Bringing Back the Draft?

Clyde Haberman writing for the New York Times stirred up a number of people with his article, “John Kelly Suggests more Americans should have the honor of serving. He’s right.”

The gist of his article comes down to the observation that those who haven’t served in the military, meaning nearly all Americans, cannot really understand those who have.

General Kelly said, “We don’t look down upon those of you that haven’t served, in fact in a way we’re a little bit sorry because you’ll never have experienced the wonderful joy you get in your heart when you do the kind of things our servicemen and women do.” Implicit in his remarks was this:  If you cannot grasp instinctively what the military goes through, you may well have forfeited the right to criticize it.

Mr. Haberman is convinced that reinstating military conscription or requiring some form of alternative national service deserves serious consideration and that the country would be better for it.

He goes on to say reviving the draft which was abandoned in 1973 would mean that most American families have skin the game when their political leaders embroil the country in a war of choice.  It doesn’t take much of an intuitive leap to guess that the last 16 years of war would have unfolded differently if more than a tiny cadre of America’s sons and daughters had to fight.

I think the last thought is true.  We depend on so few to fight our wars and keep sending them back on multiple battle tours until they are mentally and physically depleted.

Unfortunately, the military does not want a return to the draft.  They want people in their ranks who want to be there.

When I was the guest of the Navy on the carrier USS John C. Stennis a few years ago, I found that most of the 19 and 20-year-old sailors who ran the ship were there to earn money and benefits to return to school and get on with their lives.

In its day, the draft was an excellent tool to help young men grow up.  If you were a shiftless and idle male who was not in school, married or had a job, you might find yourself 1-A and subject to the draft.  Actually, when I was on active duty with the Marine Corps some of the best men I had working for me were draftees.  In those days, the selective service would count down to every fifth man and say, “Welcome to the Corps, Marine.”

Mr. Haberman concludes with requiring everyone to serve in some fashion would be a profoundly democratizing action.  In time, it might even encourage more civilized political discourse by putting young people in proximity to those with roots in different ways of life and thinking.  Bringing back the draft could restore a healthier sense of the military’s proper place in our national life.

Not everyone agrees with Clyde Haberman’s opinion article.  Ira Glasser wrote back “As Daniel Webster argued in 1814:  Where is it written in the Constitution that you may take children from their parents and parents from their children, and compel them to fight the battles of any war in which the folly or the wickedness of government may engage it?”

Allowing presidents to unilaterally go to war without being declared by Congress has had a profoundly negative effect on our country.  The idea of some type of national services may be a good one for teaching skills that are not provided by our schools.

But, let us remember that all citizens have the obligations to serve their country when the need arises not simple those from lower economic circumstances.