Recently Clyde Haberman wrote a piece for the Editorial Noteback segment of the New York Times that appeared on its editorial page October 26, 2017. In 2005 in a piece for The New York Observer I wrote something similar advocating a return to the draft. Here it is for you to compare it with Clyde Haberman’s article.
The Draft by Ron Steinman (as appeared in The New York Observer in early 2005)
Hardly any are speaking of it, and then only in a whisper, but an explosive and divisive issue lies just below the surface, facing President Bush, his White House, cabinet and the American people. The draft.
Remembering how the draft in Vietnam worked is not pleasant. Its abuse is an even worse memory. Think for a moment of those in power who did not serve. President Clinton stayed out. President Bush disappeared somewhere into the reserve and is still missing over Georgia. Dick Cheney managed to never get near Vietnam. Today in Congress, only Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota has a child serving in Iraq. What does that say about privilege and a willingness to serve?
When we recall those drafted for service in Vietnam and who they were, it is easy to understand the disenchantment with a system built on privilege and power, a system that allowed the United States government to put minorities and the underclass on the front lines. After all, they were not contributing much to the economy anyway, so instead train them for a few weeks, give them uniforms and guns, and send them to war to do the dirty work of the old men who started the war in the first place. True, the draft became more equitable toward the end, but the damage, already done, was impossible to repair.
We do not have enough troops on active duty to cover the world, but they are everywhere anyway. America now has troops in Iceland, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Bosnia, Bahrain, Qatar, Haiti, Guantanamo Bay, the United Kingdom, Afghanistan, Germany, Japan, including Okinawa, and South Korea. Not to mention South America and Africa. There are 135,000 men and women in Iraq. They will stay for the duration despite what the Department of Defense says about recycling and a drop in their number as the country stabilizes. If. One million plus remain stationed in the United States. I do not include Special Forces operations underway in the world anytime in the dark.
We are running out of young people, meaning volunteers, and that is why we call up the reserves and the National Guard, neither of which has the necessary training for sustained engagement in a war, nor as police. Weekend warriors do not make always reliable frontline troops. Add to these call-ups the problems they face when they return home. There are lost jobs, failed businesses, inability to pay mortgages, broken homes. Morale suffers both at home and for the troops in the field. This does not make for a military with the ability to concentrate on the job at hand, fighting a war, any war, anywhere in the world.
With the potential for more hot wars, the need for emergency troops to for cooling out of control situations such as Liberia and Haiti, and with the pool of volunteers waning, we must do something to help wage the war on terrorism which will surely not taper off soon.
If Iraq ends tomorrow, successful or not, and all our troops come home, we will still have to restock our military. Reservists and National Guard will return home, I hope, to resume normal lives badly disrupted by the war. Will be other wars similar to Iraq? That is beside the point. Rest assured, in the world as it is today, (and as it will undoubtedly worsen,) there will be a never-ending need for fresh, well-trained troops.
America’s volunteer army has been remarkable, and its men and women the best in the world. However, without a draft to fill the empty slots caused by attrition, the end of a tour, death, and wounds, we will never have the strong military we need and deserve. Better we do it now it than wait. Later it may be too late. However, the new draft must be equitable. It must use the full pool of all able-bodied young men and women. Deferments should be for anyone who cannot cut it physically or mentally, or if they prove extreme hardship. If a military position is not an option for the person, they should serve in some capacity, full or part-time, on the home front to relieve those on the front lines.
Naturally, there are those so opposed to any war on political grounds they might become draft dodgers to protest government policies. They will never be a major factor though, and if they believe by running they are making a statement, I say more power to them. The reality is that the world is not at peace now and will not be at peace in the future. If we are to preserve everything we love, especially for our children, we had better protect them the best we can. A standing volunteer army is not the answer. The draft is.