As I read yet another report this weekend about the difficulty the U.S. military is experiencing in finding fresh troops to deploy to Iraq (and the ways in which this means that some existing deployments are being extended while others are beginning early than expected—or desired), I attempted a mental exercise. While there is a part of me that secretly—and slightly shamefully—enjoys the fact that recruitment is becoming do difficult, I wondered how I would feel if the military actions in Iraq were ones I supported. That is, given that I certainly believe that there are times in which military intervention is necessary, and given that I no longer have the fantasy I had as a teenager that conflict would disappear if everyone simply refused to fight, what would I think should happen if this was an action I supported? The only solution I could come to is certainly not novel—I would want to see a draft of some sort reinstated. The more I mulled over this issue, the more I’ve begun to believe that we should seriously begin to consider either a military draft or some system of obligatory duty.
I hesitate to write this brief essay, if only because it has all the trappings of a stereotype: a starry eyed utopian youth slowly becomes more and more conservative---or at lest more and more cautious—as he ages. While there may indeed be some truth to such a way of figuring what I’m about to say, I hope that’s not the whole of it. I also hope, and I want to make this clear at the start, that I don’t see this as the same proposal being put forth by Representative Charles Rangel, who seems to want to support a draft in large part in order to bring an end to the current conflict. While some of his extended logic may be fine, I don’t like the idea of using massive policy decisions along these lines in order to bring about momentary political ends. So, while there are multiple loose ends that I’ve got to work through, let me propose something along the following lines:
- All U.S.citizens are required—between the ages of 18 and 25—to provide a minimum of two years of service to the federal government in either a military or public service capacity. The non-military options would include programs such as Teach for America, the Peace Corps, organizations that build housing, work on national parks, support returning veterans, etc.
- While military service serves as an “option,” it does have a special distinction, in that in times of military need, the U.S.government could institute a draft that would in effect force random individual’s to serve their obligation in the military.
- Consideration would be given to individuals with long term, familial ties with groups that have traditions of nonviolence (e.g., Mennonites, Friends).
- This policy would not begin until 10 years from the date of its passage (the logic being that the policy is not a reaction to one particular military action and must be put into place on its own logic, just as we shouldn’t alter the Constitution to allow a particular person, like Arnold, run for President, but we might want to amend the Constitution because the “born in the U.S.” provision now seems antiquated—Arnold or not).
The benefits of such a resolution overpower any downside that I can imagine (granting that I am posting this proposal as a way for you to help me imagine downsides that I’m naively overlooking). First, we would cultivate a sense of duty and obligation to one another that is often lacking. Given that the commitment is only two years, it is not as if someone’s entire life is being turned over to the whole. Rather, the two years serve as a way to pay in part for the services of the whole. Second, if we use the work of the WPA as an example, the labor would bring about lasting material, economic, social, and aesthetic change. Third, the U.S. government, as well as U.S. voters, would indeed take a longer and harder look at any military action undertaken. Again, I wouldn’t want to pursue this policy with the idea that it would put an end to military action: no, we have never lived in a world that safe, but I would want one effect of this policy to be more rigorous thought going into the costs and benefits of such action.