What should we make of the All-Volunteer Force? Government officials, be they Republicans or Democrats, and even some officers, assure us that it is working well—that the latest statistics show the services filling their recruiting quotas, that the average enlisted man is as intelligent as ever. They ‘tell us that the Defense Department cannot solve such manpower problems as do exist—the retention of noncommissioned officers, for example—by a return to a draft, but must turn instead to financial and other inducements. Few public men publicly support a reintroduction of the draft, even though President Reagan recently reversed his earlier position by failing to abolish the limited registration initiated by President Carter.
On the other hand, everyone senses that something is wrong. We read stories of tank mechanics who cannot fix turrets, and hear at fourth or fifth hand the grumblings of senior drill sergeants that neither the troops nor their training are what they used to be. When away from TV cameras and promised that their names will not be published, these sergeants, the men who hold the Army together, shake their heads and reminisce fondly about the disgruntled, occasionally insubordinate draftees who fought with them in Vietnam.
The All-Volunteer Force (AVF) was a notion put forward by Richard Nixon in 1969, although it was not fully implemented for several years. It resulted from two developments which occurred during the late 1960’s: the wave of popular revulsion against the draft because of Vietnam, and the swelling of the population of young males with the coming of age of the “baby-boom” generation.
Korea had been an unpopular war, but unlike Vietnam the Korean-war draft calls never excited an animus against conscription. Perhaps the reason was that so many of the draftees had older relatives or friends who had fought in World War II or had been recalled for the first year of Korea. In any event, things were different during the Vietnam war, when opposition to the draft went beyond a changing squiggle on public-opinion charts. Hundreds of thousands of young men—primarily the prosperous and well-educated—fled the country, faked illnesses, claimed special exemptions, and otherwise manipulated the cumbersome Selective Service System.
At the same time, it seemed to many both within the government and outside that the draft would be unnecessary in the future. Where in 1965 the total number of young men aged seventeen to twenty was six-and-a-half million, it was projected that the number in 1980 would be over eight-and-a-half million. Already in the 1960’s the Army was made up mostly of volunteers. Surely—argued the Gates Commission, appointed by Nixon to study the AVF—moderate pay increases could bring in the additional 75,000 or so enlistments that would, according to their calculations, be needed in the post-Vietnam period.
Two other, more abstract, considerations influenced the Gates commissioners. First, if a draft were to be continued, only a very small proportion of the eligible pool—a quarter or less—would probably be called. The government could not justify, nor would the public tolerate, such unequal burdens. Second, and perhaps more important, the commissioners agreed with the arguments advanced by such men as Milton Friedman and Martin Anderson (until recently a senior economic adviser to President Reagan) that conscription is a tax, not a duty, and a peculiarly inequitable tax at that.
Accordingly, the Gates Commission recommended, and the Nixon administration adopted, the idea of an All-Volunteer Force. No one has been drafted in the United States since 1973.
The AVF, as expected, has cost more than the draft-based armed forces because the pay of first-term soldiers has increased and the government has had to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on recruiting. But the financial burden of the current AVF has not been excessive. The real issue is not the costs of the AVF but its effects on our military capacities and our understanding of the civil burdens of national security.
For the most part the discussion that follows focuses on the Army, for it is the Army that the AVF affects most sharply. The Navy, Marines, and Air Force have traditionally relied primarily on volunteers. During Vietnam, for example, the Marines drafted barely 45,000 men, the Navy 2,500 men, the Air Force none at all. To be sure, these services benefited from the draft because many of their enlistees before and during the 1960’s were draft-induced—i.e., young men who preferred working with a monkey wrench on a tarmac or in an engine room to carrying an M-16 in a rice paddy. Nonetheless, it is the Army which needs the largest number of men and has the hardest time finding them, and it is the Army which is the ultimate test of the AVF.
The first question to be addressed in evaluating the AVF is how good the recruits are. For years officials assured the public that the AVF contained fewer Mental Category IV recruits (the lowest level acceptable to the Army) than ever before—that, in fact, such troops made up only 8 percent of the armed forces. Recently, however, the Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs of the Office of Management and Budget has acknowledged that “an error in test evaluation resulted in understating the number of Category IV . . . by a factor of six.” In short, 48 percent, not 8 percent, of the Army’s recruits are in the lowest of the four acceptable Mental Categories.
This confirms what seasoned NCO’s and officers tell questioners in private—namely, that the average recruit is simply not as bright as the draftee of bygone years. Government surveys of professional NCO’s and officers have either rejected this opinion as the product of prejudice or tacitly prevented its public expression by paying no heed to the importance of anonymity. Thus, the Defense Manpower Commission in the mid-1970’s sent out survey teams composed alternately of a black and a white or a man and a woman and had them question officers directly, rather than by questionnaire. In short order the interviewers noticed a “party line” and seemed surprised that interviewees sometimes anticipated their questions with stock answers. Such sloppy and biased methodology ignored the acute sensitivity of the armed services to even the appearance of divergence from the views of their civilian bosses, and ignored as well the military’s mastery of the art of bureaucratic self-protection.
Now that the Mental Category statistics appear unfavorable, defenders of the quality of the AVF point to the high percentage of high-school graduates in the armed forces—65 percent in the Army alone, according to the 1982 report of the Secretary of Defense. The armed services value high-school graduates not for their intelligence or training, but because the ability to complete high school indicates possession of enough self-discipline to succeed in Army life. As educators know all too well, however, a high-school diploma is no longer an indicator of real academic performance, or even of perseverance (well over three-quarters of American youths now complete high school). One also suspects that high-school diploma statistics may be inflated by recruiters under pressure to fill their quotas or by would-be entrants eager to get into the Army.
Moreover, the Army expects to lose approximately a third of its male first-term enlistees before they complete their initial three years of duty—and many of these will be involuntarily separated because of their sheer incapacity. We may also ask why, if the troops are as good as ever, some army manuals are now pitched to the reading levels of those who have not even completed grade school.
One soldier who has disappeared from the ranks in the AVF is the college-educated or partly college-educated man. This group, who once supplied not only the clerks but also the medics and even some of the infantrymen, were occasionally troublesome but more often highly useful to the Army, because of their intelligence, ability to improvise, and, in a pinch, lead. Their disappearance has deprived the Army of a second echelon of potential leaders and doers behind the NCO’s.
But what difference does it make if recruits are not as bright as before? True, statistics reveal that more intelligent men do better even at unskilled jobs than their slower comrades, but most slower men can be trained if they are willing (and many are) and if the Army provides them with special educational services or recycles them through training. The armed services are, after all, past masters at simple, clear instruction, and much of modern technology actually simplifies the work of front-line soldiers—it is easier to operate and fire an antitank missile than ever it was to operate an antitank gun.
One might as well ask executives why they want intelligent secretaries, when all that such employees need are a few fairly mechanical skills like typing or taking dictation. More to the point, those who assure us that stupid soldiers can make good infantrymen should ask themselves whether, if they had to go on a patrol behind enemy lines, knowing that a lapse in alertness, willing cooperation, or initiative could lead to death in a sudden ambush, they would prefer stupid to bright comrades. The dull-witted soldier does not simply get himself killed—he causes the death of others as well.
In war, one’s officers or NCO’s are often killed or otherwise disabled. The survival of a unit therefore frequently depends on the spontaneous assumption of leadership by intelligent soldiers, no matter how low their official rank. Even in less drastic situations, units need intelligent men, men who can learn enough in advance or on the spot to replace a key member of a team—a tank driver, for example—suddenly incapacitated.
It is often remarked that the draft can only affect the quality of the lower ranks, not the officers or NCO corps. To the contrary, however, a draft exposes many men to military life who would not otherwise think of making a career out of it. In 1967, for example, some 20 percent of all Army draftees (inductees, not draft-induced volunteers) reenlisted.
The AVF, then, has reduced the overall quality of America’s military manpower. To be sure, the smaller services (the Marines, for example) and elite units in the Army (such as the Ranger battalions or the 82nd Airborne Division) still attract intelligent and aggressive soldiers, for there has always been a hard core of volunteers who enjoy soldiering and gravitate to these tough, prestigious units. One cannot, however, fight major wars with elite units alone; great armies are great because of their quality overall.
In addition to lowering the quality of the Army, reliance on volunteers has (despite the prediction of the Gates Commission) caused a drastic shrinkage in the size of the armed forces, active and reserve. In 1964 (the last pre-Vietnam year) the armed services had 2,685,000 men on active duty—in 1981 they had 2,065,000, 20 percent, or more than half-a-million, fewer. Reservists in organized units numbered 953,000 in 1964, and 30,000 fewer seventeen years later. The current active-duty force of barely two million represents the lowest projection made by the Gates Commission in 1970—the mid-level projection was for a two-and-a-half-million-man force, the high projection for a three-million-man force.
Nor should this shrinkage surprise us. Even when a serviceman’s pay is comparable to what he would earn in civilian life, the nature of his work is utterly different. He must subject himself to a discipline and hierarchy which he may find irksome: he may be required to risk or even lose his life at the behest of a twenty-one-year-old second lieutenant newly graduated from college. A sizable proportion of our population, no doubt, has a taste for the military life, and indeed a draft is one of the best ways of finding such men. However, moderate financial rewards will not induce large numbers of average Americans—men who cherish autonomy and independence—to join the colors.
How have defense planners coped with the decline in the size of our forces? In reserve units in particular, civilians are more heavily used than before, but overall the number of civilians hired by the Pentagon has sunk from 1,035,000 in 1964 to 916,000 in 1981. The armed services are understandably reluctant to transfer all support functions to civilians, however, for two good reasons. First, soldiers, unlike civilians, serve under military discipline. In the event of war their superiors can require them to work hard anywhere on earth, under hazardous conditions, for an indefinite period of time; not so civilians. Second, during the course of any prolonged war, armies run short of infantrymen and other combat specialists. The speediest and most effective method of replacing losses is to reequip and retrain service troops and send them into battle.
Another alternative open to the services would have been the reduction of the organizational strength of the armed forces—i.e., the elimination of some of the units currently deployed. As it turned out, the Pentagon took the opposite course. During the mid-1970’s the Defense Department decided to deploy 16 Army divisions rather than the 13 then existing; furthermore, agitation by Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia and others forced the conversion of thousands of American service troops in Europe to two more combat brigades.
Why did the Pentagon do this? For one thing, defense planners, alarmed by the steady increase in Soviet strength in Europe and Soviet-bloc activity elsewhere, sought to extract the greatest possible combat power from American resources. A second reason was the conviction on the part of civilian and some military strategists that the U.S. Army had too much tail and too few teeth: the 16-division Army and the two Nunn brigades would, it was hoped, create a leaner, more effective Army.
One may ask whether this was sound reasoning. After all, American forces, unlike their Soviet or German counterparts, must prepare to fight long struggles in remote, occasionally undeveloped theaters of war, and hence need large numbers of service and lines-of-communication troops. For that reason, during World War II the Army could activate only 89 divisions, rather than the 210 planned. This dispute, however, is beside the point. Given the decision to expand the field forces of the U.S. Army, what were the consequences?
Defense planners turned, in the early 1970’s, to the “Total Force” concept—that is, the close integration of reserve units into the military machine. Thus, were the President to assemble the Rapid Deployment Force, one out of three of its approximately 300,000 men would be reservists. Four of the Army’s divisions consist of two rather than the normal three brigades—they each rely on an additional “roundout” brigade from the National Guard. Other divisions would draw one or two battalions from the reserves and National Guard in order to bring their combat forces up to strength. In addition, the Army as a whole relies on reservists for over two-thirds of its tactical support forces.
This unprecedented reliance on reserve units runs counter to Army predilections. Unlike their counterparts in Germany or Israel, our professional officers have historically had little use for this variety of citizen-soldier. There would be nothing wrong with reliance on reservists, however, were adequate financial and human resources devoted to the creation of effective forces like those of Israel or Switzerland, and were the force structure carefully designed to maximize the strengths and minimize the weaknesses of such systems. This, unfortunately, is not the situation in the United States.
The Swiss and Israeli governments mobilize their reservists only for training or when the homeland itself is menaced. In our case, civilians would have to be called up and hastily dispatched to distant theaters of war—the Persian Gulf, for example—even if the crisis were not acute. The necessity of such a call-up would present a President with a formidable political problem (the last major call-up—in 1961, during the Berlin crisis—was extremely unpopular). A President, therefore, might delay mobilization until a late stage in a crisis. Further delays would then ensue because it takes time to assemble reservists and give them refresher training. Thus, forces requiring reserve support would only be readied for war months later than would a self-contained standing force.
There are other military objections to the Total Force concept. The United States, unlike Israel or Switzerland, does not keep its reserve forces at full war strength. Typically, a reserve unit at 100-percent peacetime strength may still be at only 75 percent of its wartime strength. What is the result? During past mobilizations—World War II, Korea, and 1961—units took anywhere from seven months to a year to get ready for overseas deployment. Fillers—conscripts or individual ready reservists (men with a reserve obligation but no local affiliation)—had to be incorporated into units. The whole unit, therefore, had to be retrained in order to absorb the newcomers, particularly if the latter included draftees, and the result was that the unit formed no faster than if it had been made afresh from new conscripts. As General Lesley J. McNair, the architect of American combat forces during World War II, pointed out, training must be progressive: a collection of soldiers, even if they are skilled at their personal tasks, is useless, because war readiness requires team training and practiced cooperation.
The composition of reserve units has changed drastically since the late 1960’s. Then the reserves were a haven for those who wanted an honorable way of avoiding service in Vietnam. When the draft ended, so did the pressure on college men to join. Thus, where in 1970 over half the reserves had some college education, today fewer than one in ten do. In the best of circumstances, reservists need to be sharper than their regular counterparts, because they have less time to practice their skills.
To some extent another shift in the composition of the reserves alleviates this problem. Where only one out of three reservists in 1970 had had prior service (beyond basic and advanced training), in 1975 more than two-thirds were in that category. Presumably, reservists who have served for three years or more retain their skills better than those who have served only three months.
On the other hand, the predominance of prior-service personnel poses peculiar problems. A reserve infantry battalion will need just as many buck privates as its regular counterpart, but it is a dull soldier indeed who is still a buck private at the end of a three-year hitch. Moreover, if the Army succeeds in retaining a higher proportion of its soldiers (and that is a laudable goal), fewer soldiers will be available for reserve duty. Finally, reliance on veterans means greater difficulty in matching military specialties with the needs of the reserves, unless prior-service personnel are willing to undergo considerable retraining.
There are other, equally serious, problems in the individual ready reserve (IRR)—the pool of unaffiliated individuals who do not belong to local reserve units with whom they train monthly. For the most part these are men who have completed their active tour and are simply waiting out the remainder of their six-year contract. It is this group that the Army needs to provide replacements for casualties and fillers for under-strength units. Leaving aside the problem—a serious one—of how long individual reservists retain their skills after separation from active duty, one confronts the problem of shortfalls in the IRR because of the smaller size of the AVF and the lengthening of tours in it. Mobilization exercises suggest that American units would be several hundred thousand men short in the event of full-scale mobilization. In addition, some critics have cast doubt on the Army’s projection that a full 70 percent of these reservists would show up promptly and be suitable for quick reinsertion into units.
Our reserve forces are now receiving more equipment and high-level attention than ever before, and that is all to the good. Nonetheless, the Total Force concept is not a carefully considered product of mature political and military thought. It is, rather, a desperate attempt to plug holes created by the 16-division-plus Army. Ironically, one reason advanced by the then Secretary of Defense, James Schlesinger, in support of the 16-division Army was that it did not seem to him prudent for the United States to rely on its mobilization abilities—including its reserve system—in the event of sudden war.
An intelligent reserve policy can serve a country’s military needs well indeed, as the Israeli, Swiss, and German armies have demonstrated. By interspersing reserve units with regular ones, however, the United States loses the benefits of both. A standing force, if complete, will get into battle faster and, initially at least, perform better, than a reserve unit. Reserve units, if fully manned and if allowed to draw on the entire male population, can produce cheap and effective forces led by men who have military talent but no taste for a military career. Composite units, however, cost more then reserves, may take as long to mobilize, and probably will not fight as well as standing ones.
The last measure the armed services have adopted to fill the manpower gaps caused by the AVF has been the wholesale introduction of women into the armed forces. In 1971 less than 2 percent of the armed forces consisted of women; today, more than 8 percent does. (This growth has been even more noticeable in the reserves.) The Women’s Army Corps no longer exists. Instead, the Army assigns women to all military specialties save infantry and armor, and there are those who would put an end even to those exclusions.
Why did the services take this step, given that it not only represents a departure from traditional practice, but flies in the face of military procedure in virtually every country—certainly, every major military power—in the world? Israel, for example, well-known for its female soldiers, maintains a separate women’s corps (Chen) and resolutely keeps women out of all combat-related specialties. Unlike the Americans, the Israelis do not have women driving the supply trucks or building the roads near the front lines, much less serving in field or air-defense artillery batteries. Above all, the Israelis keep their women soldiers as far back as possible from battle zones.
In part, the large-scale incorporation of women into the armed forces was foisted upon the services by social activists in the Pentagon who objected to “sexism” in civilian life and saw no reason to tolerate it in the armed forces. Like Robert McNamara, who forced the services to take “disadvantaged” substandard recruits and educate them (“Project 100,000”), they saw the armed forces as a multipurpose institution—one that should conduct social programs as well as prepare to fight.
The services bear some responsibility as well. Desperate to achieve recruiting goals, they turned to women, who bring higher intelligence on average and present fewer discipline problems (in the sense of rowdiness) than do men. Moreover, some officers, particularly the younger ones, did not escape the influence of the feminist ideology that flourished in the United States during the 1970’s.
No putative remedy for the AVF’s shortcomings, however, is as fraught with hazard and horror as this one. What will Americans feel when they see on television mangled female corpses on the battlefield; when they welcome home the first female casualties who have had their faces sheared off by shell fragments; or when they read the first reports of the rape of female soldiers and the fates of their infants in prisoner-of-war camps? Such will be the realities of war in the future, for such have been (mutatis mutandis) the realities of war in the past.
We must weigh the military implications of the introduction of large numbers of females into the armed forces, and to do this we must remember what war demands of soldiers. Consider, then, the Armistice Day 1942 speech of General McNair, the mild and scholarly commander of the Army ground forces during World War II:
Our soldiers must have the fighting spirit. If you call that hating our enemies, then we must hate with every fiber of our being. We must lust for battle; our object in life must be to kill; we must scheme and plan day and night to kill. There need be no pangs of conscience, for our enemies have lighted the way to faster, surer, and crueler killing; they are past masters. We must hurry to catch up with them if we are to survive. Since killing is the object of our efforts, the sooner we get in the killing mood, the better and more skillful we shall be when the real test comes. The struggle is for survival—kill or be killed.
To understand the implications of incorporating large numbers of women in the armed forces, substitute the words “American women” for “our soldiers” and “we.”
True enough, many (though by no means all) agree that women do not belong in infantry and armor units because they have less physical strength (particularly upper-body strength) and stamina than men. Such formal exclusion from combat, however, means nothing. The troops carrying supplies to the front or repairing blown-out bridges are just as likely to have to fight as infantrymen. A noncombat MOS (military occupational specialty) provides no guarantee against capture, wounds, or death. The Marines have long clung to a sound doctrine, which holds that every Marine is a rifleman first and a specialist second. The 1st Marine Division’s epic fighting retreat from the Chosan reservoir in Korea during the winter of 1950-51 succeeded only because the vastly outnumbered Marines could issue rifles to their rear-area troops—the clerks, orderlies, and cooks—and send them immediately to hold the line. It is no coincidence that the Marines have fewer women proportionately as well as absolutely than does the Army.
The large-scale introduction of women into the armed forces subverts discipline and morale—not the superficial discipline of the parade ground or the “ice-cream” morale of troops who have unlimited supplies of beer and easy access to dubious entertainments, but the discipline and morale that enable men to do their duty despite fatigue and discomfort, despite fear of capture, fear of mutilation, and fear of death. The building blocks of such discipline and morale are intangible. They include fear of disgracing oneself before one’s buddies, “machismo,” and even hate. The point is that group cohesiveness of this peculiar kind is best fostered in all-male groups, for in mixed groups various extraneous and destructive impulses begin to work—sexual desire or envy, pity, and misogyny among them. If men and women are different, and their differences extend beyond the obvious ones of muscular strength and reproductive capacity, women have no place among America’s field troops.
If the AVF has damaged the spirit of the American forces, it has hurt the wider population no less by giving credence to a false doctrine of civic duty. The economists who shaped the Gates Commission report devised arcane and improbably mathematical equations to calculate the “tax” imposed by military service. They scoffed at the notion that soldiering was anything but a job—a dangerous one, to be sure, but a job nonetheless, like construction work or lumbering. They defined the manpower problem as a procurement problem like any other—a question of acquiring a fixed quantity of “inputs” at minimum cost.
The economists have ignored Marshal St. Cyr’s wise observation that “the laws governing recruitment are political institutions.” The proper analogy for military service is not payment of taxes but performance of jury duty. In the case of jury duty, as in the case of the draft, the citizen participates directly in the pursuit of an elevated communal end—in the one, administration of justice, in the other, defense of a civilization and country worth defending. We do not try those accused of crime by jury because that is a cheap or “cost-effective” method; we do so because it befits our society and our self-respect. The economist freely admits that the AVF’s success or failure depends largely on the state of the economy—in bad times more men will join, in good times fewer. Would he also subject the rendering of justice to the vagaries of the marketplace?
By calling the draft a tax, the economist mis-defines the issue. To be sure, liberal societies are repelled by the undeniable and ineradicable regimentation required by military life. Yet there is another side as well, summed up by Woodrow Wilson in 1919:
A friend of mine made a very poignant remark to me one day. He said: “Did you ever see a family that hung its son’s yardstick on a ledger or spade up over the mantelpiece?” But how many of you have seen the lad’s rifle, his musket, hung up! Well, why? A musket is a barbarous thing. The spade and the yardstick and the ledger are the symbols of peace and steady business; why not hang them up? Because they do not represent self-sacrifice. They do not glorify you in the same sense that the musket does, because when you took that musket at the call of your country you risked everything and knew you could not get anything. The most that you could do was to come back alive, but after you came back alive there was a halo about you. . . .
It is ironic that the economist dismisses or ignores the noble aspects of military service and war, for the practical consequence of his policies has been to unfit the Army for the grim and brutal realities it exists to confront.
The AVF, then, has failed. This being the case, it should be replaced by a draft. But while we need a draft, we should not assume that this means the kind of lottery selective draft for two years of service that we had in the past. The reintroduction of that form of conscription would alleviate our short-term problems, but would pave the way for problems in the future. It would appear inequitable, for it would fall upon few of the eligible young men: the draft notice would be a blow of fate, not a universal summons to duty. Public pressure would operate on government to return to an AVF if and when that appeared possible, and some politicians would no doubt succumb to such pressure.
Moreover, as Vietnam demonstrated, it is a grave political and military mistake to use conscripts in the small, dirty wars beyond the European continent that the United States must prepare to fight. Nor, in fact, is it just to force young men to fight wars which cannot, by their nature, receive the wholehearted support of the country, the commitment to a total effort, that distinguished the Civil War and the world wars.
A solution, however, does exist. We can begin by restructuring our reserve forces. A first-line volunteer reserve should be available to the President for sudden expansion of the armed forces at his discretion. States should have their own militias to assist in the preservation of order and to perform the other non-military functions—disaster relief, for example—of the current National Guard. But the Guard itself should be completely federalized: it and the state militias should draw their strength from a draft of all (or almost all) able-bodied young men for a period of training (say, three to six months) plus five or six years of reserve duty. The National Guard—the conscripts, in other words—should only be sent overseas in the event of a declaration of war by Congress.
The active forces should remain volunteer, filled by recruits serving a three-year contract. Undoubtedly, many conscripts would choose to volunteer rather than perform Guard duty: a draft of any kind always leads to voluntary enlistments and reenlistments. Thus, a reserve draft would improve the quality of our active forces. Our reserve forces could, for the first time in our history, serve as an effective second line of citizen soldiers, which would be ready for battle more quickly than the citizen armies of the world wars. If we had many such divisions, fully manned, equipped, and well-trained, we might even be able to return to a 13- or 14-division Army.
The notion of military obligation embodied in such a plan would fit our liberal institutions. The form of military service would be, essentially, that of colonial and early-American militia duty—an obligation for training and actual service in time of grave national peril. It would be equitable, because most young men would serve—particularly the sons of the middle and upper classes. It is a system proposed by George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, Theodore Roosevelt and (in a slightly different form) Harry Truman. It would be expensive, perhaps, but savings could be made in recruiting budgets and first-year pay for volunteers. Such a system has hardly reduced Switzerland or the Scandinavian countries to penury.
The alternative of national service—offered primarily by those who see the need for a military draft, but cannot bring themselves to advocate one publicly—is at once impractical and undesirable. Impractical, because national service—which would probably include women—would require the placement of vast numbers of discontented, underpaid youngsters in makework jobs throughout the country. It would be undesirable because it would transform the idea of an obligation to prepare for the defense of one’s country into one of corvèe—forced labor for the state.
An all-volunteer force was compatible with American institutions and needs in the days when our role in world politics was small, our commitments negligible. Such is not the case today when our Navy sails the globe, when over a third of a million of our soldiers and airmen guard our European and Asian allies, and when almost as many are being prepared to fight in the Persian Gulf. To repudiate conscription under these circumstances is not merely to embrace a false notion of obligations and rights—it is to risk humiliation, needless loss of life, and perhaps catastrophe.