Volunteers! Hundreds of them! Each email streaming into my inbox carrying along with it the voice of yet another American citizen speaking out on the military draft. I hadn’t conscripted a single comment. Not one. Rest assured, there is no lack of patriotism—or diversity of opinion—among my volunteer readers.
Last week, you read what I had to say about a military draft and national service program. This week, readers sound-off on the draft—with my gentle comments, of course, as judge, jury and editor.
Reader responses were evenly split between support and opposition to the draft. That’s not surprising, since military conscription has always been highly controversial. During the Civil War, there was resistance to the draft across the nation, with riots breaking out in New York City. Prior to Pearl Harbor and World War II, Congress passed the first peacetime draft by only one vote in the House of Representatives—with a fist-fight on the House floor punctuating the controversial nature of the measure. After Pearl Harbor, the draft certainly wasn’t needed, but became an orderly way to process all the willing volunteers. More recently, the draft became the very crucible of resistance to the Vietnam War.
Many readers still think a couple years or more of forced military service might knock some sense into today’s young people. One gentlemen sums up the point of view expressed in many of the emails I received: “Serving in the military helps to discipline a person and in this country these days, discipline is sorely lacking.”
Another reader said: “I could not disagree with you more. This country needs to return to the draft… This current generation, spoiled #@%&! brats, never had to work for anything. Just had it all handed to them.”
This sentiment may indeed be difficult to argue with, but there is no reality behind it. More of this generation’s young people hold down jobs while also going to school and more volunteer in their communities than in previous generations.
Like a bunch of old fogies, we can moan and complain about “today’s young people,” but the facts suggest that the current generation stacks up just fine. [They better be good, we’ve left them an awful lot of our bills to pay.] Of course, the freedom of one generation should never depend on their ability to please other generations.
“[T]he best solution we have ever had to welfare…was conscription!” according to another reader. “Individuals learned how to be themselves and deal with others of different backgrounds and race. They learned to accept responsibility for their actions. They learned that where they came from and what they were did not limit them from becoming what they wanted to be.”
That’s an awful lot of hopes and dreams for the military to make come true for everyone. Sounds like what parents try to do. Shouldn’t the armed forces concentrate on repelling invasions instead’
This reader went on to suggest some further study for moi: “Have you ever read anything about Colin Powell and his background? He is just a famous example of what happens when an individual is removed from their current environment and allowed to see ‘the rest of the world.’”
One minor problem, however: Colin Powell volunteered for the military. He was not drafted. Additionally, he rose to the top of the All-Volunteer Force, not a conscripted military.
However, worries persist that young people won’t be able to figure out their lives without a stint of forced military or civilian service. One reader asked, “[W]hat would they otherwise do with those “wasted” years; carouse their way through college, or flounder trying to decide what to do with their lives’ The service is a wonderful eye-opening way (akin to facing a hanging) to help you get your priorities right.”
Warms my heart. I haven’t heard the term “carouse” since my Mother accused me of it many moons ago.
The reader added, “We do have a wonderful military… I only hope they are representative of their generation, but I seriously doubt it…”
But alas, that’s the point. The American soldier is not a reflection of the population of young people as a whole. The American volunteer is better: better educated and better motivated than his average civilian counterpart. A universal draft thus degrades the armed forces. Some feel that’s a valid trade-off in order to discipline today’s young people or make them into some sort of highly-actualized super citizens, but in a dangerous world I much prefer that the military stick to job one.
Those readers with military experience seem to share my concern about the impact an army of draftees would have on how the military actually functions in actually fighting wars.
“As a former Marine, the idea of having…Charlie Rangel in my platoon gives me pause,” offered a reader. “While it would be pleasurable to bark orders to Rangel, I suspect that he would spend much of his time concocting ways to get out of every duty assigned to him.”
“I completely agree with you,” wrote another gentleman. “I am the father of three sons, the oldest of which will soon be 18. His chosen career path is the Marines, college, and law practice.” If there were a draft, this man said his “biggest fear of danger for my son during his military pursuits” would be “from the morale-destroying attitudes and life-endangering screw-ups displayed from malcontents who were drafted…”
But while there was great skepticism and strong opposition to a military draft or civilian national service program for young people, readers were salivating over the prospects of drafting the career politicians in our Congress.
One woman, with impeccable intellectual taste, told me: “Your idea of drafting Congress and leaving our kids alone is profound!”
“Oh, what a deliciously fit proposal!” said another reader. “The drafting of congressmen after their limited terms. And I might go you one better by turning it around: Let them serve their time in the military FIRST, then having their terms limited to the number of years they served as conscripts.”
“Good idea, but shouldn’t they do their mandatory service immediately upon election, serve the 2 years, then get to make policy?” agreed another reader. “Plus if they knew they would have to serve up front, maybe some of the whiners would stay home instead of run for office.”
Yet, after sober reflection, a patriotic reader asked, “I like the way you think, but wouldn’t that degrade the quality of our armed forces?”
There was even this “passing thought” from one cyber-citizen: “Use the Congress as target practice.”
No, now that would be unconstitutional.
January 4, 2004
This column originally appeared on Townhall.com.