Monday, November 12, 2012

we don't need a draft

Every so often, a prominent public figure calls for a return to a draft for the U.S. armed forces.  They usually argue that military service is a civic obligation that shouldn't be contracted out to mercenaries, however patriotic they may be, or that a draft would make it less likely that America would get involved  in unwise wars.

While I agree that public service, in uniform or as a civilian, is virtuous and ennobling and ought to be generously rewarded, I don't think that conscription would solve either of the problems cited by proponents.

Any draft would be unfair to many of the people conscripted. There is no way to fashion a fair draft. Include women? At all stages of education, marriage and motherhood? Allow no exemptions for education or parental care or child care? Require remedial action to meet mental or fitness standards? Include or exclude green card holders? You see what I mean. And a draft widely seen as unfair would weaken our patriotic cohesion, not strengthen it. Another point is that, if you take all volunteers before you take any draftees, you may end up with a less qualified force demographically.

To avoid unwise wars, we already have a system in place -- under the Constitution. Congress is supposed to act to authorize the use of force in major military operations, but it hasn't been very diligent about upholding its rightful role.

Now we have retired lieutenant general David Barno with his interesting but still flawed proposal:
One policy to better connect our wars to our people might be to determine that every use of military force over 60 days would automatically trigger an annual draft lottery to call up 10,000 men and women. They would serve in every branch of service for the duration of the conflict, replaced by future draft tranches in limited, like-sized numbers. Ten thousand draftees would comprise only about 5 percent of the number of new recruits the military takes in each year, but they would signify a symbolic commitment of the entire nation. Every family in the country would now be exposed to the potential consequences of our wars and come to recognize in a personal way that they had a stake in the outcome. The national calculus on go-to-war decisions subtly changes when all families can be called upon to answer the call to arms.
Besides the fact that we don't want 10,000 newly inducted but barely trained soldiers being plunged into combat, this proposal would make military service a drastic punishment by lottery  -- as if we used a lottery to decide which presumed pot smokers among 18-22 year olds should be sent to jail without a trial, as a warning to others. Or if we took away the driver's license of one person by lottery in response to every traffic death.

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