The annual "propose a piece of draft legislation" cycle is under way.
A drumbeat of patriotism often accompanies the call for a draft. Draft advocates express assorted reasons for their proposals. One is to believe that the draft is the immediate cure-all for any and all American military deficiencies. Some say a draft is the only way to improve the "quality" of soliders. Others claim that through a draft the Army will become "representative of society." Another group claims that we could save enormous sums of money if we abandoned the present all-volunteer system and went to a draft. Others have a strongly held belief that to show devotion to this nation 18- through 22-year-olds should be required to serve in the armed forces.
Historically, when we have had a draft it has been to fill manpower shortages in our armed forces. It should be noted in the 200-year history of this nation we have utilized a draft some 30 years. When conscription systems have been in effect, many thousands of young Americans have still volunteered to serve their nation. True, some joined because they saw the draft coming, but others volunteered for many other reasons. During much of the Vietnam era, for example, over 90 percent of the people in the Navy and the Air Force were volunteers.
How has the present-day Army been doing attracting recruits? The Army has been required by Congress in the past few years to maintain manpower levels between 760,000 and 780,000. With separations and retirements, it is necessary to recruit between 130,000 and 180,000 new soldiers each year. During the worst recruiting year of the volunteer era, the Army Recruiting Command was 16,000 soldiers short of its recruiting goal. If a draft had been in place, its machinery would somehow -- allegedly with equity -- have chosen 16,000 18- through 22-years-olds (or whatever age group the law required). So only 16,000 of a pool of some 25 million would have been drafted. Only 16,000 could have been drafted because, quite properly, the size of the Army is limited by Congress. During the 1980 recruiting year, the Army achieved 100.6 percent of its goal (173,000 new soldiers). Had the draft been in place, it would have been useless.
The Army was and is at the limit authorized by Congress, so if the Selective Service were up to full strength, millions of hard-to-come-by taxpayer dollars would be down the drain. Additionally, millions of young people would have an unnecessary uncertainty in their futures.
There are other claims people have made for the draft. Some claim the draft would improve the "quality" of soldiers. Quality, when applied to people, is elusive but here are the "faults" critics find with today's soldier:
He or she is too poor -- to black -- to dumb. To correct the "too poor" problem I assume critics would suggest an income tax review for the potential draftee -- and more probably his or her mom and dad. I imagine some would avoid an Army that it too black by telling future black volunteers to please go away because we are over the "magic number." To avoid "dummies" I assume that dummy-elimination tests would be administered. Right now the Army does not administer an IQ test, so it is impossible to know how the number of dummies is determined today.
It is misleading and inaccurate to imply that a draft will save money when contrasted with the present volunteer system. Three years ago, a study estimated that a return to the draft would save the government only $3 million annually (presuming the same salary levels were maintained during a draft). Some recommend the draft and lowering the pay of recruits. Why? Because it is their duty to serve the country? I doubt that Congress would be a party to lowering the pay of recruits. It would be a tax, pure and simple, on the poor who were drafted and whose civilian salaries are often what keeps their families off public assistance.
Some other loose-lipped critics of our men and women in uniform claim soldiers are participating in a misplaced jobs program. If this were so -- and it is not -- we have the uniformed officer corps to blame for failing to teach soldiers their mission. For the most part, officers and NCOs are teaching -- and, yes, young men and women are learning. The drill sergeants still gripe about each new crop of recruits just as they have in past decades. Each group of recruits has this week's complaint about the Army, and there is nothing new in that.
This is not the time to draft any Americans. This is not the time to run down the Army based on unsubstantiated charges about soldier intelligence. This is not the time to imply that an Army that has more black soldiers than in the past is therefore less capable. This is not the time to conclude that coming from a low-income background makes you something less of a soldier.
Military preparedness is a most laudable goal. It will not be furthered by any form of draft.