This nation does not need the draft

A proposal to include women in the military draft, supported in Congressional testimony by the heads of the Marine Corps and Army, was stripped from the National Defense Authorization Act by a close vote of the House Rules Committee this week. But agitation for universal military conscription will continue, sometimes from the left, so “so that Americans ‘feel the burden’ of ongoing military operations against Islamic militants, will not go away.”

After 23 years of military service, it is clear to me that a universal draft is not essential, and indeed would be harmful to our national security.

Asking everyone to serve would be a disaster. Assume you put in a draft of “every” high school graduate.  Approximately 3.9 million people turn 18 each year in the United States.  Say of those, 80% are “fit” for military service (i.e., meet height/weight requirements, no issue with narcotics use, no criminal issues), you are talking of induction of 3.2 million people a year.  This is a World War II level of forced public service when we are not at war with major powers. 

If this is a two-year draft enlistment (what was used in Vietnam, as opposed to “the duration” during WWII), the armed forces will have to in-process and train them.  The Army (and the other services) don’t have the facilities to in-process that many men and women right now.  Can you imagine the cost of bringing online multiple basic training posts throughout the county?  Currently we induct approximately 200K a year across all four branches of service, enlisted and officers.  A draft could increase this by more than a factor of 15!

Now follow this some more.  Army Basic Training is 9-10 weeks.  What do you do with the people who “fail,” i.e. are overweight, do not meet standards on physical training tests, “fail” a urinalysis test, etc.   Currently we throw them out.  How many people will we throw out after we spend the resources to bring them in?  Please don’t tell me others, not wanting to be forced to “serve,” will not deliberately do something to be excused.  What will you do then?  Put them in prison? Send them home?

Then you have to get them to Advanced Individual Training, a school that can be two to over twelve months, depending on the specialty.  Say for good measure, combining travel and casual status, 3 months Basic, 3 months AIT.   That’s half a year.

Get them to a new unit, and it takes a few months to get into the swing of things. Next thing you know, Private Snuffy has less than a year left. And he’s counting down days. Because he never wanted to be there and if you give him an order and he refuses, what do you do?  Put him in the stockade?  Throw him out?  Either you keep a disruptive man in a unit, or you throw him out, either way you weaken the outfit.  One of the greatest things needed for an effective unit is cohesion. With constant turnaround caused by draftees this will only degrade us.

If a draft is implemented for further social engineering, the Pentagon would have to spend a fortune (which we don’t have) to put people in who don’t want to be there, train them and send them out.  Such a massive waste of resources would only weaken our nation’s defense.  We need a highly trained, professional service. 

Some draft advocates argue that while everyone should be subject to the draft, a smaller number wound be inducted on the basis of a lottery. Shades of the Vietnam War era, when a lottery was conducted on the basis of date of birth. This would still raise many problems.

First requirement: we need the armed forced manned by people who want to serve, for whatever reason.  Personal (“I want to get away from Mom for a bit and figure out what I want to do with my life”), professional (“They will give me training that will cost me a fortune in the private sector, or I get the GI Bill for college”), or patriotism (I want to serve my country), or a combination of the three.

One of the greatest successes of this nation in the latter part of the 20th Century is the all- volunteer service.  The Pentagon spent years and billions of dollars in a massive effort by experts to recover from the disaster of Vietnam.  We came back with a fully professional, highly trained and functional military service.  It is going to take years, billions of dollars and hard work from professionals to recover from the damage inflicted over the last seven years. 

Another suggestion of the people pushing “mandated service” is some type of civilian service.  We’ve tried that with AmeriCorps, aka “ClintonCorps,” and found it’s nothing but a massive waste of money, per the OMB and GAO.  Also, what do you want these 18 year olds doing? Pick up trash on the side of the road? Clean up parks? Go into “communities” and organize the vote for Democrats? 

Are you going to pay these people or is this indentured servitude? How much will that cost? All the while the people could be working in the private sector paying taxes. Also, if I live in a rural areaand there is nothing for these “public servants” to do, will you make me move to a city where “public service” is needed? How do you determine who needs “public service”?

What are you going to do when 40 thousand people say, “Hell no, I won’t go…” Are you ready to put thousands in prison if they refuse? How much will that cost? What if they run off to Canada again?  What are you going to do?

But more to the fact, why should an older generation, who have mostly not served in America in her armed forces (nor otherwise gave years of their young lives volunteering), tell the upcoming generation “you must earn your citizenship in a way we were not burdened with”? Our founding documents recognize the supremacy of the individual over the collective, “…that we, as individuals, have a right to live, live freely and pursue that which motives us not because man or some government says so, but because those are God-given natural rights.” (emphasis mine) (Levin, 2009, 2-3)[1]

OK, I have a bit of a radical idea. If you are an adult, what you want to do with your life is…get this…your decision. This is a free country (to a lesser degree in times past, especially after the last 7 years). You want to go to college, fine. You want to go to the service, fine. Get a job somewhere, fine. Work at McDonald’s while staying in mom’s basement -- that is your business. As long as you obey the law and support yourself, so be it. You are not provided with freebees, you get from us nothing. Freedom means you have opportunity, not guarantees.

In my younger days I believed in mandatory service for the young people. But spending 23 years in my country’s uniform and knowing how the Army (and the other services) needed to clean up in the 1970s and the issues they had with draftees, I changed my view. One of the major successes of the US has been the all-volunteer service. I would rather have 5 people who want to be there than 10 who are counting down days from the moment they get there.

Michael A. Thiac is a police patrol sergeant and a retired Army intelligence officer. When not patrolling the streets, he can be found on A Cop’s Watch

[1] Levin, Mark R, Liberty and Tyranny”:  New York:  Threshold, 2009

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