Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY), soon to chair the powerful House
Ways and Means Committee, has announced his intention to reinstate
the draft. He has offered three different justifications for the
reversion to conscription after 33 years of an all-volunteer force:
social justice, peace, and better troops.
Rep. Rangel claims that poor people with few opportunities
enlist, often driven to military service because of structural
unemployment. "If a young fellow has an option of having a decent
career, or joining the Army to fight in Iraq, you can bet your life
that he would not be in Iraq," he said on FOX News Sunday
(11/26/2006). This serious charge-that the most vulnerable citizens
are being hauled away to fight in corporate America's wars of
choice while the elite are snow-skiing-is untrue.
According to military data analyzed by The Heritage Foundation,
U.S. troops come from wealthier neighborhoods than their civilian
peers. In fact, the only underrepresented
neighborhoods are those with the lowest incomes.
FOX News's Chris Wallace challenged Rangel on recruit incomes
during a Sunday interview. Wallace asked, "Isn't the volunteer army better educated and
more well-to-do than the general population?"
Rangel replied, "Of course not."
Rangel did not refute the evidence about incomes, but he did
make a new claim about current military volunteers. "And most all
of them come from communities of very, very high unemployment," he
said. This claim may have some basis in fact, but my initial review
of military data shows otherwise. The report I authored includes a
detailed list of participation rates by state. (See Chart 1) For
example, the state of New York has an enlistee-population ratio of
0.72, meaning that New Yorkers are underrepresented in the military
recruits of 2005 by 28 percentage points. New York has a low
unemployment rate as well, at 4.0 percent. Montana, however, has an
even lower unemployment rate but has the highest military
enlistee-population ratio of any state in the nation at 1.57.
The correlation between unemployment and enlistment rates among
the 50 states is negative, not positive, and it is also
statistically insignificant at minus 10.7 percent.
Rep. Rangel also argues that war is less likely under a draft
because policymakers would not want to put their own loved ones in
harm's way. "There's no question in my mind that this president and
this administration would never have invaded Iraq, especially on
the flimsy evidence that was presented to the Congress, if indeed
we had a draft and members of Congress and the administration
thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in
harm's way," he said. Indeed, the Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq war
were fought with a volunteer army, but the Korean War and Vietnam
War were fought with conscript armies. There is simply no substance
to the argument that a draft keeps the peace, but it must be said
that "draft wars" were fought with higher troop levels, and higher
In the last 60 years, America has fought two wars with
conscription and two wars without. The logic that conscription was
the critical determining variable does not hold.
The revolution in military affairs began after the military
converted to all-volunteer soldiers. Soldier pay increased, and the
value of human capital led to a transformation towards a more
technologically advanced force.
Rangels insinuates that the military would obtain better troops
through a draft than it has through the volunteer force. However,
it is difficult to see how motivation and morale would increase if
the ranks were filled by random draw.
It is certainly not the case that current enlistees are poorly
educated. For instance, the average serviceman reads at an entire
grade level higher than his civilian counterpart. High school
graduation rates for wartime recruits are fully 17 percent higher
than for U.S. civilians aged 18-24.
The all-volunteer force has had immense success in drawing
highly motivated individuals through better pay. America's military
leadership is adamantly opposed to instituting a new draft. The
generals and admirals argue that a draft would weaken mission
capability and create enormous structural and management problems.
Morale and force cohesiveness would suffer intensely, particularly
with a two-caste military.
The Threat to Individual Liberty
Regardless of Rangel's arguments, justification of a "just
draft" presents a philosophical dilemma. Coercing people to serve
is detrimental to individual liberty-this is the problem of social
justice based on group demographics rather than individuals. The
U.S. military is one of the most colorblind, merit-based
institutions in the nation. Soldiers surrender their individuality
voluntarily to join a team, with a team mentality. Mandating
service will diminish this choice.
Even if Rangel and his colleagues in power rename their project
"national service," it would still be unjust, because forced
volunteerism is inauthentic. Certainly, Americans will sometimes
accept restrictions on their liberty, such as the speed limit or
income tax, but only to advance the common good. Empowering the
central government to oversee and restrict the employment of all
young Americans for two years is not consistent with common good
restrictions and is instead a dangerous violation of individual
The Pentagon, the President, Congress, and the new Democratic
leadership need to repudiate the idea of a draft as well as the
notion of mandatory volunteerism. All young Americans deserve the
peace of mind that their personal freedom is not in jeopardy.
Kane, Ph.D., is Director of the Center for
International Trade and Economics at The Heritage