Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

A Return to the Draft? A Survey of Recent Articles

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

A Return to the Draft? A Survey of Recent Articles

Article excerpt

As U.S. armed forces are stretched ever thinner by the Iraq war and military recruiters fall short of their quotas, fears of a military draft are stirring in America. If the writings of military manpower specialists are any indication, however, those fears are grossly exaggerated. For instance, Charles Moskos, a noted expert in the field who has long advocated mandatory national service, writes in Orbis (Fall 2005) that a return to conscription is "highly unlikely." But the draft talk does point to a serious problem: an apparent mismatch between America's proclaimed global ambitions and the military manpower needed to sustain them.

"Four years into what the Bush administration describes as an open-ended war, evidence that the [all-volunteer force] has begun to unravel is now incontrovertible," declares Andrew J. Bacevich, a former army officer who is now a professor of international relations at Boston University. With more than 1,900 U.S. fatalities in Iraq, and polls showing that a majority of Americans now regard the 2003 invasion as a mistake, recruiting is off. Despite inducements that include signing bonuses of up to $20,000, the active-duty army, the Army Reserve, and the Army National Guard are all struggling to meet their recruiting quotas. It's an indication, Bacevich writes in Commonweal (July 15, 2005), that the administration may be forced to scale down its ambitions abroad--a welcome development, in his view.

Even if the United States pulled out of Iraq and Afghanistan, however, the strain would not disappear. The active-duty U.S. Army was purposely shrunk from 730,000 soldiers at the end of the Cold War in 1990 to 485,000 today, notes Moskos, who is a professor emeritus of sociology at Northwestern University. Yet since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the United States has committed troops abroad on a wide variety of missions that hadn't been anticipated, ranging from intervention in Haiti to humanitarian aid in Indonesia.

What to do? Ironically, most of the calls for conscription, usually as part of a broader scheme for national service, come from Democrats. And most of them are in the relatively small "neoliberal" or New Democrat wing of the party. They see national service as an antidote to the low levels of civic engagement among the young and the inequity of a situation in which few children of the affluent serve in the military. A return to the citizen-soldier tradition would also narrow the growing gulf between the military and civilian society. In "The Case for the Draft," in The Washington Monthly (March 2005), editor in chief Paul Glastris and Philip Carter, an attorney and former army captain, propose a plan under which young people would be denied admission to four-year colleges unless they had served for one to two years in a program such as Ameri-Corps, in homeland security assignments, or in the armed services, where they could fill support roles.

"There are plenty of arguments for or against" a draft, but "it's just not going to happen," observes Fred Kaplan, author of The Wizards of Armageddon (1983) and a columnist for the online magazine Slate (June 30, 2005). "Military commanders don't want a draft; they're happy to have, in the All-Volunteer Army, the best-educated, best-tempered, most easily trained soldiers in American history. Politicians don't want a draft, because they know it's the surest route to losing the next election; millions of supportive voters will turn into raging protesters if their little Johnny--or, worse yet, Janie--gets forced into battle. …

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