Stay Out of the Draft

After the Vietnam War, when the draft was history, Army Chief of Staff General Creighton Abrams redesigned the all volunteer Army so it would never again be sent to war without the support of the American people. To that end, Abrams divided many logistical support functions and long term combat capability between the Army Reserves and National Guard.  This Army was structured so that while regular forces could handle short term contingencies, longer term commitments or general war required mobilization of some, if not all, the Reserve components. General Abrams understood that when citizen-soldiers are committed, the country is committed.

It was a plan suited to the times and adequate for the most likely Cold War contingencies.  The Army of 1975, structured for state-on-state conventional warfare against other Industrial Age armies, also needed substantial numbers of soldiers to find, fix and annihilate the enemy with massive firepower. Then things changed when the Soviet Union imploded and its massive army disintegrated. Accordingly, between 1991 and 2001 the Army dropped from twenty to ten divisions, down to 485,000 active duty soldiers.

Simultaneously, the advent of the Information Age and digitization enabled the Army to “leverage” technology so that fewer troops could fight more effectively.  Advances in communications coupled with nearly comprehensive knowledge of friendly and enemy force dispositions enabled rapid maneuver to bring firepower to bear precisely and effectively at the critical points on the battlefield.  Victory in Information Age warfare depends on highly-motivated, smarter, well-trained and well-led soldiers.

This Army, although out-numbered four-to-one by Iraqi forces, stormed to Baghdad in less than a month, with fewer casualties than its Vietnam predecessor suffered during a moderate week of fighting at the height of the conflict. Superior leadership at every level from platoon to division, excellence in realistic training and high-quality weaponry delivered quick—if not decisive—victory.

In Iraq, the Army faces the toughest sort of challenge: insurgency and guerrilla warfare in towns and cities. The enemy has adopted an asymmetric strategy of protracting the war while inflicting as much pain as possible.  Unable to win on the battlefield, the insurgents plan to win by breaking the will of the American people. The best approach is to kill the insurgents and the Army has the firepower to do just that. While more soldiers would be useful, bringing back the draft is not the answer  Here’s why.

First. Information Age warfare requires smart, highly-motivated soldiers. Today’s Army attracts that kind of young man or woman.  For instance, two of my students—I am a college professor—have enlisted and are bound for basic training after graduation. Three others have earned commissions in the Marine Corps, another is headed for the Air Force and one young lady is going to the C.I.A.  They are among today’s best and brightest.

Second.  The draft will create a two-tiered force consisting of poorly-paid conscripts on one level and more highly compensated volunteers at another level. This will wreak havoc on morale. While today’s enlistees, particularly those volunteering for combat arms, are not compensated enough, they are comparatively well-paid.  Many entry-level teaching jobs pay no better.  Frankly, there is no adequate salary for selfless sacrifice.

Third.  The Army has neither the personnel nor the facilities to train large numbers of conscripts. There is more to Information Age soldiering than marching, firing a rifle and tossing grenades. Experienced soldiers needed at the front would have to be withdrawn to train conscripts. Funds needed to support the war effort would be diverted to expand training facilities and to provide the necessary support infrastructure.

Fourth.  Ever wonder why many prominent liberals advocate reviving the draft?  Do you think they want an overwhelming force to find, fix and annihilate the enemy?  No. The most craven among them hope reinstituting the draft will rekindle the anti-war movement and engender the anti-military feelings that poisoned the atmosphere in those agonizing last years of the Vietnam War.  Some long for the teach-ins, anti-war demonstrations and that whiff of tear gas in the air that marked their formative years. Others smell another opportunity to use the military for social engineering; to advance causes like women’s rights and gays in the military.

While the Army is not perfectly-structured for challenges it faces in Iraqi, taking the Army back to a Vietnam-era conscript force suited for Industrial Age warfare is not a viable option. Today’s U.S. Army remains the world’s best ground force. Support it and the Army will do what it is supposed to do—fight and win the nation’s wars.

Earl H. Tilford

Earl H. Tilford

Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A retired Air Force intelligence officer, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. In 2001, he left Government service for a professorship at Grove City College, where he taught courses in military history, national security, and international and domestic terrorism and counter-terrorism. Email: [email protected]

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