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The volunteer Army: a sign of our times to treasure


By Garrick Utley
CNN Contributor

July 3, 1998
Web posted at: 1:27 p.m. EDT (1727 GMT)

In this story:

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Once upon a time, in this century that has known too many wars, there was the "draft."

If you remember it, you also remember at least one of these: Vietnam, Korea, World War II and, even if only as a dim memory from your school history book, that first World War, the one that was supposed to end all wars.

The draft was in place during World War II   

For the 16,073,428 Americans drafted into military service to fight those wars, there could be no forgetting.

And if you are too young to remember, consider yourself fortunate.

Perhaps this July 4th weekend is a good time to count our peacetime blessings in the United States.

The all-volunteer Army has just marked its 25th anniversary. If this has not dominated the news, consider that 25 years is the longest period this century without the draft.

That's enough time for an entire generation of Americans to grow up without having to worry about the shadow of obligatory military service hanging over them, as it hung over their fathers and grandfathers.

Prosperity fosters modern-day peace


No two nations today are waging a conventional, cross-border war. Why, after the bloodiest century of warfare in history, are we a world largely at peace?

The easy answer is the end of the Cold War, which ignited so many conflicts, from Korea, to Vietnam, to Afghanistan, to Central America and beyond.

A more complex reason is the rise of the information age and the global market. Put another way, it is now more profitable to conquer consumers instead of territory. This approach creates wealth that allows government leaders to beat their swords into lower tax rates and reduced trade barriers.

Then there is the decline of the dictators, brought on by the incessant pressures of information flow, and the attraction of freer markets and societies. History suggests that kaisers, Fuhrers, emperors and tyrants of all stripes have been more likely to start a war than democratic leaders.

Political freedom favors peace, as do freer markets. Thomas Friedman of The New York Times once observed that no two nations with McDonald's franchises have ever gone to war.

Military must be appealing in free market

Army ad
From an Army recruitment advertisement   

A few, faint voices still intone the need for obligatory military service, if not only to defend the republic, then for other goals: to foster a sense of duty to one's country, or simply to build individual character.

But don't try to sell that kind of stuff to civilians of the former draft age. They know what they want and do not want.

A survey of potential volunteers by the Army shows 11 percent said they probably would join or consider joining one of the military services, against 54 percent who definitely would not.

Young people apparently no longer equate military service with patriotism. Neither, it seems, do the military services.

In an age when it can no longer induct draftees, the Army must induce volunteers.

While the well-known slogan "Be all you can be" still has a ring to it, the Army knows it needs to offer all it can at the same time. A recruit with special potential can receive a signing bonus of up to $12,000, for example. Volunteer for four years in the Army, and you can return to civilian life with $40,000 for a college education.

Like any other employer, the military today has to respond to the market place. Call it a sign of our times: of peace, a strong economy and the spreading spirit and practice of democracy.

Peace not simply absence of war

The times, of course, can change. One day we may again confront the draft and an updated version of a stern-looking Uncle Sam, pointing his finger at us and saying, "I want you."

But for now, it is compelling to see how easily we take peace for granted at the end of a century in which more than 100 million people have perished in wars, or from causes related to war.

Peace is more than the absence of war. True peace is the luxury of not even having to think about old-fashioned war, or the draft. Something to savor, to cherish, as long as it lasts.

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