Top military brass made headlines this week when they called for expanding the Selective Service System — as close as we come, these days, to a draft registry — to include women. Gen. Mark A. Milley, the Army chief of staff, and Gen. Robert B. Neller, the Marine Corps commandant, both framed the issue as a matter of fairness: All eligible U.S. citizens should be included, Neller said, “Now that the restrictions that exempted women from [combat jobs] don’t exist.” But a better idea than requiring women to register is to do away with Selective Service altogether, for women and men.
When it comes to the draft, or any lingering vestige of it, it’s time for Congress to end it, not mend it.
The entire draft architecture is anachronistic and unnecessary. We’ve operated with an all-volunteer force for decades; no one, regardless of gender, expects that they’ll be drafted; and the wars that we fight don’t depend upon conscription. Future wars aren’t likely to, either.
Selective service was instituted during World War I, but America’s first peacetime draft, the Selective Service Act of 1940, was enacted as much of Europe and parts of Asia descended into the maelstrom of another world war. Many Americans wanted desperately to stay out, but also understood the need to prepare for it. All told, around 10 million men were drafted during World War II, but the act expired after the war ended.
Our military is all-volunteer for a reason. Time to end the pretense that we still need Selective Service.
Selective service started up again in the late 1940s, but notably did not include President Harry Truman’s call for universal military training. Selecting some men via the draft provided the military with the troops it needed to prosecute the wars in Korea and Vietnam. But the idea of forcing all men to serve during peacetime never took hold because the requirements of those wars never called for 10 million-plus men to fight them. The selective nature of the draft exposed the system to charges of unfairness, particularly with respect to exemptions given during the Vietnam era for those able to ride out the war as college students, but it still made more sense than the alternative: compelling every man to serve in a military that didn’t need them.
Compulsory service is even less essential today. America’s wars of the post-conscription era have been fought by far smaller forces, and our mixed track record in those conflicts hasn’t been a function of the number of available troops. Rather, the inability to achieve decisive victory in places like Iraq and Afghanistan reflects the inherent difficulty of nation-building, and our body politic’s understandable weariness with open-ended and costly missions in distant lands.
Read the full piece at the Cato Institute’s website