Peacetime Draft

From: "Bruce K. Melson" <>
Jack Kelly: Our future may depend on a peacetime draft

September 10, 2000  Toledo Blade

Can a national political leadership composed in substantial part by
draft-dodging dirtballs reinstate military conscription? The safety of
the republic may hinge on the answer.

Though they've shrunk by a third since President Clinton took
office, all the U.S. armed forces except the Marine Corps are
experiencing severe difficulties in recruiting and retaining qualified
personnel. Last year was the first year since the days of the
"hollow army" of the late 1970s that the Army, Navy, and Air Force
all missed their recruiting goals.

The Navy has shrunk from 443 ships in 1993 to 316 today, but still
warships must put to sea undermanned.

The Air Force says it needs 13,424 active-duty pilots for its scaled-
down force, but remains about 1,200 short of that goal.

The Army has missed its recruiting goals for the last two years,
despite lowering standards and beefing up bonuses. Two divisions
had to be reported not ready for combat.

Some of the military's problems can be fixed with money.
Pentagon studies say military pay has fallen 14 per cent behind
that of comparable civilian jobs. Thousands of soldiers are eligible
for food stamps. A congressional report said most on-base housing
is substandard.

But the fact that we are starving and overworking the military during
a time of record budget surpluses has caused me to reconsider a
lifetime of opposition to a peacetime draft.

A change in political leadership could restore a force of the quality
we had during Desert Storm. But the larger sociological problem -
the divorce of America's elites from the military which protects
them - would remain.

"The greatest lingering effect of the Vietnam era . . . is the notion
that military service during time of war is not a prerequisite for
moral authority or even respect," said former Navy Secretary
James Webb, who twice won the Navy Cross as a Marine in
Vietnam. "This idea has been afforded a quiet affirmation among
our elites . . . that it is right and proper for the so-called best and
brightest by virtue of an elite education to be excused from the dirty
work of our society."

For the first time ever, neither the President, the secretary of
defense, the secretary of state, nor the national security adviser
have served in the military. For the first time since before the Civil
War, fewer than a third of the members of Congress are veterans.
Defending the republic has become the responsibility of other
people's kids.

If our sons and daughters were among them, would we be so quick
to send our soldiers off to risk their lives on nebulous and never-
ending missions? If our sons and daughters were among them,
would we use our military as lab rats in social experiments?

When we were both congressional aides, I used to argue with
Secretary Webb about the draft. I've concluded that he was right
and I was wrong. So I'll give him the last word:

"Being an American is more than paying taxes and obeying the
speed limit. The sacrifices of the past inform the greatness of the
present, and the sacrifices of the present provide security for the
future, and it is above all the military services that connect us all in
such a way."


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