Technology with attitude

Draft Is Daft

2

Jason Steck, a co-blogger over at The Moderate Voice, wrote an editorial that was recently published in the Omaha World Herald.

I’m reprinting the original here in full…

Making his first significant public statement since his appointment, “war czar” LTG Douglas Lute argues that the draft should be considered to resolve strains on the all-volunteer force imposed by continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. While such draft proposals may be effective rhetorical theater, however, both political and practical considerations effectively block any return to the draft.

Considering that it is the strains of the Iraq war that is putting the draft on the table now, it is ironic that it was the strains of the Vietnam war that were the proximate cause for its abolition in 1973. By the end of Vietnam, it had become clear that the draft was fundamentally unjust. A study by a select presidential commission led by former SECDEF Thomas S. Gates found that the draft amounted to an economically inefficient tax on the labor force, allocated disproportionately upon the poor, as wealthy potential draftees were able more easily obtain deferments for school, marriage, or contrived medical problems. By 1968, as many as one-third of all potential draftees were protected by deferments. Others could use connections to “volunteer” for carefully selected non-combat assignments in the Air Force, the reserves, or the National Guard.

Wealthier men also had an advantage in outright draft evasion, as they would be more likely to be able to afford good lawyers or the costs of fleeing to Canada. It is worth recalling that most of the anti-war protesters who posed as brave “resisters” on college campuses were under no serious threat of being drafted or of being punished for their “resistance”. Under the draft, the Civil War-era charge of “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight” made a return with a vengeance. But draft evasion and draft resistance were just two sides of the same privileged coin.

These inequities constitute most important reason that a draft will not return now. Even some of those supposedly supporting its return would likely oppose it as a matter of policy. Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel has sponsored a bill calling for restoration of the draft, but Rangel knows better than most the injustice that plagued the draft during Vietnam. Indeed, liberals in Congress, led by Senator Edward Kennedy, were an essential part of the coalition that abolished the draft.

The military itself also opposes the draft. As control over military personnel policy shifted from civilians to the military during the 1980s, military leaders dropped their initial skepticism and took enthusiastic ownership of the AVF. They found that they were able to achieve more effective military forces under a volunteer system than under a draft. For draftees, every regulation on drug use or personal behavior represented a potential opportunity for getting out of the military. But under the all-volunteer military, such regulations could be enforced without risk of encouraging what they sought to prohibit. As shown since the 1991 Gulf War, the force produced under the AVF was more disciplined, better educated, more professional, and more mature than that a conscripted force.

Such concerns should also convince human rights advocates to oppose the draft. While calls for the draft may be an effective rhetorical club, actual enactment could produce a less disciplined and less professional force. In the fall 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs, Prof. Colin Kahl documents that U.S. compliance with non-combatant immunity in Iraq has been high by historical standards and has been increasing over time. Such “rules of engagement” rely upon disciplined and professional soldiers, each of who cares about upholding an honorable self-image of what it means to be an American soldier. Draftees cannot be socialized into such beliefs as effectively as volunteers. The cost of a draft may be an increase in atrocities and other discipline problems.

There are many reasons to oppose a return of the draft. Lute’s reasons for suggesting it are unclear at best. But having the debate might be useful, not only as a critique of Iraq war policy, but also to increase public understanding of the military and its history.

The author is Resident Instructor of Political Science and International Relations at Creighton University. His research focuses on civil-military relations, including the 1973 abolition of the draft in the United States.

(h/t: The Van Der Galiën Gazette)