February 19, 1999
It goes by many names: national service, selective service, conscription, the draft.
All four have been heard in recent discussions in Washington about the military's staffing problems.
The All Volunteer Force is facing its toughest trial in its 26-year history.
The Navy is 22,000 sailors short of its authorized strength of 375,000. It missed its recruiting goal last year by more than 7,000.
That's its worst performance since the AVF started in 1973.
In the first quarter of fiscal 1999, the Army was already 2,300 recruits under its target. It ended fiscal 1998 short by 800, but only after lowering its standards and adjusting the goal.
This week Army Secretary Louis Caldera said the Army may fall 10,000 recruits short of the 74,000 it needs in fiscal 1999. He proposed relaxing Defense Department limits on how many high school dropouts the services can recruit.
The limit on high school nongraduates ''has put us in a box that is really hurting our ability to recruit,'' Caldera said Tuesday.
The services' recruiting troubles have prompted talk in Washington of the prospect of reviving some form of the draft. There's also a concern that Americans are losing touch with the military because so few have served. Fans of national service say both the military and the public would benefit from a draft.
The draft is especially popular among journalists who cover the military.
A new and improved draft system recently received three thumbs up from the editors of Army Times, Navy Times, and Marine Corps Times, independent newspapers not affiliated with the Defense Department.
''The duty to serve the public, once firmly embraced by this nation, could be re- established by requiring draft-age Americans to serve for two years in any of several public service arenas,'' Army Times declared in its Jan. 25 editorial.
Other journalists pumping the idea include Tom Ricks of The Wall Street Journal and George Wilson, formerly of The Washington Post.
''I think the time has come to enact a fair, limited and selective draft to fill the billets that a reasonable amount of recruiting cannot fill,'' Wilson wrote in a recent column in Navy Times.
Ricks has written of the estrangement of an increasingly conservative military and an ever- more-liberal civilian world. Ricks sees the draft as a way to draw the two together.
The lack of military experience among the nation's leaders has also raised questions about the AVF.
Last September, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told The Washington Post, ''I appreciate that the All Volunteer Force has been very successful. . . . But we are raising a generation of not only leaders but middle-income Americans who have never served their country.''
But the services have consistently opposed a return of the draft.
''(The draft) would give you, with lots of baggage and turmoil, perhaps the required quantity (of recruits),'' said retired Maj. Gen. Ted Stroup, formerly the Army's deputy chief of staff for personnel. ''But you wouldn't get the quality or the staying power that you also need.''
Stroup believes the AVF is entering a new and perhaps more costly phase prompted by fundamental changes in society and the economy.
''There's a change going on that the employers, which include the armed forces, just don't quite understand yet,'' he said. ''Nobody has the solution now and we may need to go through this elongated phase of some recruiting failures and some manning failures.''
Victims Of Prosperity
The services blame a robust economy and a shrinking labor market for their troubles.
''We're all going after 17- to 21-year-old high school graduates in the top half nationwide on test scores,'' said Maj. Bob Smith, spokesman for the Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Ky.
To compete, the Army is relying on a new MTV-style television ad campaign and bigger enlistment bonuses—$50,000 in an Army College Fund, or $16,000 to join the combat arms, with a $3,000 ''kicker'' for entering sooner rather than later.
Pay raises and retirement increases now being considered by Congress may also help, but critics say money alone isn't the answer.
''College is the competition,'' said Charles Moskos, professor of sociology at Northwestern University. ''It's not the economy.''
Moskos says two-thirds of American high school graduates go to college. Most of the rest don't qualify for the military because of low test scores. The military, however, still presents itself as a long-term, blue-collar career opportunity.
Moskos believes the military would do better by offering college-bound high school graduates a break from the routine of schooling. He recommends shorter enlistments, preferably 15 months - six months of training and nine months of overseas duty.
''What we want is people who remain single through their first term, who will look upon foreign deployments as fun, rather than a drag,'' he said.
A Marketing Problem
The services would still need to keep some members for much longer than the 15 months Moskos suggests. But retention is now as much of a problem for the military as recruiting.
''There is an incredibly aggressive set of alternatives that are presenting themselves to people at the mid- career level,'' said David McCormick, a consultant with McKinsey & Co. in Pittsburgh. He is also a Gulf War veteran and author of the book ''The Downsized Warrior'' (New York University Press, 1998).
McCormick says many companies see the military as a source of talent. General Electric Co. alone has hired 700 young military officers in the last two years, he says.
McCormick believes current proposals for modestly increasing pay and benefits aren't enough. ''I don't think this is going to be a game of incrementalism,'' he said. He says the services need to step back and reconsider what value they can offer to potential recruits and those up for re-enlistment.
Experts agree the commercial world will always be able to provide more rewards for less sacrifice. So what's left for the military to offer?
The military has historically appealed to patriotism and the sense that service is a higher calling. But the military's new duties around the world—especially the chance a young recruit may be called to serve in open-ended missions in places like Bosnia or Kosovo—may have diminished that appeal.
''Part of the problem is that people just can't see why they're out there,'' said John Hillen, an Army veteran, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ''I have yet to run into anybody who joined because they wanted to be a peacekeeper.''
In the past, the military also has relied on the challenge of manhood, pitching boot camp as a rite of passage for young men. But the integration of women into the military has forced the services to abandon most overt appeals to masculinity.
The Marine Corps, as the least feminized service, has seen the most recent success at recruiting and retention. It has been especially successful recruiting Hispanic males, a rapidly growing source of recruits.
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, believes young men are turned off by the military's political correctness and more feminine image.
''There is something wrong with the changes in the culture of the military that is turning off young men, and young men are the primary market,'' she said.
Donnelly says the military's pursuit of women actually makes its recruiting and retention problems worse. Women are harder to recruit and less likely to finish their enlistments, she says.
Donnelly expects that advocates of further gender integration would support a program of mandatory national service as a way to increase the number of women in the ranks.
Retired Army Gen. Stroup termed talk about national service ''premature,'' but sociology Prof. Moskos still holds out hope for a program of military or civilian national service tied to federal education benefits.
''We now spend $10 billion a year on federal aid to college students,'' Moskos said. ''The first step is that any form of federal aid to college has to be linked to some service requirement. I think the public's ready for that.''
Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, says any program of involuntary service would be a tough sell politically. ''Who wants to face voters and say we're drafting your sons so we can send them off to Kosovo?'' he asked.
Bandow added, ''The discussion about conscription really raises other important issues, like America's role in the world. If you have trouble (recruiting) people, maybe part of that (trouble) is what we're doing with them.''
(C) Copyright 1999 Investors Business Daily, Inc.
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In 1940, Mises discussed the relationship between the draft and economic freedom, concluding that conscription is a species of socialism. This is from Interventionism: An Economic Analysis, by Ludwig von Mises (Foundation for Economic Education, 1998), pp. 71-72:
The first step which led from the soldiers' war back to total war was the introduction of compulsory military service. It gradually did away with the difference between soldiers and citizens. The war was no longer to be only a matter of mercenaries; it was to include everyone who had the necessary physical ability. The slogan "a nation in arms" at first expressed only a program which could not be realized completely for financial reasons. Only part of the able-bodied male population received military training and were placed in the army services. But once this road is entered upon it is not possible to stop at halfway measures. Eventually the mobilization of the army was bound to absorb even the men indispensable to production at home who had the responsibility of feeding and equipping the combatants. It was found necessary to differentiate between essential and nonessential occupations. The men in occupations essential for supplying the army had to be exempted from induction into the combat troops. For this reason disposition of the available manpower was placed in the hands of the military leaders. Compulsory military service proposes putting everyone in the army who is able-bodied; only the ailing, the physically unfit, the old, the women, and the children are exempted. But when it is realized that a part of the able-bodied must be used on the industrial front for work which may be performed by the old and the young, the less fit and the women, then there is no reason to differentiate in compulsory service between the able-bodied and the physically unfit. Compulsory military service thus leads to compulsory labor service of all citizens who are able to work, male and female. The supreme commander exercises power over the entire nation, he replaces the work of the able-bodied by the work of less fit draftees, and places as many able-bodied at the front as he can spare at home without endangering the supplies of the army. The supreme commander then decides what is to be produced and how. He also decides how the products are to be used. Mobilization has become total; the nation and the state have been transformed into an army; war socialism has replaced the market economy.
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In one of the few direct contradictions Mises's work, the 1963 and 1966 editions of Human Action embrace conscription as compatible with the free society. The first edition (1949), now back in print as the Human Action: The Scholar's Edition, does not do so. Indeed, the first edition's definition of freedom would appear to exclude the possibility of the draft.