What's Good for America Is Good for the Army

What should Congress do about the draft? Here's how to build a superior military relying on traditional American principles of freedom.


Should the draft be revived in America? Those who oppose conscription as a violation of individual liberty point to the senselessness of striving to protect freedom through the use of forced labor. Those on the other side of the fence maintain that it would be foolishly shortsighted to allow a free society to perish rather than defend it by means involving coercion of some of its citizens.

Does such a hopeless dilemma face us, a people purporting to uphold the liberty of all its citizens? Fortunately, it does not. There is no practical reason why the defense of a nation must rely upon forced labor. In reality, there are any number of ways to secure an adequate defensevoluntarily, without the draft or its "soft" version, draft registration.

DO WITHOUT A DRAFT? For the United States, conscription is a comparative latecomer. Until the Civil War the drafting of soldiers was unheard of for this nation, and even in that conflict conscripts never accounted for more than two percent of the entire Union force. At the close of the war the draft was put to sleep. But old habits have a way of reestablishing themselves with increasing readiness, each time becoming harder to stamp out.

Conscription was revived during the First World War, where it provided just over half of the total US forces. Most of those who were drafted, however, would probably have volunteered anyway: one of the biggest problems faced by recruiters was not that of meeting quotas but of weeding out the hordes of underage or otherwise unqualified volunteers seeking to give the Kaiser a kick in the pants. Again, after the war the draft was put away.

It was not until World War II that the draft became a permanent piece of Americana. Since the end of that war, an entire generation has been reared on the idea of the draft as a constant, fixed entity, like air or water. Young males learned to adjust to the idea that they must someday be ready to put aside their own lives when ordered to do so. Until recently, to suggest a permanent end to the draft was tantamount to proposing that California be annexed to the Soviet Union.

Since the ending of conscription in 1973, there have been recurring worries, many from the military, about permanently abolishing the draft. If in one year there were news articles and TV reports on the failure of recruiters to meet their quotas, in the next year there would be charges that the all-volunteer force has led to a nearly all-black force or to a military made up of high school dropouts, dope fiends, and near-mental defectivesin short, to a force so short of competent personnel that not to return to a draft would be to invite trouble from the Russians.

It is unclear, however, how a return to conscription would solve these problems. For instance, how would a draft change the racial imbalance in the services? Even though such a problem, if it is a problem, does exist, it existed prior to the ending of the draft and would remain even if a draft were reinstated.

Consider the figures for 1979, the only year since the draft ended in which the forces did not meet their recruiting goals. Blacks made up 12 percent of the overall US population and 19 percent of the military. Enlistments in 1979 fell 18,000 short for the Army, 7,000 for the Navy, and 2,000 for the Air Force. The Marine Corps, traditionally the most difficult service to man, met its 1979 enlistment goal. While at first sight the 27,000 that the services fell short might seem a sizable amount, out of a total armed force of over two million souls it represents a gnat on an elephant's back. Even during a draft, volunteers are always accepted ahead of conscripts. One can easily see that even if the services had used all white draftees to fill 1979's shortfall, the military's racial makeup would remain about the same.

What about the charge that abolition of the draft has created a force that is substantially less intelligent than in previous years? The figures do not bear it out. The number of high school graduates entering the services in 1980 (59 percent) was higher than the number entering during the 1960–64 period (54 percent). Of all the services, the Army took in the lowest percentage of high school graduates in 1980 (54 percent), but by the first half of 1981 it had boosted that figure to 74 percent. Reading skills of recruits have been about the same as in the same age group in the population at large. Further, while overall Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores have been declining, the Department of Defense's records show that, taken as a whole, the quality of personnel going into the service has been about the same as before Vietnam. Secretary of the Navy John Lehman recently commented that current recruits are better qualified than at any time in the past.

In looking at the issue of a draft versus an all-volunteer force, it is important to remember that what many advocates of the draft have in mind is not only a force sufficient in size to ward off attacks against the United States but a gargantuan defense network intended to provide for the protection of the entire free worldas well as large regions of the not-so-free world. For years, US presidents and members of Congress have been timidly proposing to Japan, Germany, Britain, and other friendly countries that they bear more of the burden of their own defense: If the US government would follow through on this, and would not worry about being able to intervene in situations all over the world that do not pose a threat to US citizens, the difficulty of manning the military would be substantially cut. In the United States today, far more than enough volunteers are available to staff a standing force capable of defending the country.

An adequate defense calls for more than just a standing force, however. In any serious conflict, casualties mount quickly, and so trained reinforcements are needed; in a protracted war, even these may need to be replenished from the untrained populace. Too large a standing force becomes exorbitantly costly and has the potential of leading to military adventurism or even to a police state; too small a force risks being overwhelmed before fresh support can be mustered.

It is the recruitment of these reinforcements that induces many people to support at least draft registration, it is argued, as the only way to provide for a sure source of fresh replacement troops to fill standing force losses in an emergency.

Others are convinced that even this would not be fast enough. They point out that inducting, processing, training, and deploying even registered replacements would take weeks or monthstime not likely to be available in an emergencyand that only a full-blown draft can solve the problem.

Both groups err in resorting to the use of force for a solution before exhausting all available voluntary possibilities. One answer may lie in a new approach to the military reserve system.

At present the armed services of the United States rely upon reserve forces of two types. First, there is the Ready Reserve Force, made up of volunteers who contribute one weekend each month plus two weeks each year to train in the service of their choice. There is also the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), composed of ex-service personnel who have completed the first three or four years of their initial six-year hitch. (All first-time enlistments are for six years, not, as is often believed, four. Usually the final two years are spent in the inactive reserves.)

Unlike ordinary reservists, the Individual Ready Reservist is not required to attend any sort of meetings or training sessions. (In fact, that no sort of continued training or practice is provided to IRR members is one of the objections frequently leveled at the IRR). Nor are they expected to conform to military rules. Except in the most extreme emergency, they cannot be called back to active duty. Their sole function is to provide a pool of trained personnel from which the country can draw in time of need.

In recent years the role that the reserves might fill as a rapid source of reinforcements for the active forces has been greatly neglected, however. The 1979 budget for the reserves stood at just under $7 billion, just six percent of the total defense bill. Equipment for the Ready Reserve consists largely of aged regular military discards; training is insufficient; and unit activation time is far too long. In 1980 the total reserves were short 350,000 members, or 20 percent of desired peacetime strengtha considerably higher figure than the approximately 27,000 troops the active forces were lacking at the start of 1980.

Many officers believe that the reserves are so hopelessly unprepared that to continue the program at all is a waste of billions of dollars per year. The fact is that while Congress and the Pentagon pour massive sums into huge strategic weapons systems, into propping up authoritarian and dictatorial governments around the world, and into simple waste and fraud, the reserves are being allowed to atrophy.

In a study of the postdraft military, John B. Keeley, a former Army colonel, cites three major problems currently hindering the IRR, which has the potential of eliminating the need for draft registration, from being an effective force. First, the services fail to maintain up-to-date accounts of the addresses of IRR members. If these reservists were ever needed, it would take weeks just to locate all of them. Second, there are no provisions for preserving the members' job skills. While some degree of proficiency will remain long after discharge, some skills, such as tank gunner, decline rapidly without frequent practice.

The problem of locating IRR members quickly is easily and cheaply solvedsimply do periodic mailings to make sure that members are keeping their services posted as to their whereabouts. The problem of declining abilities would be more costly to remedy. Keeley suggests that IRR members be paid an incentive for keeping their skills up to par by attending special training sessions.

The third and possibly the biggest obstacle to a better IRR force is the fact that one may become a member only by passing through the portals of active duty. Some top officers, among them Gen. Bernard W. Rogers, have expressed great interest in beefing up the IRR by drafting into it individuals who have never been in any of the services. Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) has also suggested drafting only for the reserves.

WILLING RESERVISTS If the reserves are to be boosted with untrained individuals, however, why not offer voluntary incentives for joining, instead of drafting people? A program to induce eligible volunteers to enter the IRR could do away with any need for a draft even in wartime. While this body would consist largely of untrained rather than experienced personnel, it would create a quick pool of manpower for the services to draw upon in time of need. Anyone drafted at such a time, it must be remembered, would likewise be untrained. Since IRR volunteers could be at least partly processed at the time they sign up, such an IRR could dramatically cut the time it would take to bring in fresh troops and would be at least as fast as a draft in replenishing combat losses.

The Individual Ready Reserve could be split into two groups: those with previous military training and those without. To further reduce activation time, those without service experience might be offered a further inducement to attend basic training before entering the reserve pool.

The simplest way to operate such a system would be for the service to pay a single lump sum to anyone signing up for the inactive reserve. After receiving an amount of, perhaps, $1,000 in exchange for, say, a five-year sign-up, a volunteer could return home and forget all about the militaryunless a war broke out, at which time he would be called into the service. This sort of system would be almost identical to the current draft registration, except that those signing up would be doing so willingly. Under this plan he or she would get no further pay or benefits beyond the original sum unless called up for active duty.

What young person fresh out of high school and attempting to establish himself would not be tempted to participate in such a program? He could do whatever he wished with the money received: make a down payment on a car, use it to help begin a college education, lay it away as savings, or simply fritter it away.

The important result would be that no threat of force would be exercised against him, as now is the case with registration. Also, should the country ever find it necessary to call him into service, it would be getting a consenting volunteer rather than an apathetic inductee of the type drafts traditionally produce. Of course, with the incentive money pocketed, the volunteer might change his mind come a call to arms. But this should pose no more of a problem than that of draft dodgers under the alternative.

A straight cash payment is not the only inducement that might be used to draw IRR volunteers. Inactive reserve time could be exchanged for upper-level education or trade schooling. Four years of college tuition might be the compensation for 10 or more years in the inactive service. This would be especially beneficial in acquiring qualified officer material (especially medical personnel), an on-going problem for the armed forces. The linking of service-related educational benefits to time in the reserve has been repeatedly advocated by military experts Charles C. Moskos, of Northwestern University, and Morris Janowitz, of the University of Chicago, as a means of solving the shortage of reservists.

Voluntary registration would be more expensive than would forced registration. Assuming that the cost of administering the two programs would be the same, signing into a voluntary reserve program all of the approximately 3.5 million 19-year-olds who were in 1980 made to register with the Selective Service would cost $3.5 billion. This is assuming an incentive fee of $1,000the actual amount might be more or less, depending on how much cash it took to induce people to enter the IRR.

In fact, of course, there is no need for such a large number of reservists. On the generous assumption that it would be desirable to sign up one-fifth of the 3.5 millionthat's 700,000, or double the current shortfall in the reservesthe cash inducement would run $700 million. Suppose, now, that we quadruple that sum so that we can provide additional incentives, equipment, and personnel for a training program. The cost still comes short of $3 billionsurely worth the moral benefit of not having to impose a draft. In just 1977 alone, military contract cost overruns totaled over $17 billion. Placed next to the 1981 defense budget of $157.5 billion, the cost of such a voluntary plan is really quite low.

MODERN MANPOWER Just as it is possible to be innovative about beefing up the reserve pool, there are numerous options for increasing the ranks of the active-duty military short of the use of forced labor. A slight adjustment in age requirements for initial enlisteesfor example, raising the maximum age from 27 to 28 yearswould result in a significant difference in the number of eligible recruits without reducing their performance to any significant degree.

Changing the current retirement system, whereby military personnel are eligible for benefits after only 20 years' service, could also help keep trained and experienced members in a useful capacity for a longer time and so help alleviate the need for fresh and untrained replacements. At present, an enlisted person can retire at the age of 38 and immediately go to work doing the same job in the civilian sector, drawing a paycheck and his service pension. A study conducted by the Department of Defense has already suggested changing this retirement system to put it more in keeping with civilian practice.

A more liberal use of women in the armed forces would decrease the need for so many male volunteers. While the ending of the draft in 1971 forced the services to crack the door open a little wider to women than in the past, there is still plenty of room for expanding this option. According to the Brookings Institution, even with current assignment policies (no combat duty) left untouched, 25 percent of all enlisted personnel could be women without decreasing fighting capability.

The Army currently fills about 61,000 slots with women and is reluctantly aiming at a 1986 target of 87,500, or 13 percent of the entire force. In some fields the concentration of women is much higher than in others. For instance, women make up 40 percent of soldiers in some medical units. This bothers Lt.-Gen. Robert G. Yerks, Army deputy chief of staff for personnel, who fears that the figure is far too high. It is, in fact, much higher in civilian hospitals. So, what is the source of his apprehensionperhaps an extensive and costly Department of Defense study? Nothing so complex for Yerks, who says 40 percent is too high because "I have a gut feeling it is."

The low number of military women is certainly not due to any lack of interest. A University of Michigan study found that there is only a slight difference in the degree to which men and women are attracted to the idea of a service career. So why aren't women flocking into the armed forces? Prof. Charles C. Moskos states that "the real reason why women are excluded from the mainstream of the Army is simply there is no pressure to let them in to it from either men or women."

Another strategy for broadening the base from which the military can recruit is to open up enlistment to mildly handicapped individuals. Currently the services demand near-physical perfection of their recruits, no matter what task they are to perform. While this policy may have made sense long ago when soldiering was synonymous with long, grueling marches under heavy loads, it is too restrictive today, when only 25 percent of military jobs are directly combat-related. Discounting students and those in prison, 75 percent of the pool of 17- to 21-year-olds do not meet the armed forces' standards. About 4 in 10 would be rejected solely on the grounds of physical or other disabilities. Yet who would be willing to claim that such a large percentage of this age group is so disabled as not to be able to type a letter or drive a truck or operate a radio?

Many of the disabilities barred by the services are relatively minor and are not really disabling at all. Take the case of Sen. Barry Goldwater. Goldwater attempted to join the service in the 1940s and would have been turned down flat because of a knee injury. He managed to gain entry only by distracting the attention of the examining physician. The "disability" proved to be no hardship at all, and Goldwater went on to become an outstanding military pilot.

Of course, there are some jobs for which even a person with a minor knee injury would not be suited. But, as even the government itself has for years pointed out, matching the right person to the right job can be a useful way of tapping human resources. There is simply no reason why a truck mechanic with a missing finger or toe should be less efficient than one with a full set of digits or why a one-eyed office worker should be less able to function than in the same capacity in the private sector. It is ironic that the Defense Department does employ handicapped (even severely handicapped) workers in civilian roles, frequently assigning them jobs right alongside military employees, with no drop in productivity. Yet the services will not accept an enlistee with so much as a perforated eardrum.

Military expert William Snyder, a political scientist at Texas A&M University and a former high-ranking Army officer, believes much more could be done by the services to open up this untapped pool of manpower. "Remedial medical treatment and more effective matching of physical skills with military jobs," he points out, "might serve to increase the number of qualified applicants. In addition, uniformed physical standards may be unnecessary given the range of tasks which people in uniform now perform."

Besides an increased use of women and an adjustment of current recruitment policies, the services could augment their forces by broadening the use of civilian workers, both direct-hire and contract employees, and through "lateral hiring." In 1970 the President's Commission on an All-Volunteer Armed Force (the Gates Commission) recommended that upon ending the draft the services rely much more heavily upon civilian workers, and from 1973 to 1976, 48,000 uniformed slots were civilianized. In their book, The End of the Draft, Thomas Reeves and Karl Hess comment that "the Gates Commission is known to have intended even stronger recommendations for civilianization, especially of medical facilities, but to have toned these sections down under pressure from the Pentagon."

While there are some disadvantages to civilian military employees (not as mobile, can't be used in combat zones), there are also several very good points favoring their use. For example, civilians bring to the job substantial training. Also, civilians need far fewer costly transfers, a security-motivated feature of life in uniform. The biggest point, however, is that civilians can free difficult-to-obtain uniformed personnel for appropriate tasks. Every time a uniformed kitchen worker, maintenance man, typist, or mechanic is replaced with a civilian, one more hard-to-fill combat slot can be covered.

The least-costly use of civilians comes in the form of contracting out certain tasks to private companies. In the last few years the military has started to discover the savings to be gleaned from taking advantage of private contractors to cover such functions as running food services and performing maintenance of military facilities. Even so, only 14 percent of the civilian defense force of just under one million is made up of contract employees.

In lateral hiring, civilians with needed job skills are recruited by the military straight from the job market and are given a rank and pay level appropriate to their skills. Such a system was used extensively in World War II by all of the services to supply officers and enlisted men in possession of specialized skills. While lateral hiring is still used to some extent (mainly in medical areas), much more use could be made of this valuable and largely neglected recruiting device. Would it cost? Of course. But it is difficult to imagine that it would cost any more than the sums that must be expended to train people for such jobs.

CAREER CONSIDERATIONS One simple and painless way to increase recruitments while at the same time easing the exodus of first-termers would be to update the antiquated grooming regulations still in force throughout the services. Studies have found that most soldiers would welcome with open arms a relaxation of anachronistic 1950s hair styles and that many would-be recruits hesitate to sign up out of fear of being cloned into Jack Webb look-alikes.

Those in authority take the position that short hair and a shaven chin are hygienic and lead to greater discipline and safetytenuous arguments at best, especially since the Navy several years ago began to permit the wearing of beards, with no subsequent loss of discipline or health. Bringing grooming-regulations a bit more in line with current cultural norms would cost nothing and would almost certainly make military life more attractive to potential recruits, as well as more tolerable to those already in.

Studies done by the Gates Commission showed that tempering the set term of enlistment would very likely enhance the appeal of a military career to many who otherwise turn away. As it now is set up, servicemen are allowed to quit only at certain preset times. For the most part Americans enjoy their personal freedom and independence, and many are reluctant to enter into an employment contract binding them to a job for four or more years. Life in the armed forces can sometimes prove trying, and those who have taken the pledge are sometimes tempted to opt out.

Military leaders tend to frown on this, particularly in the heat of battle, and iron-clad terms of enlistment have been the traditional method of dealing with this. While allowing servicemen the freedom to quit at will might appear unworkable, modifying procedures in this direction was proposed as a realistic means of boosting enlistments by the Gates Commission, which said, "The increased freedom of choice should make military service more attractive and enhance the dignity of an enlisted career."

Even without any of these innovations, the current volunteer system of recruitment would have no problem obtaining personnel if society were willing to pay the price up front. That so many people find the thought of using forced labor less repugnant than paying a decent wage to those serving in the armed forces is a sorry comment on contemporary American values. The Gates Commission recommended that military pay be kept on a close par with pay for similar civilian jobs, yet this simply has not been done. Notes Lawrence J. Korb, assistant Defense secretary for manpower, "We set up the concept of a volunteer force and then did everything to undermine it."

At the beginning of 1981, the base pay for a first-time enlistee was $501 per month. An ambitious young person could earn more working at the local Jack in the Box. The pay for a military pilot (captain with eight years in) is $27,800; a comparable civilian pilot would turn up his nose at less than $45,000. A military policeman makes around $14,000 per year; a civilian, $20,000. A military stationary engineer earns about $16,000; civilian, $22,500 for the same job. Although servicemen may enjoy other benefitssubsidized housing, medical and dental care, exchange and commissary privilegesthey are also considered to be on duty 24 hours a day, may be shipped against their wishes to distant places, and are subjected to rules and regulations that do not apply to civilians.

At the present time about 86 percent of Air Force enlisted personnel and over half of Air Force officers need a second income just to squeak by. It is not uncommon for civilians at military bases to earn double what their uniformed coworkers make for the same jobs. The real puzzle is not why so few people seek to enter the armed forces but that anyone does so at all.

The cost of correcting the manpower shortage through higher pay and benefits would not be cheap. The Reagan administration estimates that, with higher recruiting goals, it will add about $20 billion to the defense manpower budget by 1985. A better solutionone that would not only cost less but would actually save moneyhas been suggested by Moskos and Janowitz: to cut back severely or abolish the scores of government education subsidies that siphon off would-be recruits from the servicesprograms such as Basic Educational Opportunity Grants (Pell Grants), Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, the National Direct Student Loan (NDSL) program, the Guaranteed Student Loan Program, and many others.

These programs cost the taxpayers about $6 billion in 1981. In contrast, the total price of the Veteran's Educational Assistance Program, in which GIs contribute matching funds for their schooling, totaled $87 million in 1980. For young people seeking an education, anything offered by the services can be gotten from other government programs, without the added hassle of taking orders and getting obnoxious haircuts.

The point is that there are many, many things we can do to improve the voluntary defense of our country. It is simply not the case that we face a dilemma between depriving some people of their liberty and leaving our free society undefended. Nor is it a love of conscription that motivates most draft supporters. Rather, such support often stems from the difficulty of looking beyond past solutions in the search for modern answers to military manning problems. If we are willing to take our freedom seriously, however, we can see that defense of our country does not require a draft. That way may be logistically easier. It may be fiscally less painful. But it is not necessary. And what a happy circumstance that is for the sons and daughters of the American Revolution.

Michael Hinz served a hitch in the Air Force before settling down in Spokane to pursue a writing career currently supported via work in a steam plant.