2012: A New York Times editorial by Thomas Ricks, fellow at the Center for a New American Security, proposes that the American government reinstate a military draft for young people. Theorizing that an influx of high school graduates not on a career military track could perform work currently outsourced to private companies, Ricks suggests a draft would ultimately benefit the entire nation:
Unlike Europeans, Americans still seem determined to maintain a serious military force, so we need to think about how to pay for it and staff it by creating a draft that is better and more equitable than the Vietnam-era conscription system.
Critics will argue that this is a political non-starter. It may be now. But America has already witnessed far less benign forms of conscription. A new draft that maintains the size and the quality of the current all-volunteer force, saves the government money through civilian national service and frees professional soldiers from performing menial tasks would appeal to many constituencies.
But most of all, having a draft might, as General McChrystal said, make Americans think more carefully before going to war. Imagine the savings — in blood, tears and national treasure — if we had thought twice about whether we really wanted to invade Iraq.
1863: During the Civil War, both the Union and Confederate armies broke the longstanding tradition of volunteer service and conscripted able-bodied young men to serve. A Harper’s Weekly editorial minimized resistance to the draft and argued for its success and popularity:
The notion that the people of the United States would not submit to be drafted was the last plank to which the enemies of the Union clung. It was realized at Richmond and in England that, with our present vantage-ground, the suppression of the rebellion was a mere question of time, if only we could keep our armies up to a proper numerical strength. Hence the hysterical delight of the Richmond papers over the anti-draft riot in New York, and the ponderous disquisitions of the London press upon the impossibility of enforcing a conscription among the Northern masses. In this, as in so many other cases, the wish was father to the thought; but the event has disappointed both.
We shall commence the Fall campaign with our armies fully recruited to the war standard, and with such advantages over the enemy in point of numbers, material of war, position, prestige, and experienced leadership as to render our success reasonably certain. And—what is scarcely of less importance—we shall have made a precedent for all future time that may save us many a war. No politician of any standing will dare hereafter to question the right of the Government to the armed service of all citizens.
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