The Draft

National Service: A Perennial Bad Idea

 

 

Well, the Washington Post has run a piece that brings up yet again an idea that is completely against what this country stands for, but is raised again year after year:  National Service:

On a clear summer evening, we squinted into the sun setting over the softball field on our U.S. Army base in Germany. One of my friends, who hailed from a small Pennsylvania town, said: “Look out there, Will, and tell me that isn’t cool. There’s a good ole boy from West Virginia pitching; in center field, we have a black power-lifter from Florida; in right field, there’s a Puerto Rican; at first base, an Irish-American from South Boston. I went to West Point, and you went to Princeton. If we were back home, what would be the chances that all of our paths would ever cross?”

I was reminded of that moment the other night as my wife and I watched the final scene of “Band of Brothers,” in which the soldiers play softball as the narrator explains what became of them after the war. After a few moments sitting in stunned silence as the credits rolled, in awe of the almost unimaginable self-sacrifice of Dick Winters and the men of Easy Company, “Band of Brothers” gave way to a cable news show and its cacophony of pundits shouting party-issued talking points at each other, without a trace of original thought. It was hard to avoid a sense of melancholy at the abrupt transition from Easy Company’s selfless service to today’s toxic political discourse, and to a social fabric that appears to be unraveling along partisan and socioeconomic lines.

How has the country for which our grandparents sacrificed so much come to this?

Yes, we have serious issues, but we are not confronted with an imminent existential threat. We are not experiencing anything as ruinous as the Civil War or either of our world wars. So why this sense that the ties that bind our country together are fraying while we furiously pull in opposite directions?

One powerful step that could begin moving us toward a sense of shared destiny would be a period of national service, either military or civil. The question over whether it should be mandatory, or merely incentivized and encouraged, as the bipartisan Franklin Project is working toward, can be debated. However, as Gen. Stanley McChrystal writes, the “need to create a culture of service where we are all invested in our nation’s future and feel a shared sense of responsibility to our nation and to each other” should not require extensive deliberation. Continue reading

Bring Back the Draft? A Look at the American Experience With Conscription.

 

 

 I have misused the king’s press damnably. I have got, in exchange of a hundred and fifty soldiers, three hundred and odd pounds. I press me none but good house-holders, yeoman’s sons; inquire me out contracted bachelors, such as had been asked twice on the banns; such a commodity of warm slaves, as had as lieve hear the devil as a drum; such as fear the report of a caliver worse than a struck fowl or a hurt wild-duck.

Falstaff, Henry IV, Part I

(This post originally ran in 2012.  The idea of National Service is being mooted again, so I am running this again.  Some bad ideas never seem to go away.)

Former Washington Post Reporter Thomas Ricks, who now works for the liberal Center for a New American Security, a think tank focusing on defense issues and which has provided several top personnel in Defense slots for the Obama administration, thinks that it is now time to bring back the Draft.  He proposes it not because he believes that the Draft would improve the military, but because he believes that it would make the nation less likely to go to war.

The drawbacks of the all-volunteer force are not military, but political and ethical. One percent of the nation has carried almost all the burden of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while the rest of us essentially went shopping. When the wars turned sour, we could turn our backs.

A nation that disregards the consequences of its gravest decisions is operating in morally hazardous territory. We invaded Iraq recklessly. If we had a draft, a retired general said to me recently, we probably would not have invaded at all.

If there had been a draft in 2001, I think we still would have gone to war in Afghanistan, which was the right thing to do. But I don’t think we would have stayed there much past the middle of 2002 or handled the war so negligently for years after that.

We had a draft in the 1960s, of course, and it did not stop President Lyndon Johnson from getting into a ground war in Vietnam. But the draft sure did encourage people to pay attention to the war and decide whether they were willing to support it.

I believe that Mr. Ricks is completely wrong-headed, and to understand why it is necessary to review the Draft and American history.  Continue reading

Bring Back the Draft? A Look at the American Experience With Conscription.

 I have misused the king’s press damnably. I have got, in exchange of a hundred and fifty soldiers, three hundred and odd pounds. I press me none but good house-holders, yeoman’s sons; inquire me out contracted bachelors, such as had been asked twice on the banns; such a commodity of warm slaves, as had as lieve hear the devil as a drum; such as fear the report of a caliver worse than a struck fowl or a hurt wild-duck.

Falstaff, Henry IV, Part I

 

 

Former Washington Post Reporter Thomas Ricks, who now works for the liberal Center for a New American Security, a think tank focusing on defense issues and which has provided several top personnel in Defense slots for the Obama administration, thinks that it is now time to bring back the Draft.  He proposes it not because he believes that the Draft would improve the military, but because he believes that it would make the nation less likely to go to war.

 

The drawbacks of the all-volunteer force are not military, but political and ethical. One percent of the nation has carried almost all the burden of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while the rest of us essentially went shopping. When the wars turned sour, we could turn our backs.

A nation that disregards the consequences of its gravest decisions is operating in morally hazardous territory. We invaded Iraq recklessly. If we had a draft, a retired general said to me recently, we probably would not have invaded at all.

If there had been a draft in 2001, I think we still would have gone to war in Afghanistan, which was the right thing to do. But I don’t think we would have stayed there much past the middle of 2002 or handled the war so negligently for years after that.

We had a draft in the 1960s, of course, and it did not stop President Lyndon Johnson from getting into a ground war in Vietnam. But the draft sure did encourage people to pay attention to the war and decide whether they were willing to support it.

I believe that Mr. Ricks is completely wrong-headed, and to understand why it is necessary to review the Draft and American history.  Continue reading

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