Several readers sound off:
A military draft would help with our current segregation problem. No, not race, but segregation by income and ideologies. It is easy to hate “the other” when one has never met the “the other”. It is harder to hate them when they are an okay guy or girl you spent two years with bonding over how horrible the food is and that time it rained all day on a twenty-mile hike.
From a veteran:
The book, now out of print, is Chance and Circumstance. The authors (a Republican and a Democrat) worked on the draft issue on Capitol Hill. The conclusion: The one overriding factor in deciding who got drafted was family income. High school graduates from locally wealthy families were less likely to be drafted than college graduates from low-income families.
I saw this firsthand in Vietnam.
I was Commandant of Faculty at a language school for Vietnamese signalmen where all the teachers were American soldiers with G.T. scores (comparable to I.Q. scores) of at least 120. The average education for my teachers was five years of college, including a couple of Ph.Ds. Every one of my teachers had the same story. He was from a blue-collar family, went to a public college (frequently the first in his family to do so), ran out of money, dropped out of college or grad school and was promptly drafted.
From the book and my own experience, I am convinced that reinstating the draft will simply replace the financial incentives of an all-volunteer military with compulsion. The same people will enlist, but from lack of economic clout and not voluntarily for economic incentives.
Although I often agree with Daniel Larison, he is dead wrong about the impact of the draft on the Vietnam War. As a veteran (of the peace movement), it was quite clear to me that it was the draft (more than Walter Cronkite) that turned Americans against the war. Yes, the Vietnam War went on for years whilst the draft took place, but Larison neglects to mention that the overwhelming number of draft age middle class white men had 2S college deferments. It was a draft mostly off the poor and blacks – the voiceless.
In late 1969, student deferments ended, replaced by a random lottery of 365 dates where the first third were drafted. This touched off a firestorm in reaction against the war. I drew a number in the high 200’s, and I will never forget listening to the lottery numbers announced live on radio – a macabre spectacle if ever there was one. I was lucky.
The parents of those drafted in the first third, many of whom never gave a whit about the war, joined the peace movement in droves with money and political muscle bringing even the likes of Henry Kissinger to the Paris peace table.
The Iraq/ Afghanistan/ Libya fiascos barely stirred an anti-war movement. Does Larison actually think those wars would have continued as long as they did if those body bags were filled with middle-class draftees, including the sons of congressmen? I think not. And at the least there would have been a national debate, something that never happened.
Another reader shifts focus:
Forget the draft. The way to make both politicians and the electorate think more carefully about our use of military force would be a war tax. Imagine if every foreign military intervention automatically triggered substantial increases in income tax rates, especially in the top tax brackets. It could be arranged so that multiple simultaneous foreign interventions would cause multiple increases, with two or more interventions leading to essentially confiscatory taxes on incomes over $1M.
I don’t know whether a draft would really cause anyone to think more about their foreign policy choices, but if I know Republicans, confiscatory taxes would definitely do the trick. It also seems more just: the draft idea deprives young people of their freedom and possibly their lives in an attempt to influence the donor class’ political choices, while the war tax would leave young people alone and directly target the kinds of people who hold influence over politicians.