatory service with the military being one option. The only question is whether or not compulsory service would eliminate paying jobs for older Americans.Report

  12. Avatar Fnord says:

    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.

    Do you intend to institute a draft for officers, too?Report

  13. Avatar Damon says:


    I’ve got a better idea.  Instead of widespread conscription, do this:  ANYONE that in Congress in favor of war MUST by law be conscripted and placed in a combat unit if the vote for military action passes.  If it’s an undeclared war, like Vietnam, those in the administration who send the troops into harms way are on the first to go.  If it’s so damn important that blood and treasure be spent, and the cause just, there is no reason those who voted for this “military action” or those that support it, shouldn’t be on the front lines.  And by front lines, I mean, the first row of guys stepping onto the beach, etc.  That’ll shut them up. 

    That being said, conscription is nothing but slavery.  The above is the only exception I think is a morally justifiable reason for conscription. 

    I remember when the whole stop loss and such tactics were starting up.  When you volunteer you sign a “contract” which really isn’t one.  You essentially sign up for service until you’re told you’re not needed anymore.  Seems way skewed towards one party, the party that makes the rules.  Screw that.Report