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Inside Politics

Should the draft be reinstated?

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With U.S. forces stretched thin and many reservists on full-time duty, some urge a draft for reasons of fairness and practicality. Opponents say it's unnecessary and dangerous


Democratic Congressman from New York and Korean War vet

Staying the course in Iraq means increasing our troop strength, and, not surprisingly, recruitment and re-enlistment levels are down. But proposed enlistment bonuses and other economic incentives will not make the military any more attractive to upper-middle-class young people. Increasingly we will be a nation in which the poor fight our wars while the affluent stay home.

To correct the disparity among those who serve, South Carolina Senator Fritz Hollings and I have proposed a new draft. All men and women ages 18 to 26 would be eligible for induction once they have completed high school. Those not needed in the military would perform civilian service. Enacting our plan would democratize our armed forces and return to the "citizen soldier" ideal that has served our nation so well.

As a veteran, I strongly believe that fighting for our country must be fairly shared by all racial and economic groups. Nobody wants to go to war, but the burden of service cannot fall only on volunteers who, no matter how patriotic, are attracted to the military for financial reasons. We cannot continue to pretend it is fair that one segment of society makes all the sacrifices.


Former special assistant to President Reagan, now a senior fellow at the Cato Institute

America deploys the most powerful military on earth because its soldiers freely choose to serve. Today's military is picky. In 2003 more than 9 of 10 enlistees had a high school diploma. The military takes virtually no one who doesn't score in the top three of five categories of the Armed Forces Qualification Test. Equally important, the all-volunteer force (avf) is staffed by soldiers who want to be there. Draft advocates want "citizen soldiers." But 4 million young people turn 18 every year, while the military inducted 185,000 recruits in 2003. A system that took just 5% of those eligible would be highly arbitrary.

The worst lie told by conscription advocates about the avf is that it is an underclass military. Overrepresentation of blacks is modest; Hispanics are actually underrepresented. While there may be few sons and daughters of Wall Street in uniform, the military is an overwhelmingly middle-class force. The most obvious reason to maintain the avf is practical: it's the best way to raise the world's finest military. What sets American society apart from totalitarian hellholes like Saddam Hussein's Iraq is its dedication to individual liberty. Conscription sacrifices the very values we are supposed to be defending.


Professor of sociology at Northwestern University and a former draftee

Our country is facing new kinds of threats and needs a new kind of draft. Even before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, our military was severely overstretched in fulfilling its missions. But more important, we have done nothing serious about homeland defense in the war against terrorism. We need guards for our nuclear power plants, dams and public facilities. We have done little to create the necessary border patrollers, customs agents and cargo-ship inspectors. Short-term draftees, under professional supervision, could perform these duties admirably. It takes less than four months to train a military police officer—precisely the kind of role most needed in peacekeeping missions and guard duties. This would free up professional soldiers, and it would stop the unprecedented activation of reservists. Their multiple tours have led to demoralization and impending recruitment shortfalls.

We must institute a three-tiered draft system in America, with 15-to-24-month tours of duty for citizens ages 18 to 26. In the new-style draft, conscripts could serve in the military, in homeland security or in a civilian-service program like AmeriCorps—and there is no reason women could not be drafted for the latter categories.


Retired general, former commandant of the Army War College and historian

A return to the draft is a very bad idea whose time passed with the world wars, Korea and Vietnam. These wars were tragically wasteful because in large measure they were fought with drafted soldiers.

Drafted soldiers are far more likely to die in combat than long-service professionals. Military leaders know from painful experience that it takes years to produce a fully competent combat soldier. They also know that older soldiers live longer in combat. Drafting teenagers and committing them to combat within only a year of enlistment will create an Army of amateurs. Our Army in particular has a sad history of committing to battle men who are too young and inexperienced to have much hope of surviving against a hardened and skillful enemy.

Drafted units can be kept together for only a short time and invariably march to war as random collections of strangers. Our soldiers performed so superbly in Iraq because they were seasoned. Good soldiers, like good wine, can be produced only with careful cultivation and patient aging. Unfortunately, amateur armies learn to fight only by fighting. Inevitably, the cost of that education is too horrific for the American people to bear.


Republican Senator from Oklahoma

I think I'm the only member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who would reinstate the draft. There are huge social benefits that come from it. I can assure you I would not be in the U.S. Senate today if I had not gone through the draft. When I look at the problems of some of our kids in America nowadays and then I go visit the troops, I see what a great benefit it is to give people the opportunity to serve their country.

I was drafted into the Army in January 1957 and served two years as an enlisted man. I gained a new outlook on life through the rigors of basic training. The military can have a more intense influence on soldiers when they are drafted and have no choice. I developed a sense of patriotism through the experience of serving my country. I'm not on a crusade, but I think today's youth could use more of that type of discipline.


Former Secretary of the Army, 1998-2001, now president of the University of New Mexico

Talk about reinstating the draft is more about nostalgia for a time when military service was perceived to be a near universal and often beneficial rite of passage for young men in our country than it is about keeping our military at full strength. Given the success of the all-volunteer force in manning today's smaller and more highly skilled military, a return to a large, general draft is neither necessary nor desirable for maintaining U.S. military effectiveness.

Worries about whether the military can attract enough recruits are unfounded. Unless the U.S. is going to prohibit anyone from volunteering or being recruited and only swear in draftees, the number of slots that would need to be filled by a draft would be very small indeed. How fair would any draft be that asked only a few thousand high school graduates out of the millions of eligible men and women to serve each year? Attempts to reinstate the draft could tear the nation apart for zero gain—and possibly a net degradation in military effectiveness.

Instead of honoring the diverse Americans serving in the ranks today, draft supporters devalue their patriotism and commitment. They fail to acknowledge that today's all-volunteer military recruits only motivated, trainable people who, by definition, have other options but who choose to stay in the military because they find satisfaction in serving their country. What draft supporters should be asking is, How can we challenge every young American to ask "Whose responsibility is it to serve if not mine?"

Copyright © 2003 Time Inc.

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