Recent discussion on this page has centered on the necessity of protest against the ever-lengthening American engagement in Iraq. On a related note, a few writers have decried the socioeconomic inequity that is said to characterize the makeup of the American military. This grievance has been posited as a reason to oppose the war. During this discourse, it has been suggested that Congress reinstate the Selective Service in order to bring a swift end to the war and, perhaps, force some of America’s more privileged youths into serving their country.
Though the idea of a draft at first glance strikes us as radical but tenable, we should dismiss it after another glance as implausible. Quite simply, if Congress were united in such fervent opposition to the war that it were willing to institute such a draft, why would it seek to achieve its end using such a roundabout method? If Congress wanted to end the war, it could certainly use legislative and less costly means to do so. To deny that Congress has these means is to overstate the body’s impotence. The main reason that Congress has taken no such action is because the idea of full-scale disengagement is widely viewed as an imprudent decision.
Thus, the idea of a draft being reinstated in order to galvanize opposition is not even dangerous: It is inconceivable and nonsensical. If the efforts on the part of disgruntled citizens and protesters have failed to adequately convince the government that immediate withdrawal is necessary, then it would be infinitely more difficult to persuade it that a draft should be instated for the aforementioned purpose.
Though the above scenario is rarely considered seriously, some have interspersed discussions of Iraq with demands for more socioeconomic diversity in the military. This idea — that the war is currently fought by men and women from low-income families, many of them minorities — was accepted by professor Joel Rosenbaum and labeled “despicable” by Alexandra Schwartz in recent columns and letters in the News. And indeed, they are not alone: New York Congressman Charles Rangel famously proposed a draft on multiple occasions to eradicate this apparent imbalance. But are these objections valid? Is the livelihood of America’s privileged society being brazenly placed in the hands of an “underclass” that is forced into the military with nowhere else to go in life?
The answer, by and large, is no. Ethnically, the makeup of the military nearly parallels that of the nation, with minorities only slightly overrepresented. The proportion of enlistees with high-school diplomas, 98 percent, is considerably higher than the national average for the age group, and practically all military officers have bachelor’s degrees. According to estimates, the mean household income of military recruits fluctuates very closely with that of the nation. Urban areas are, if anything, underrepresented. Statistics show that the rural and suburban South provides the most recruits. The most significant difference between the military’s makeup and that of the nation is that the former has a significantly higher percentage of wealthy households represented than the latter. The military, economically, is disproportionately average.
Though there exist some uneven socioeconomic disparities in the military, it is unclear that they are overwhelming and need to be eliminated. It is important to remember that an all-volunteer military is just that: voluntary. It is true that the economic incentives the military provides have a larger appeal to the middle and lower classes than they do to the upper classes. But young men and women from average or meager socioeconomic circumstances exist in vast numbers all over the country, and most of them are not and never will serve in the military. If economic incentives are to be provided, inevitably the wealthiest people will seize on them less frequently. But to use this fact as a justification for a spiteful draft would be noxious and divisive.
In the end, this discussion ignores a larger truth that supersedes statistical assessments of any sort. If the military can recruit what it needs from a pool of young people who chose its path over many others, a draft need not be instated for any reason. Only when more manpower is necessary should we take such a difficult step. Why, I would ask, would it ever be the government’s job to ensure that the military has a certain number of affluent soldiers? What would be the purpose? Those who enlist are free to do otherwise. Moreover, many of them might faintly resent the implication that their decision was based solely on their economic circumstances. Accordingly, military recruitment should hope to disinter merit and willingness in the people it seeks rather than simply noting the income of a person’s parents. This war may have been wrong, but an unnecessary draft cannot, and should not, change that.
Daniel Bleiberg is a sophomore in Trumbull College.