Should we go back to the universal draft for the military?

While the professional Army has shown its value in relatively short, highly technological actions, its relatively low numbers put too much stress on the troops. Photo: U.S. Department of State

MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., October 13, 2011 — The all voluntary military has been with us for almost 40 years. It has been successful in most of our conflicts since then, but there are signs of weakness related to numbers. Then add to that the fact that 75% of our population doesn’t even appear to be actively engaged in even following two wars we Americans are underwriting. Perhaps the universal draft had some advantages after all and maybe we should return to it.

When we became the professional and voluntary military, the services raised the standards for entry and they still had more recruits than they needed. Almost 17 years of peace and the collegial atmosphere in military bases were the talk of many young men and women who believed they had found a vocation for the rest of their working lives. The almost instantaneous victory after some months of hardship in the desert during the Gulf War was an acceptable exchange for a secure future.

Compared to the barracks that I knew during the Vietnam era, the ones used today are luxury resort pads. Single or double occupancy rooms with TVs, stereos, and computers could compete with dorms at even the most expensive universities in the country. Additionally fantastic uniforms that didn’t look at all like the sad sack attire that we had in the 60s make these attractive young men and women look great.

So what could be wrong with this new military?

By definition the professional military is a smaller, highly trained, and motivated force. It has proven to be very effective as a short term, rapidly deployed force in conflicts like the first Gulf War and the Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Kosovo conflicts. These conflicts depended on rapid, highly technological assaults for which our military was well prepared.

Soon after the cowardly acts of 9/11, an allied force controlled by our military invaded and routed the Taliban in Afghanistan. Our military had the Taliban running for the hills and we all but captured Osama Bin laden in Tora Bora. Again our military demonstrated its superior abilities and we were all full of pride for its prowess.

Iraq War Changed Our Military’s Needs

However, when in March of 2003, the ill-advised invasion of Iraq took place, we started on a road that would demonstrate that in long term conflicts the smaller size of our military has its limitations. Soon we were seeing deployments to the war zone being extended and many soldiers having to face multiple deployments. Eventually the number of suicides increased alarmingly and when our war dead reached over 4,000, we started to see that even the number of enlistments was decreasing.

As the war in Iraq became the main objective for the US, our interest in Afghanistan waned. This allowed the Taliban to regain ground and acquire a more competitive position. At this point we had to increase the number of U.S. troops to Afghanistan. This put grave demands on the limited number of troops in our professional, voluntary military, increasing multiple deployments even further.

From my personal experience in combat situations, I can predict that veterans coming back from these wars will probably be affected with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This adds to the physical damage that many have received, resulting in some sort of medical care for the rest of their lives.

Now that we appear to be taking a non-combat role in Iraq, our presence there has decreased. However, our war in Afghanistan continues with over 100,000 of our troops in peril there. The ambivalent policy of Pakistan and the complicated factions in this country have made it difficult for our troops to make the much-needed decisive push to neutralize our enemies there. The complex and explosive situation between Pakistan and India has also influenced Pakistan’s decisions to support our effort in that country and Afghanistan. There is even talk that Pakistan is suspicious that the US supported government in Afghanistan may in fact be looking at India in more friendly terms than they can accept.

A recent survey of the American public has indicated that about 75% of them do not follow the news about our conflict in the Mid  East. Even news of terrorist acts that have caused the death and wounding of our soldiers are covered only for a few minutes in our daily news. The result is that the burden of the wars is essentially being carried by only one quarter of our population.

Then Vets Returned Home

An embarrassing statistic is that unemployment and homelessness rates are higher for returning veterans than for the population as a whole. While we try to honor them for their service, employers don’t seem to value their peacetime skills.

Besides the fact that we are letting only a segment of our population take the full impact of combat in a foreign land, the rest of the population remains silent, apparently uncaring and ignorant of what is happening in Afghanistan.

Another factor that made the late 60’s situation different from today was that while a much larger sector of the population was affected, the larger numbers of troops allowed for shorter tours to the combat zone. We draftees were only required to serve one year in Vietnam and with very few exceptions, additional tours were voluntary. Maybe the idea of universal service wasn’t that bad.

I can say that while it wasn’t exactly enjoyable, it gave me, and other young men like me,  the lifetime gift of discipline. It allowed more troops to meet and interact with all kinds of people they would never have met otherwise and thus to learn different points of view. It helped low-level soldiers realize that unless they acquired knowledge or a skill, they would always be subject to another’s will.  This pushed me, and many that I knew, to achieve more in life.

Looking around today, I see many young men and women on the brink of adulthood, including ones I know personally, who could benefit from these factors at such a critical point in their development.

Perhaps reinstating the draft would be good for America, its youth, and its military. It’s worth considering.

Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is a bleeding heart liberal, agnostic, exercise fanatic, Redskin fan, technophile, civil engineer, combat infantry veteran, jewelry maker, amateur computer programmer, Environmental engineer, Colombian-born, free thinker, and, not surprisingly, pacifist. You can find his articles - ranging from politics to cooking a mean brisket - in 21st Century Pacifist at The Washington Times Communities. Follow Mario on Twitter @chibcharus #TWTC and Facebook at Mario Salazar.


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Mario Salazar

Mario Salazar is a combat infantry Vietnam Vet, world traveler, renaissance reconnaissance man, pacifist, metal smith, glass artisan, computer programmer and he has a Master of Science in Civil/Environmental Engineering.  Now retired from the Environmental Protection Agency and living in Montgomery County, Mario will share with you his life, his thoughts, his musing on living in yet another century of change.  He will also try to convey his joy of being old.

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