Should the Draft Be Reinstated in the United States?

The draft (conscription) has had a long history in the United States. It was not until World War I, though, that the United States relied on the draft to raise the majority of troops. In World War II, Congress approved a draft in response to the fall of France in 1940. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Congress extended the draft to all men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-eight for the duration of the war. After the war ended, Congress extended the draft to ensure that the armed forces would be able to maintain an adequate supply of men during the Cold War.

During the war in Vietnam, opposition to the draft grew stronger as the war became increasingly unpopular. Although draftees comprised only 16 percent of the armed forces, they made up the bulk of front-line units and accounted for half the army’s combat deaths. In addition, because of the availability of student and occupational deferments, the draft affected a disproportionate number of the poor, both black and white. In 1969, in response to widespread protests, President Richard M. Nixon ended deferments and instituted a lottery system. After the American withdrawal from Vietnam, the United States switched to an all-volunteer fighting force. However, in 1980, President Jimmy Carter instituted compulsory draft registration in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Currently, although there is no draft, young men must register for selective service on their eighteenth birthdays.

Although both writers in this debate oppose the war in Iraq, they hold distinctly different opinions concerning the advisability of reinstituting the draft. In “A War for Us, Fought by Them,” William Broyles Jr. says that if Iraq is worth the sacrifice, then everyone, including the children of those legislators who support the war, should be involved in fighting it. According to Broyles, the only way to be certain this occurs is to make sure that everyone—both rich and poor—is subject to a draft. In “For Those Who Believe We Need a Draft,” Rick Jahnkow maintains that the draft will not address the fact that our society is becoming increasingly militaristic. On the contrary, says Jahnkow, the way to eliminate America’s tendency to rely on war to solve problems is to encourage people to question and challenge authority—especially governmental and military authority.