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Military Conscription in the New Millennium:

Thrown into the Line of Fire

The United States Constitution addresses this nation’s need to defend itself. Article 1, Section 8, describes the responsibility of Congress to “provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.” [1]  Historically, the nation has often had to call upon its armed forces to fight in wars and other conflicts around the world. For example, the U.S. military has participated in the War of 1812, the First and Second World Wars, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, and the current war in Iraq, among others. Since September 11, 2001, American troops have been called to Afghanistan and Iraq in an effort to stop global terrorism. These military commitments have stretched thin the current levels of available U.S. troops.[2]  The country’s military needs have exceeded its military capacity, so the government has required members of the active armed forces as well as the reserves and the National Guard to serve extra time on active duty.[3]  This raises the possibility that the nation needs a larger military, in order to decrease the demand being put on the active troops and the reserves. In fact, there is a bill to reinstate the draft sitting in Congress which was recently defeated, but which could be resurrected if the need for more troops becomes critical.[4]  This would be a very bad decision, because bringing back the draft would cause an uproar in the country. According to a recent poll, 68 percent of American adults are opposed to a draft.[5] In addition, most young Americans say that they do not believe President Bush when he says that he will not reinstitute the draft.[6]  Since the vast majority of Americans oppose a draft, and since military conscription is in many ways unethical, this should not be the path that the president and Congress take. In short, the United States military should be based on volunteers, not conscription.

Some Americans are calling for a renewal of the draft because the U.S. armed forces, at their current levels, are being overworked and overstressed. Recently, a number of military experts have claimed that the U.S. Army does not have enough recruits to protect American interests around the world.[7]  As of October 2004, there were 500,000 active-duty Army soldiers, 145,000 of whom are actually reservists or members of the National Guard.[8]  In January of 2001, the number of troops deployed overseas was only 203,000.  As of October 2004, that number had become 500,000, more than doubling American military commitments. [9]  Furthermore, the current number of troops in Iraq, 137,000, has increased from 122,000 in January 2004. [10]  That means that more than one fifth of U.S. ground forces deployed overseas is occupying Iraq, a feudal nation no larger than the state of Texas.  This situation is reminiscent of World War I-era military tactics, where generals marched wave after wave of troops at an enemy trench in the hopes that said enemy would run out of ammunition, or men, before their side did.[11]  The only difference is that today the general is President Bush and the troops have multiplied by the thousands. Although the White House has avoided giving a direct answer to the question of how many troops are needed in Iraq, it is known that the administration hopes to have a well-trained, effective Iraqi police force of about 145,000 by the end of January 2005. [12] Many fear that this is an idealist’s gamble. The number of National Guard and reserve members called up by person-days per year has jumped from 12 million in October of 2000 to 63 million by January of 2004.[13]

The strain of this over-commitment is beginning to show in the troops serving overseas. Many are saying that the U.S. government has misled them and that they should be back at home with their families.[14] Some have even filed lawsuits against the U.S. government for manipulating their military contracts.[15] If even more manpower is needed in Iraq, and if the Iraqi security forces prove incompetent, the U.S. will be facing a major dilemma, and a military draft may be the only way to salvage the situation in Iraq.  Therefore, there are Americans calling for a renewal of the draft because the Army is being dangerously overworked. 

Many Americans believe that the draft is not the answer to the country’s military problems. In fact, some people feel that it is unconstitutional to force people to serve in the military. For example, Congressman Ron Paul of Texas firmly opposes the draft.  He claims that military conscription abuses the individual freedoms that are granted to all citizens by the United States Constitution.[16] “It is no exaggeration to state that military conscription is better suited for a totalitarian government, such as the recently dethroned Taliban regime, than free society,” Paul said in a speech to Congress in 2002.[17]  In addition, being forced to fight can decrease morale significantly, thus decreasing efficiency and effectiveness.[18]

Few people believe that forcing people to serve is ethical. Though neither reliable nor official polls have been taken, it is safe to say that most Americans find the concept of dragging young men kicking and screaming from their families to die on the front lines an unacceptable quick fix to a complex problem. Not only that, but contrary to the claims of the Selective Service, rumors have abounded that the government plans to begin drafting women as well as men into the Army. “There is no draft,” said President George W. Bush in a pre-election debate with former presidential candidate John Kerry. Carefully wording his statement, the president said “is,” not “will be.” His claim gives no promise that there will not be attempts to draft young men and women in the near future. This alone could prove that the White House is using underhanded methods to mask an underhanded move.

Conscription is perfect in theory, but ultimately it is not befitting of a country like the United States, which values liberty and freedom, and it should not be part of any military system. If the U.S. government reinstitutes the draft, it will be sending a message to countries around the world – particularly in the Middle East – that it intends to wage its “war on terror” indefinitely. It will alarm all remaining allies, most of whom are hoping to bring an end to the conflict in Iraq and resolve the rest of our issues with Middle Eastern countries peacefully. For many years, the United States has considered itself the world’s peacemaker and beacon of liberty. However, if this nation continues down its current path, it will be perceived as no more than an international thug.

[1] Constitution of the United States, Article 1, Section 8.

[2]  Jim Miklaszewski, Is the Army stretched too thin? 9 March 2004. [online] (accessed 6 December 2004); Available from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4489450/, HC 2.

[3]  Ibid.

[4]  Amy Fagan, House rejects bill to restart military draft. 6 October 2004. [online] (accessed 6 December 2004); Available from http://www.washingtontimes.com/functions/print.php?storyID=20041006-012158-2811r, HC 1.

[5] Poll Finds Reinstatement Of Draft Unpopular. 9 October 2004. [online] (accessed 1 November 2004); Available from http://www.wixt.com/news/state/story.aspx?content_id=7ef2be86-ab38-42b9-aad4-07c951c11454, HC 1.

[6]  Ibid.

[7]  Jonathan Alter, “We’re Dodging the Draft Issue,” Newsweek, 4 October 2004. [online] (accessed 8 November 2004); [infotrac] HC 2.              

[8]  Mark Thompson, “Does the U.S. Need the Draft?” Time, 18 October 2004. [online] (accessed 8 November 2004); [infotrac] HC 5.

[9]  Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] The Western Front: A World War One Summary [online] (accessed 5 January 2005); Available from http://www.richthofen.com/ww1sum, HC 2-4.

[12] Thomas E. Rick and Josh White, “More Troops Needed In Iraq, Officials Say,” The Washington Post, 24 September 2004.  [online] (accessed 29 November 2004); available from http://www.washingtonpost.com, HC 1.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Monica Davey, “Former G.I.’s, Ordered to War, Fight Not to Go,” The New York Times, 16 November 2004. [online] (accessed 16 November 2004); Available from http://nytimes.com,  HC1.

[15] Ibid.

[16]  Ron Paul’s Speeches and Statements. 20 March 2002. [online] (accessed 13 December 2004): Available from http://www.house.gov/paul/congrec2002/cr0321b02.htm, HC 1.

[17]  Ibid.

[18]  Bringing Back the Draft. 8 January 2003. [online] (accessed 27 September 2004); Available from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/military/jan-june03/draft_1-08.html, HC 3.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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