Mandatory Military Service

Both the Army and the Airforce failed to meet their recruitment quotas this year, and there has been talk that perhaps the USA should have mandatory military service like many other countries, i.e. Isreal. While I can’t see that happening, I’m interested to know what other people think.

“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” Albert Einstein

No chance. If there were a major war being waged, one with a clear-cut bad guy, and we desperately needed soldiers, maybe. That’s what Selective Service is for. But without an enemy, there’s no chance of such a proposal being taken seriously.


“Listen Children Eternal Father Eternally One!” Exceptions? None!
-Doc Bronner

I’m not sure what we would do with that many recruits. Germany ran into a problem with downsizing its military a couple of years ago. They were faced with a choice of:

(a) Reducing the amount of time conscripts were required to serve; this would increase the ratio of time spent as a rookie to time spent as a trained soldier. Not very efficient to train people up real good and then discharge them.

(b) Using a lottery. Lotteries, as they should be, are designed to be random and arbitrary. This is fair in some ways, but in other ways it’s just mindless - and it seems especially unfair to the people who don’t want to join up.

© Keeping all the recruits in, finding jobs for them, and paying more for defense than necessary.

(d) Moving to an all-volunteer force.

I don’t remember what they picked (I don’t think it was (d)). The point is, large-scale conscription makes it hard to “fine tune” the number of recruits you get, and when you have a fixed amount of expensive equipment (x number of missiles, x number of tanks), you really need to fine tune.

Plus, I don’t like the draft because I don’t like involuntary servitude. I also hold on to the objectively incorrect view that conscription is prohibited by the 13th Amendment.

Andros - I agree, I doubt we’ll ever have mandatory military service in the USA. But something does need to be done if the USA wants to continue involving itself in the problems of other nations (but that is another Great Debate in itself), since the military has such a hard time recruiting and keeping troops.

Boris B - Great Points! I remember after the Cold War, the US Army had to get rid of a lot of troops and it was, to put it bluntly, a big mess. Basically, they had to pay a lot of people to get out early. Then this Kosovo thing comes along, and now it’s looking like downsizing wasn’t such a good thing after all.

So, if we’re not going to make people join the military, how do we insure that enought people are joining/staying in? Should we rely more on the reserves? Offer enormous financial incentives? Hire a PR firm to make the military seem like a cool, happening place to be?

BTW, the reason I am so concerned about this topic, is my husband is in the military, and during the Kosovo Crisis we keenly felt the lack of trained troops. My husband was doing the jobs of at least three people, putting in 80+ workweeks all for the princely sum of about $1200 a month(after taxes). Needless to say, he will not be re-enlisting.

“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” Albert Einstein

All I can say is that the U.S. outlawed slavery a long time ago…

How to keep enough people in the military? That is an excellent question. I don’t have a great answer to it. The only (lame) answer I have, is that maybe we need to have fewer grounds to reject an applicant outright. Two examples:

(1) Three recent high school graduates I knew decided to join the Marines. They were all strapping healthy youths with decent grades; none of them had any convictions. The first was refused because he had lost consciousness too many times (three, I think) in skiing accidents (he was something of a “hot dog” on the slopes). The second was refused because he had too many automobile violations (he was something of a “lead foot”). The third didn’t join because his friends weren’t going to.

(2) I’ve heard that no one is allowed into the military if they take prescription drugs. It doesn’t matter the drug; it could be anything from thorazine (a good reason to keep somebody out) to anti-acne medication (a bad reason to keep somebody out).

(3) The military has a pretty broad definition of “mental illness”. Any therapy including family therapy might be used to keep you out. The horror story I heard, and it’s just a rumor, is that someone was kept out of the service because his mother had pushed him into grief counselling when he was eight years old, after the death of his father.

No hot dogs, lead foots, pimple-faces, or people who work on family problems with a professional? I’m not sure how much of this is Pentagon policy and how much is some goofy recruiter. And how much is apocryphal. But surely there is some room to make recruiting more inclusive of imperfect people who would make good soldiers.

I thought the military just went through a huge downsizing. Here in California, bases are closing all the time, and military pesonnel are flooding into the private sector. Did they close too many too fast? Did we really have too many troops just three years ago, but now we don’t have enough? Seems strange to me (but not surprising, since we are talking about the government).

I heard that in germany that you can opt out of the mandatory Military service by opting into the amount of time in community service (working at old folks homes, doing literacy outreach etc.) Is this true?

Perhaps this was the solution to “too many conscripts”?

There was an article about this in todays paper, you can go here:
if you want to read it.

Boris B - As far as I know, the individual recruiter has some leeway whether to reject or accept an applicant. Sometimes they “counsel” an applicant to leave things off of their application that might get them rejected. The Marine Corps actually exceeded their recruitment/retention goals this year (by 2,673) so they probably can afford to be more picky.

“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” Albert Einstein

Conscription doesn’t violate the 13th Amendment for the very obvious reason that there existed at the time an example of conscripted military strength and no indication the Amendment was intended to make that effort unconstitutional.

This isn’t as silly as it sounds. There existed other examples of what could be conceived of as ‘involuntary servitude’ at the time of the Amendment, and they were held not to be precluded (e.g. the deprivation of rights suffered by seamen (Robertson v. Baldwin, 165 U.S. 275, 282, (1897)), the duty of serving on juries, the ability of a state to compel work on the roads without compensation (Butler v. Perry, 240 U.S. 328), etc.). As the Supremes said in Butler:

240 U.S. 328, 333.

Unfortunately, the only case specifically dealing with the issue of the draft dealt with the subject summarily, stating, in essence, that the Court couldn’t conceive of the theory by which conscription equated to involuntary servitude. Sometimes, the Supremes can be a bit of a pain…

What it comes down to is that the Court recognizes that the 13th Amendment was intended to prevent slavery, and unless the complained of behaviour smells like old-style slavery, it won’t be barred by the amendment.

Which isn’t to say it ought to be done…

I was just talking about this with my father last night. He spent 28 years in the military and now works for the Red Cross at a director-level position.

He happened to remark that, in a time with a growing economy, and unemployment dropping ever lower, who on Earth wants to join the military as an enlisted person, when you might actually get called up? Very few people. That’s why the services are having difficulty meeting their recruitment goals.

He says he thinks there should be 2 years of mandatory military service for all men and women. I think he was always disappointed that I didn’t go to college on ROTC or something.

The problem, as I see it, with a revived forced conscription like the one in place before the Vietnam War, is that the second a war breaks out, you’re gonna see millions of college students (I’ll wave to you guys from a protest) burning draft cards, starting riots, basically a replay of the late 60s. I am a pacifist, so why should I be forced to fight? Why should the will of the government (not the people) circumvent my personal convictions? What I really don’t understand is the proposal (at least to the best of my knowledge) seems to show bipartisan support. Where did all the draft-dodging hippies in the Congress go? If the government wants to raise the amount of soldiers, they should make it look glamorous again. After learning about Korea and Vietnam, most people I know wouldn’t want to consider joining any branch of the service.

“There are many sweeping generalizations that are always true” -Space Ghost

I think any war that threatend national survival would generate plenty of volunteers. In the first months after Pearl Harbor there were far more young men lined up to join than the military could deal with. This is why I disagree that conscription is an “essential power” as the Supreme Court said, quoted by DSYoungEsq.

As LongHrn99 mentioned, many wars, like Vietnam, get very few volunteers. If this makes the leaders less likely to intervene militarily, that’s fine with me. If they can’t do it with a small professional army, maybe they shouldn’t be doing it at all.

War is increasingly the province of professionals, willing (at least in theory) to fight pretty much anywhere. The reasons: (1) Ultra-tech military arms require professional levels of training; (2) Far-flung interventions in balance of power struggles don’t justify conscription or attract masses of volunteers.

Regardless of the OP’s intent, isn’t a miltia sytem being confused with conscription here?

“Kings die, and leave their crowns to their sons. Shmuel HaKatan took all the treasures in the world, and went away.”

tatertot wrote:

Isn’t that what the U.S. has been doing for the last couple of decades?

Be all you can be! Aim high! The few, the proud! Get money for college! Take a ride on a nuclear submarine! Travel to exotic foreign lands, meet interesting people, and kill them!

The truth, as always, is more complicated than that.

The answer to the OP is, no. No politician in either party is going to start drafting our sons and daughters and stay in office very long.

Our lower enlisted soldiers with families are living in poverty. They’re living in poverty thousands of miles away from home. Can anyone imagine anything worse? At the risk of being labeled a “throw money at it liberal”, I suggest raising the standard of living for these men and women.

Doesn’t the Air Force give recruits the oppertunity to earn an A.A. during their first enlistment? Why can’t the other services do that? Why not bring back the old GI bill? Can Trett Lott find it in his heart to spend a little money improving base housing? I hate to sound overly simplistic, but we’re talking about our national security here.


Mandatory service? Just try it. Train me to use a gun, and then I’ll go AWOL and just you try and stop me. I don’t believe in mandatory anything. If I had my way, the world would have a single, practically non-existent government, the only law would be don’t mess with others, and everyone would follow that law and that would be that. Of course, some people are the moral equivalent of the lower intestine, so I would have a gun.

Do you see what I’m saying? Mandatory schmandatory. There are plenty of people out there who are willing to join the army and make a profession of it. And you can be sure that a middling-sized group of highly trained soldiers is going to be a hell of a lot more effective than a large group of not-so-trained soldiers, most of whome don’t want to be there.

A veteran of any sort is always worth ten ten times his number in recruits. My brother was in the military (I have nothing against the military, it’s just not my style, and don’t EVER try to force me into anything) for a decade. He hurt his shoulder and knee doing what they wanted of him. Now he’s a thirty year-old who, despite his excellent physique, is not what he was 10 years ago. He’s neither as fit nor as healthy. If you put him in a gym with an 18 year old football player, he’d get the snot kicked out of him. But if you put them both in the woods at night with a knife, the world is out one quarterback.

Expertise and moral count for a lot. Would you rather be defended by an unhappy mob or a dedicated force?

I’m Active duty Army (in case my screen name didn’t make it obvious). I was in high school in the days when the draft had just ended & the all-volunteer force began. I’m also a parent of an 18 yo college freshman (male).

There are a couple of factors that are making this (recruitment, retention) a major issue today.

  1. Strong economy that provides lucrative alternatives.
  2. Parents who grew up affected by Vietnam or with minimal exposure to the military who can’t see the military as a good option for their kids.
  3. Lack of a clear mission (the Cold War’s over, isn’t it?)
  4. Paradoxically, considering #3, higher chance of getting sent to inhospitable areas (Honduras, Haiti, Colombia, Somalia, Saudi/Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, ?Chechnya, ?Taiwan) and being in harm’s way.
  5. Blurring of lines between officers & enlisted roles. To be promoted beyond E-6 (Staff Sergeant) you almost have to have a college degree. To make it to E-9 (Sergeant Major) or to O-4 (Major), you pretty much have to have a Master’s degree. There are huge pay gaps between officer & enlisted ranks that don’t reflect the current educational/experience requirements to progress in rank.
  6. The gotta have a college degree mentality. Unfortunately, too many people see the service & attaining a college degree in a reasonable period of time as incompatible. There are actually a number of ways to do both, depending on your personal priorities.
  7. Despite complaints of low pay, pay is dramatically better now for junior enlisted soldiers than in the draft era. What hurts recruitment worse than low pay is erosion of benefits. Retirement from the military after 20 years has been watered down significantly. Free lifetime medical care now costs $600/year + deductibles + co-pays for those lucky enough to still live near a military base that hasn’t been closed. On getting out, you are barred from working for a military contractor for some time. If you take a government job, your military retirement pay is reduced (usually to nothing) based on your salary.

My recommendation is to offer a program structured like this:

1 summer spent at boot camp (before or after HS senior year) PLUS
1 summer spent at advanced individual training (learning a specialty) PLUS
1 6 month deployment to somewhere yucky (with advance warning).

in exchange for: pocket change while serving & $12,000 (off the top of my head number) for college.

Individuals choice during/after college to:

  • Do another deployment for more money.
  • Sign up for Reserves to continue earning $$$, but be at risk for future deployments.
  • Convert (after deployment) to ROTC if selected.
  • Get out after college with NO obligation (possible exception for all-out war)
  • Enter active duty as E-4, with automatic promotion to E-5 in 1 year if no “demerits”.

But no one’s put me in charge, yet…

Sue from El Paso

I read an article in Harpers or Atl Monthly awhile ago that was essentially arguing for a return of the draft, but for societal, not military reasons. The author pointed out that the military, socio-economically and politically, is quite different from the general population. To wit: more minorities, lower on the economic scale, and much much more conservative politically.

I don’t recall whether the author’s research concluded that conservatives were more likely to serve, or whether military service made one more conservative. I suspect both are true. But I do recall him pointing out that the current military, especially the officer corps, is overwhelmingly of one political party (Republican); and that moreover this has never been the case before.

The author argued that draftee service acted as a societal glue; think of the classic Hollywood war movie with the farm boy, the Brooklyn Italian, the Jew, etc. all in the same foxhole. There was a great deal of reality to that, and it takes little imagination to imagine how military service, even without combat, breeds mutual respect.
Again, our military today isn’t much like that.

I think we’re a long way from the point where the army refuses to obey orders because the commander-in-chief is a ‘liberal pissant draft-dodger,’ And I have a lot of regard for the professionalism of our military. But I think there are obvious dangers to societal cohesion in having some sort of informal division of labor, in which only those of a certain political bent are likelyserve in the military.
Beside all that, I’d consider the benefits of military service to the individuals who serve. Everybody I know who has been in the military, even the ones who hated it, will still tell you (with a little bit of prodding) that they came out better people because of it; more disciplined, more confident, better able to work in teams, etc. I think society would benefit greatly from more people having those skills and expereience.
I’m not sure I support a return to the draft, even a limited kind like the Major suggests above. But I absolutely don’t think it’s a crazy idea.

“It all started with marbles in school…”

I have to disagree with the Major, where in the HELL does the Constitution say I owe the government anything other than taxes? All-volunteer is the way to go. As stated by someone else earlier, give me a gun and show me how to use it, I’m gonna go AWOL. While that may seem like a good idea to someone who chooses to serve in the military, to me that’s a year of my life wasted. Wasted because I’m not free. I cannot make my own decisions, I can’t choose my job (other than my specialty, I’m still a slave IMHO), I can’t choose the housing that I live in, I can’t choose what country (or state) I live in, and 6 of those months are spent in a crap-hole!! Seems to me with a system like that you’re just begging people to draft-dodge. You want to make it look GOOD not SHITTY.

“There are many sweeping generalizations that are always true” -Space Ghost