Peace Time: August 10, 1999

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Unable to attract sufficient volunteers for the armed forces, calls to bring back the draft are once more being heard in Congress. Conscription is always a popular proposal, for many Americans see it as a way to fill the ranks while also exposing a wide spectrum of young Americans to adult supervision, public service, and each other. It has long been noted that two years of military service shapes up many and enlightens a few. It's also the only way young men from difference ethnic groups and economic classes get to work closely together and get to know each other. While these are positive things, they are little more than making the most of a bad situation. In general, young men have never liked the idea of being hauled off for one to six years of "national service." While an ancient practice, it became common in the first half of this century. Public opinion being what it is, most nations have gotten rid of the draft. By popular demand, so to speak. But now the United States, with the largest volunteer armed forces on the planet and the most robust economy, wants to bring back the draft to keep the ranks filled. Won't work. The draft is basically an all or nothing arrangement. You avoid popular unrest, your conscription plan has to be fair. You can't be fair if you only need about 20,000 new troops annually and the eligible pool of prospects each year is over a million. Who gets taken? This is not an easy question to answer. In fact, it was a similar situation to this in the early 1960s that laid the foundation of the anti-Vietnam war movement later in the decade. It was all a matter of numbers. After the Korean war ended in 1953, the draft remained. It had been stopped a few years after World War II, but brought back quickly when the Korean war began in 1950. But in the late 1950s, the size of the armed forces was reduced. Thus there were several hundred thousand more young men available for the draft than the military needed. What to do? The local draft boards that actually selected who was to go were local for good reason. The members of each board were respected pillar-of-the-community types who worked hard to do the right thing, and still deliver their monthly quotas of conscripts. The important thing was for the families with draft age boys feeling that the selection of who would go was fair. When not as many conscripts were needed, the draft boards stretched the definition of who was exempt, or deferred. This was common, even in wartime. When you need more people, you dog down deeper into the pool of eligibles. By the early 1960s, it was routine to defer all manner of students, married men without children, cops, teachers and medical personnel. These rules varied with the needs of each draft board, as some boards had more young men to select from than others. When the Vietnam war came along, all the deferment categories made famous by rampant Vietnam era draft dodging already existed. But while many people saw it as fair to defer or exempt a cop or teacher in peacetime, it was another matter when there was a war going on and draftees were getting killed. Thus the draft became wildly unpopular, and was eventually dropped again in 1972, because most people saw it as unfair. And this is why another peacetime draft will not work. In 2000, there will be over 1.6 million 18 year olds eligible for the draft. Some have proposed drafting women as well, so there's another 1.6 million. Exclude those not eligible for health (mental and physical) or situational (in prison, pregnant, vital defense job, student) and you still have far more people than are needed. Do you use a lottery? That's one game of chance that is not popular at all. "Win the draft lottery and lose two years of your life," will be the cry before long. The only fair draft is the wartime one, where all are eligible and all serve.

August 2; Unable to meet recruiting goals (it will be 8,000 short this year), the US Army is considering a plan to hire civilian professionals to replace sergeants assigned to recruiting duty. The theory is that regular Army personnel regard recruiting duty as a career-wrecking punishment tour and don't do as good a job as they should. Civilians who are hired, fired, and paid based on their performance might dredge up more troops. In a controversial move, however, those civilian contracted recruiters who once were sergeants will be allowed to wear their old Army uniforms displaying the rank and medals they earned while on active service. In another controversial move, the Army is considering a plan to recruit more high school dropouts and people with GEDs instead of diplomas. These now constitute 10% of the Army, the maximum allowed by current policy. The problem is that high school dropouts have the lowest percentage of people who complete their first tour. The Army is conducting a study to find a way to pick the dropouts who have "stick-to-it" natures. --Stephen V Cole

 


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