CT - Feel That Draft?
Professor Moskos is a very big brain, especially when it comes to our nation's military and the personnel thereof. So his arguments should be considered with especially considerate attention.
June 8, 2005
Feel That Draft?
By Charles Moskos
Recruitment for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps is on the brink of disaster. Indeed, along with combat, recruiting duty is now considered the worst mission in the military. Although we are in a global war against terrorism, the American citizenry is not being asked for any sacrifice. In the last election, both President Bush and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) were united in their refusal to consider a return to conscription. "Patriotism-lite" is the order of the day.
But truth to tell, a draft for the 21st Century is the only answer to our national security needs. Such a draft would have three tiers of youth service, with 18-month tours of duty for citizens ages 18 to 25. The first tier would be modeled after a standard military draft. The second tier would be for homeland security, such as guarding our borders, ports, nuclear installations and chemical plants. Included in this category would be police officers, firefighters, air marshals and disaster medical technicians. The third tier would be for civilian national service, such as the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Habitat for Humanity, Teach for America, assistance for the elderly and infirm, environmental work and the like. Women should be draft-eligible for the latter two categories and, of course, can volunteer for military service as now.
In return, all draftees, as well as voluntary servers, would receive generous financial aid for college and graduate school modeled after the GI Bill of World War II. Non-servers would be ineligible for federal student aid. Today more than $20 billion annually in federal funds is given to students who do not serve their country. We have created a GI Bill of Rights without the "GI."
Any conscription system must start at the top of the social ladder to have widespread public acceptance. During World War II and the Cold War, privileged youths were conscripted at a higher rate than youths from the lower socio-economic levels. (My draftee contemporary was Elvis Presley!) This was not true in the Vietnam War draft or in today's all-volunteer force. That only a handful of those in Congress have children in the military speaks directly to the inequity of military service today.
Three major arguments are raised against conscription. These are given below with rejoinders.
1. Short enlistments would increase demands on the training base. Let us remember that almost one-third of our service entrants now fail to complete their initial enlistments. This contrasts with a 10 percent dropout rate for draftees in the Cold War. Completion of an enlistment term is strongly correlated with higher education. It's much better to have a soldier serve a short draft tour honorably than be prematurely discharged. Conscription would both reduce personnel turnover and counter shortfalls in end strength.
2. The modern military requires highly technical skills that cannot be met by short-termers. Precisely. Higher compensation should be aimed at those whose skills require extended training and experience. In the draft era, the pay ratio between a senior non-commissioned officer and a private was six to one; today it is three to one. We now have overpaid recruits and underpaid sergeants.
3. Volunteers make better soldiers than those who are conscripted to serve. Item: in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, draftees had lower desertion and AWOL rates than volunteers. Item: Surveys of veterans find that draftees have a more favorable opinion of their military experience than do volunteers.
In brief, draftees could readily fill the multitude of jobs that require only a short formal training period or even just on-the-job training. It is well documented that higher-quality recruits have the skills and motivation to learn quickly a wide variety of military jobs.
Draftees would be ideally suited for duties on peacekeeping missions such as in Bosnia, Kosovo and the Sinai. Better educated and more mature draftees would also be ideal for guard duty in military prisons.
Without conscription, what will happen? We will see, as is already happening, a lowering of military entrance standards. And, as is already occurring, there will be an exponential increase in enlistment bonuses. And we can expect new policies to recruit non-Americans into our armed forces, though we will probably call such a force a Freedom Legion rather than a Foreign Legion.
There is also a financial argument for conscription. Recruits in the all-volunteer force are three times more costly--in constant dollars--than draftees. The erosion of the citizen soldier has made for a career force that's top-heavy. The Pentagon now owes its soldiers $654 billion in future retirement benefits that it cannot pay.
Above all, a compulsory national service program would give our youth--and future leaders--a shaping civic experience. The revival of the citizen soldier can only be to the advantage of the armed services and the nation.
Charles Moskos, a former draftee, is professor emeritus at Northwestern University. He is the author of "A Call to Civic Service" and "The Military: More Than Just a Job."