The Time Has Come for a Modest U.S. Military Draft

The Time Has Come for a Modest U.S. Military Draft

This past week, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) once again dropped the "D" word into the midst of the political debate surrounding the war in Iraq. By announcing his intent to introduce legislation to reinstate the draft, Rangel once again drew attention to the fact that the United States continues to wage a long-term war with an all-volunteer force. Then, as if on queue to highlight the "burden sharing" disparity that motivated Rangel's proposal, we learned that the President's daughter was busy fighting her own battle to recover the purse she had stolen while dining in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Thus, as the President continues to demand support from the American people for the war he and a compliant Congress launched almost four years ago, his "fighting aged" children remain blissfully immune from the demands of military service -- along with the other 99 percent of the American people who choose not to volunteer to wear the uniform of the nation and fight on its behalf.

Although Rangel's proposal triggered a few days of political punditry on the subject, no one seriously expects a resurrection of military conscription. But why is the idea of a draft so pernicious? Perhaps the time has come for Americans to confront this question head on. Is it consistent with the notion of genuine democracy to wage a sustained war without exposing the people to even the risk of involuntary military service? Is it morally acceptable to vote for "stay the course" candidates, or demand a humanitarian military intervention in Darfur, with full knowledge that the human cost of such policies will be displaced on others? Is it consistent with the vision of the founders of this nation to empower the chief executive with a standing armed force capable of conducting sustained military operations, when our nation no longer faces an overwhelming military threat requiring the deterrent effect of such military power? Is the national security of this nation strengthened or degraded by fostering a military culture that is increasingly segregated from society in general? These questions have been conspicuously absent from the political debate related to the Global War on Terror, and in particular the war in Iraq, but they are at the heart of any meaningful discussion of how this nation should wage war.

It is not difficult to understand why the idea of a draft is such a political lightening rod. The Vietnam conflict made both politicians and military leaders averse to relying on conscription to fill the military ranks. From a political standpoint, perhaps nothing else could create as significant a stake in military policy than requiring constituents to bear the burden of war. The legacy of the steadily increasing opposition to the conflict in Vietnam provided ample incentive to develop an all-volunteer force to serve the military needs of the nation. Politicians found willing takers for such a concept among both the citizens of the nation and the military brass. Why would the people object to eliminating the draft? If other citizens were willing to fill the ranks of the armed forces, the needs of the nation would be satisfied without ever forcing someone to don a uniform.

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