The Making of the All-Volunteer Armed Force
One of the most lasting legacies of Richard Nixon's presidency was the fundamental change he wrought in the defense manpower policy of the United States. Turning away from the heavy hand of conscription, on which we had relied strongly since the beginning of World War II to raise our armed forces, President Nixon embarked on a bold course--gambling that enough Americans would see that actively participating in the defense of this country was honorable enough, and important enough, that they would of their own free will enlist and serve their country. Nixon's new manpower policy has been strikingly successful, confounding the dire predictions of military weakness and social problems put forth by his critics. It has been successful even beyond the most optimistic hopes of many of his supporters.
The first responsibility of any president is the national security of the nation. Today we have a large, powerful armed force that--judged by the most important criterion, combat capability--can do what it is supposed to do: deter potential attackers and fight if necessary. The experience of the last fifteen years has shown us that men and women who have freely chosen a military career are, on balance, a more effective fighting force than one that is part volunteer, part forced service. And beyond that Nixon's new manpower policy achieved something precious and rare in the post-Vietnam years. Once again the military is an honorable profession.
When the United States abolished the military draft in the early 1970s it was the first time in its history that we had deliberately adopted a national policy of an all-volunteer, large peacetime armed force. Since then millions of young men have had the power to choose whether and how they would serve their country.