Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Why the Draft Won’t Work

In theory, the idea of national service–making all young people donate a year or two to serve the country–sounds great. It has been endorsed by liberal and conservative luminaries alike. So why hasn’t it happened? Put another way: Why hasn’t the draft been revived since it expired in 1973?

Part of the obvious reason is that Americans are intensely individualistic and resist forced labor even at the government’s behest unless there is some pressing national emergency. There was indeed such an emergency during World War II and the height of the Cold War–but there isn’t now. That is not to say that we don’t face threats, but we have found since the 1970s that we have no trouble filling the military’s ranks with high-quality volunteers.

That has not stopped various thinkers from coming out with national service schemes. The military writer Tom Ricks has a particularly inventive approach on the New York Times op-ed page today. He  understands that there is no way the military could possibly incorporate four million 18-year-olds every year; there are only 1.4 million active-duty personnel in the entire U.S. armed forces. So he proposes that some of the 18-year-olds could choose 18 months of military service that would not involve the possibility of combat: “These conscripts would not be deployed but could perform tasks currently outsourced at great cost to the Pentagon: paperwork, painting barracks, mowing lawns, driving generals around, and generally doing lower-skills tasks so professional soldiers don’t have to.” As for the rest, they could “perform civilian national service for a slightly longer period and equally low pay — teaching in low-income areas, cleaning parks, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, or aiding the elderly.”

Leave aside the high costs of this plan–Ricks says that all of the kids in question would qualify for free or partially free college tuition. How can we afford that at a time when entitlements are already bankrupting us?

The real problem is that his plan would not address the biggest issue raised by advocates of a draft–the need for fairness so that the risk of combat is not borne by less than one percent of the population. Under the Ricks plan, combat would still be limited to the same volunteers who serve today; nobody would suggest that a teenager who does clerical work in the Pentagon is serving his country in the same way as a teenager who carries an M-4 and walks a foot patrol in Helmand Province. Ricks thinks his plan would “make Americans think more carefully before going to war. Imagine the savings — in blood, tears and national treasure — if we had thought twice about whether we really wanted to invade Iraq.”

But it would have no such effect. To achieve what Ricks wants, the military, now contracting in size, would have to grow considerably and come to rely on conscripts who didn’t want to serve and who would push down the quality of the force. That is something few uniformed leaders would want to see and Congress would never pay for. So national service remains a nice idea–but one that is simply unworkable and unaffordable.



Join the discussion…

Are you a subscriber? Log in to comment »

Not a subscriber? Join the discussion today, subscribe to Commentary »





Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.