There’s No Good Reason To Bring Back The Draft….And Plenty Of Bad Ones

Motivated mostly by his opposition to the Iraq War, Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha, along with New York Congressman Charles Rangel, has been among the most vocal members of Congress talking about the idea of bringing back the draft, and forcing young men, and presumably women, into military service whether they like it or not.

Let’s leave aside for the moment the individual rights argument against the draft….and it is a powerful one in that it argues that no person should be forced to put their life at risk against their will, or otherwise forced to engage in “service to their country” that they don’t wish to perform, and ask ourselves if it is really militarily efficient.

According to a study requested by Congressman Murtha himself, the answer is no:

The report, requested by Rep. John Murtha, D-Penn., chairman of the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, says that drafting people could make it easier for the Army to reach its 2012 goal of 547,000 soldiers. It might also save some money if Congress opted to pay draftees less than volunteers. But the downside, the report claims, would be a less effective fighting force, thanks to a sudden influx of draftees who would remain in uniform for much shorter spells than today’s all-volunteer soldiers.

“Usually, greater accumulated knowledge and skills come with increased experience,” the report notes. “Because most draftees leave after completing a two-year obligation, a draft might affect the services’ ability to perform those functions efficiently.” To maintain the same capability, the CBO suggests, the Army might have to grow, which could eliminate any savings. On the other hand, increased training costs for draftees – with less time in uniform, more have to be trained – could be offset by cuts in advertising and bonuses now used to entice volunteer recruits.

The report says that while 91% of last year’s recruits were high school graduates, only 80% of U.S. residents aged 18 to 24 have attained that level of education. And high-school graduates, the military says, make better soldiers than dropouts. The CBO, which does not make recommendations but only charts options for lawmakers, estimates that somewhere between 27,000 and 165,000 would be drafted each year. That relative small slice – some 2 million males turn 18 each year – could resurrect the problems seen in the Vietnam era when deferments and friendly draft boards kept some well-connected young men out of uniform. Under current law, women could not be drafted.

If it doesn’t make military or economic sense to launch the draft, what about the notion of fairness? Critics have claimed that minorities are over-represented in the all-volunteer military because they have fewer options in the civilian world. The CBO disputes that, saying that “members of the armed forces are racially and ethnically diverse.” African Americans accounted for 13% of active-duty recruits in 2005, just under their 14% share of 17-to-49-year-olds in the overall U.S. population. And minorities are not being used as cannon fodder. “Data on fatalities indicate that minorities are not being killed [in Iraq and Afghanistan] at greater rates than their representation in the force,” the study says. “Rather, fatalities of white service members have been higher than their representation in the force,” in large part because whites are over-represented in the military’s combat, as opposed to support, jobs.

As more than one military expert has made clear in the years since 9/11, the draft simply doesn’t make sense in the modern military. In the past — whether it’s World War I, World II, Korea, or Vietnam — brute force of arms was a far more important factor on the battlefield than it is today. Today, it’s not the number of men that matter, it’s their ability to use and understand the technology of modern warfare that matters.

And that’s not something you can instill in a raw draftee off the streets the way you could teach him to march and shoot a rifle at Nazis or Japs in WW 2.

But that’s only part of the equation. The other part is the one I mentioned before, the individual rights part. Outside of an immediate threat to the internal security of the United States, what right does the Federal Government have to force me, you, or our children to fight and die in a foreign land ? None that I can think of and, quite honestly, the Thirteenth Amendment would seem to make clear that no person can be forced into servitude against their will.

And then there’s yet another part to the equation.

When a government is able force it’s citizens into military service, it has the ability to raise an army that can accomplish nearly anything, including expanding spheres of influence and creating empires. As Randolph Bourne said, war is the health of the state. And a state capable of making war when it wishes, is capable of expanding its power, both at home and abroad, far beyond what anyone ever intended.

H/T: Outside The Beltway

  • Steve S.

    Outside of an immediate threat to the internal security of the United States, what right does the Federal Government have to force me, you, or our children to fight and die in a foreign land ?

    IMHO, The Fed’s have NO right to force anyone to fight, in any situation.

    In the word’s of Lazarus Long (aka Robert Heinlein):

    No state has an inherent right to survive through conscript troops and in the long run, no state ever has. Roman matrons used to say to their sons: “Come back with your shield, or on it.” Later on, this custom declined. So did Rome.

  • Dario Franchitti

    You do not address the reason why a pro-draft argument has emerged. It is has nothing to do with the size or scope of our military.

    The main reason is that many feel that the general populace should have skin in the game. Right now we esentially have a private army. There are no (significant) anti-war protests (even though the sentiment is generally anti-war) because we have a military of voluntary enlisters. If the military consisted of conscripts rather than volunteers, the actions of our government would be more in line with the people’s desires.

    I would argue that an army of conscripts – even if significantly larger than our current one – could NOT “accomplish nearly anything” per the will of the government. To the contrary, all citizens would have a tremendous vested interest in ensuring we are undertaking a valid and just cause.

    Contrast Iraq to Vietnam. Why no mass protests in the street? Because it doesn’t affect anyone who did self-select to be affected.

  • Doug Mataconis


    And you do not address the fundamental fact that the draft is, at it’s core, slavery.

  • Brad R

    Dario, mass protests in the streets didn’t seem to stop nearly 60,000 of our soldiers from being killed in some far off jungle that would have otherwise never affected their lives. At some point you have to realize that the government doesn’t *actually* give a damn about what the people want, draft or no draft. Only if it gets them votes.

  • Jed

    Be assured that no matter how it’s implemented, the draft will be unfair. Those with money or connections will avoid it or will get the cushy jobs.

    The current administration is so enamored with the free market. Let them use free market principles here. If they need more qualified soldiers, they can just raise their salaries until the recruits show up. The soldiers will then have a contract specifying how long and how often they can be deployed overseas. If the military needs more or longer deployments, they can renegotiate the contracts.

    Does this sound like a mercenary force? Yes – that’s what it is. Iraq has nothing to do with defending the United States, so it should be fought by mercenaries. If the survival of the United States is at stake, the country will do what it must to survive, but for now, this is all about business. Long live the free market!

  • Dave

    I’m surprised that so many people believe that democracies (even imperfect one; the only kind that will ever exist) can survive and prosper without the support of their citizens. I respect your view of the importance of individual rights, but to portray a draft (should really be National Service if you want to have a serious discussion) as slavery (as Doug does), doesn’t do justice to the argument. The duty that we should all have to our state is not to some mythical amalgamation. Rather, it is mutual obligation to all the citizen with whom we share a pact that sustains something that we all benefit from. It isn’t always easy and can’t be cost-free, including an obligation to sometimes put away our myopic individual interests.
    Some kind of national service that balances the ethical and moral principles of individuals with their obligations to their fellow citizens is necessary if we are to have a functioning, fair democracy.

  • Nick M

    I have no obligations to anyone but myself Dave. I owe nobody for being born. I have no duty to the state. The duty is that of the state to me.

  • Quincy

    Dave –

    Do you honestly mean to say, on top of a tax system that keeps me working for the state three and a half hours every weekday (which is the amount of my day it takes to pay for the taxes taken out of my paycheck), you’d want to press me and every other young citizen into the servitude of the government for two years, when the very organization I would be joining doesn’t want me? Sounds like a plan that, all other arguments aside, is beneficial for neither the state nor the individual.

  • Amy


    Your viewpoint is called Collectivism.

    The right to life supersedes the states’ interest. If one volunteers to potentially lose their life for the good of many, fine. What you are suggesting is that it is one civic duty– I call that collateral damage!

    BTW–We are a Republic; not a Democracy.

    E pluribus unum !!!

  • Buckwheat

    Mataconis, do you realize that you’re in agreement here with long-shot presidential candidate Ron Paul? I realize Paul won’t win the nomination (I know this because Mataconis told me), but I still like agreeing with him 100% on every single issue ever created.

    The only time I disagree with long-shot dark horse Ron Paul is when Mataconis tells me to.

  • tarran


    I have a question for you: who decides what your obligations to your fellow citizens are?

    Let’s say you lived on an island with 399 other people split into two tribes. Your tribe, A numbers 50, and the other tribe, B, numbers 350.

    Let’s say that tribe B announces that they intend to kil all them members of tribe A unless tribe A kills one of its female members and serves her up as a nice roast for tribe B’s next feast.

    So your fellow tribesmen get together and come to a nearly unanimous decision; the 48 other tribesmen decide that your wife, whom you love very much, is going to be killed and cooked. Your wife is, understandably not enthusiastic about this. Your chief tells her that she must make this sacrifice to for the sake of the community; that she has a moral obligation to die for her tribe, that she will die anyway should tribe B attack.

    So, Dave, what will you tell your wife? Will you tell her to submit meekly to the strangler’s cord? Will you risk your life defending her?