I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk. You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game.
– General Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of international forces in Afghanistan, at the Aspen Ideas Festival in late June 2012, quoted in an article in the New York Times, arguing for reinstatement of the draft.
I can’t say I agree with his notion, his solution to the problem, but I can’t help but be swayed by his sentiment. He is right about the problem – or at least about a problem.
Here’s how his idea could work:
This was the first time in recent years that a high-profile officer has broken ranks to argue that the all-volunteer force is not necessarily good for the country or the military. Unlike Europeans, Americans still seem determined to maintain a serious military force, so we need to think about how to pay for it and staff it by creating a draft that is better and more equitable than the Vietnam-era conscription system.
A revived draft, including both males and females, should include three options for new conscripts coming out of high school. Some could choose 18 months of military service with low pay but excellent post-service benefits, including free college tuition. These conscripts would not be deployed but could perform tasks currently outsourced at great cost to the Pentagon: paperwork, painting barracks, mowing lawns, driving generals around, and generally doing lower-skills tasks so professional soldiers don’t have to. If they want to stay, they could move into the professional force and receive weapons training, higher pay and better benefits.
Those who don’t want to serve in the army could perform civilian national service for a slightly longer period and equally low pay — teaching in low-income areas, cleaning parks, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, or aiding the elderly. After two years, they would receive similar benefits like tuition aid.
And libertarians who object to a draft could opt out. Those who declined to help Uncle Sam would in return pledge to ask nothing from him — no Medicare, no subsidized college loans and no mortgage guarantees. Those who want minimal government can have it.
Critics will argue that this is a political non-starter. It may be now. But America has already witnessed far less benign forms of conscription. A new draft that maintains the size and the quality of the current all-volunteer force, saves the government money through civilian national service and frees professional soldiers from performing menial tasks would appeal to many constituencies.