Draft, no! Volunteers, yes!
Now it's official. A presidential task force on military manpower has put its stamp of approval on America's all-volunteer armed forces. They measure up so well in both quantity and quality that there remains no need for a draft. A salute to those who make the recruiting system work - and to the young men and women who sign up to support the military side of United States security.
To be sure, the old arguments for and against universal conscription remain. It would signal friends and adversaries who maintain a draft that the US is no less serious about national sacrifices for defense.It would offer, if truly universal, the equity of shared sacrifice. On the other hand, a draft in peacetime would run counter to most of US history and its democratic thrust against governmental coercion of the individual.
Such points can still be debated. However, a later argument can be laid to rest: that a draft is required for military effectiveness.
Secretary of the Navy Lehman was one of the admitted skeptics about the all-volunteer force. But he has become a ''believer,'' he said in Boston this week on the day that the task force report happened to be announced in Washington. All ships are fully manned, he reported. There is a ''greenness'' among less experienced petty officers - many third-class POs serving where second-class would be preferred. But there is also the best personnel retention rate in peacetime history.
Mr. Lehman recognized the possible role of the recession as well as increased military pay in making uniformed service competitive in the job market. But he noted that some of the best recruiting areas are places such as Houston where unemployment is far below the national average.
Almost simultaneously in Washington Secretary of Defense Weinberger was forecasting that economic recovery would not impede recruitment. He agreed with the task force's denial of concern about the racial mix among enlistees, with 19 percent black in the services as a whole and 33 percent in the Army. The report said Americans who qualify have equal freedom to enlist. In what might be taken as a gentle reminder by more discriminatory employers, Mr. Weinberger added that if such percentages of blacks found work in other sectors, ''people would be delighted.''
Questioners will no doubt continue to ask if the lack of opportunity for blacks elsewhere is not one reason for their disproportionate role in the military - a role some interpret as sad evidence of an exploited class of Americans.
But beneath the homogenizing uniform every man and woman in service is an individual, not to be categorized, rewarded, or penalized according to race. The American military should not tolerate the discrimination against its black members reported in Europe any more than discrimination within its own ranks. The forces could indeed become an influence for colorblindness throughout society.
To take such an optimistic view may, like the task force report itself, serve the purposes of an administration headed by a President already committed to a volunteer force and opposed to a draft. But this seems to be a case where the purposes of an administration and the good of the country coincide. Uncle Sam needs not only you in uniform, as the classic poster said, but all his people working together in keeping with the nation's ideals.