Friday, March 10, 2006

Obligatory National Service

Joe Galloway's latest Op Ed column is entitled "Time for some talk on national service for young", and is a dialogue for requiring mandatory conscription (national service) for America's young. Galloway's plan would

encompass both a basic obligation for every able-bodied young man and woman who would owe his or her country two years' service upon reaching age 18 or graduation from high school.

The young would be offered a choice of where and how they served. The Peace Corps. A medical aid corps to work in our hospitals and health institutions. An education corps to help in schools. And a recreated Civilian Conservation Corps to repair and rebuild our national parks, which are in desperate disrepair after decades of mismanagement and over-use.

They would owe two years' service in one of those fields, and upon completion of honorable service would be entitled to a two-year free ride in any college in the country that would accept them.

If they chose to serve in the military their tour of duty would be four years, and upon finishing that tour they would be owed a four-year, expenses-paid scholarship to any college accepting them.

Galloway doesn't truly identify why now is the appropriate time to demand mandatory national service, but he alludes to two primary reasons: a belief that the military cannot meet recruiting requirements in an all voluntereer force (the logical reason); and a leftist view that a drafted force would spread out the burden of service in a more egalitarian manner than it is currently being done now and reduce the propensity for "wars of choice" (much less logical reason).

The latter reason is the one most frequently bringing back mandatory conscription. Rep Charley Rangel cited them during his bid in 2003 to introduce Draft Legislation, which he intended "to jolt Americans into realizing the import of a possible unilateral strike against Iraq, which he opposes, and "to make it clear that if there were a war, there would be more equitable representation of people making sacrifices."

The proposal to make military service more equitable, or institute youthwide national service, are two of the more ill-advised public policy proposals I have heard in recent years. Let's examine their lack of merit at various levels.

First of all, Galloway's proposal to impress all of the nation's 18 year-olds into national service would suddenly put millions of people on the government dole. These sudden employees would require an enormous agency in itself to manage and track them all, manage their pay, etc. The Army has enough trouble doing this for the few hundred thousand on its payroll. This would add to the size and scope of the federal government, and create an enormous tax burden. And for what? for the provision of services already being met more efficiently and effectively by the current (market) system in place.

Look at the numbers, too. The military itself, according to Galloway's numbers, only needs to recruit 80,000 people per year to meet its needs. It is highly unlikely that there would be enough work for the millions left over after the military met its manpower requirements in such a draft. Again, why conscript millions of Americans against their will, taking away some of their freedom, when the services availed by their impressment are already met by the market?

Next, look at the idea of the draft as a social equalizer. If only 80,000 of the millions of 18 year olds impressed into national service entered the military each year, how much more "equal" would the cross section of society in uniform be than it is now? I'll wait for a statistician to comment on this post, but the difference between today's Soldiers' demographics and the soldiers of a draftee military of this size would be marginal (when universal national service is taken into account). Also, keep in mind that the active duty military currently meets its recruiting goals now without a draft, so if current enlistment and service incentives were not removed, the number of personnel required for military conscription annually would be in the hundreds, not thousands.

Ultimately, Galloway and Charley Rangel believe the President and Congress would be less likely to engage in "wars of choice" if the United States had a military composed of draftees. Again, this logic is critically flawed as well. The United States entered into the most unpopular war in its history, Vietnam, with a draft military. American military involvement in Vietnam spanned a decade and cost 50,000 lives. Hence, the United States government has proven in recent decades that a conscripted force is no less likely to be used in conflict than a volunteer one.

In his classic 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom, economist Milton Friedman gave the best argument against military conscription (which was public policy at that time):

There is no justification for not paying whatever price is necessary for attracting the required number of men [for military service]. Present arrangements [the draft in place in '62] are inequitable and arbitrary, seriously interfere with the freedom of young men to shape their lives, and probably are more costly than the market alternative.

Personally, as a soldier, I shudder to think of the changes that would occur should the military become proposed of draftees. Military service can be arduous, especially long term deployments to garden spots like Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, and the like; it would be infinitely more of an adventure with a group of people who hate military service and have no desire to be there. No, I prefer volunteers in this case. Military culture would likely change vastly with a draftee force, and mostly for the worse.

What of the benefits that service members currently enjoy? Would a draftee Army still be eligible for the pay incentives and education opportunities granted to the all volunteer force? Maybe, but then again, there might not be a justification for these things if people are impressed into military service.

Would an Army of draftees possess the same level of motivation or discipline of a volunteer force? Not likely. In fact, draftees would likely require sterner enforcement of discipline, and this could lead to a distracting number of disciplinary actions in draftee units.

The United States currently has the most powerful, capable and professional military in the world. There is no need to muck it up now, in a time of war, all in the name of equality.


I obviously abhor the idea of a draft, or any form of national service. An idea proposed from time to time I am in favor of however, is something akin to the Lodge Act. The Lodge Act was an interesting piece of cold war legislation that ultimately sputtered and lost steam. This act called for creating a veritable foreign legion of East European refugees who could fight behind enemy lines in their native countries in a high intensity East/West conflict. In return for their service, the Lodge Act soldiers would have been given full U.S. citizenship.

Currently the military has requirements for language and cultural expertise in places where it is operating or will likely deploy in the near future. People who grew up in far flung areas of the world possess language capability and cultural familiarity that no amount of training can replicate. legislation like the Lodge Act, which grants citizenship to specially selected , screened foreigners who volunteer for military service, would definitely increase the capabilities of the 21st Century military more than any type of obligatory service would.

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