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Goodbye, draftees

Jim Dunnigan analyzes the history of the draft, notes that more people are of draft age than the military could possibly need, and concludes that corruption would inevitably result if the draft were reinstituted. No shock, then, that Dunnigan pronounces it dead.

In the European nations that first instituted conscription in the 19th century, everyone who was physically able was taken for two or more years, and then assigned to a reserve unit when they left active service. The idea was that the active army was basically a training organization for the wartime army of reservists. This meant that huge armies could be maintained at a fraction of the cost of a standing (full of active duty troops) army. The “reserve system” was used in a number of wars in the late 19th century, and then in the two World Wars. After World War II, the availability of nuclear weapons, and lots of other high tech weapons and equipment, made large armies less useful. By the end of the 20th century, it was obvious to all that an army of professional soldiers was far more effective than one that contained a lot of conscripts.
Another problem was that, even in those countries where “everyone went,” corruption eventually set in and everyone didn�t. Or strings were pulled and favored sons went in and received special treatment, spending his two years in some pleasant assignment that kept him out of danger and quite comfortable. This sort of thing even went on in dictatorships. By the time the communist governments in Eastern Europe and Russia collapsed, the corruption in their “universal conscription” was one of the reasons for the collapse.

Most kids don�t want to go off and be a soldier for a year or two. But there are still plenty of young men and women who want to volunteer. And it’s not for the poor and uneducated either. Less than half of those eligible for the draft would qualify to volunteer for the peacetime force. And the army has learned that the volunteers they have been using since the early 1970s make much better soldiers.

While most people now realize that an all volunteer force is superior, many still forget why a conscripted force could not compete, survive, or revive. But some politicians are not bothered by reality or historical lessons, and persist in calling for reinstating the draft. It will never happen, as 80 percent of American voters oppose it. Most people in the military would not want draftees either. And the potential draftees themselves are not particularly enthusiastic.

Sorry, Dick Feagler.