America's youth must serve their country, one way or another
PORTLAND, ORE. — The United States military has a very big problem: Too many global conflicts and commitments – and too few soldiers.
That's why it's time to reinstate the draft. A draft would do more than just harness the energy and idealism of the nation's youth to meet the military's unmet personnel needs. It would also tap more of the resources of the nation's women, heeding their demands for more gender equality by making their obligations more consonant with their rights.
It would give the federal government more flexibility in dealing with conscientious objectors. And it would be fairer to African-Americans and other minorities, who might stop viewing military service as just another job choice.
Here's how the new draft should work:
•All able-bodied and able-minded 18-year-old men and women should have their names placed in a lottery. Depending on how many soldiers are needed – typically just a few thousand each year – a modest percentage would be drafted.
•Then, the names of all those who didn't get drafted should be placed into a lottery for nonmilitary service in city or suburban slums, rural areas, native Americans reservations, or other poverty-stricken places.
•If the lottery puts draftees in a nonmilitary program – say, in healthcare – that requires more education and training than they possess, they could opt for getting that additional expertise in the civilian world. But then, the draftees would have to enter that nonmilitary program immediately after completing their studies.
Now, it is always possible that in any given year the number of young people eligible for both the military and nonmilitary lotteries may exceed the need for their services. But whenever any young people miss involuntary service by the luck of the draw, they will have done so more fairly and honorably than was true during the days of the Vietnam War.
While it is true that all males living in the US are required by law to register with the Selective Service System within 30 days of their 18th birthday, many of them don't – and no one has been drafted into the armed forces since 1973.
America must revisit the wisdom and morality of placing the responsibility for defending – and sometimes having to die for – this country only on volunteers.
Consider the Israeli experience. Except for small minorities, Israelis feel that the responsibility for defending and dying for one's country is a duty that must be shared equally. They feel that military service should not be determined by demographics, by social circumstances, by the unemployment rate, or any other aspect of the nation's economy.
The Vietnam War and America's history and philosophy have led us to opposite conclusions: A universal draft is not sacred. And our democracy demands an all-volunteer military.
Given this sentiment, involuntary service will be accepted by the nation's youth only if they perceive it as service that is objectively derived and equally applied – and only if it balances military against nonmilitary alternatives. Such service will appeal to all of our citizens, save those who selfishly believe that they owe nothing to the nation except what they alone choose to give it.
Like all policy proposals, this one is based on assumptions: The first assumption is that it is proper for America to ask its youth for a period of service. And the second assumption is that it was right for President John F. Kennedy to declare, in his 1961 inaugural address, "And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
• Edward Bernard Glick is professor emeritus at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he specialized in civil-military relations. He is the author of "Soldiers, Scholars, and Society: The Social Impact of the American Military," and "Israel and Her Army: The Influence of the Soldier on the State."