thinking sensibly about today's issues
TwitterTwitter FacebookFacebook RSSRSS

Ramping vs. Readiness: The Case for Conscription Lesson #4 (of 7) from the Aftermath of 9/11

The cost and duration of military conflicts is strongly affected by the time required to assemble, equip, train, and deploy military forces to the theatre of operations. In some cases, the ability to quickly and effectively field combatants ultimately spells the difference between success and failure. Probably the most well known example is the event that became (somewhat erroneously) known as “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” But history is full of examples demonstrating that when it comes to military conflict, an ounce of prevention truly is worth a pound of cure. A rapid response to crisis situations almost always reduces damage and saves lives.

Following 9/11, the response time of the United States in addressing the challenges to US National Security posed by terrorist threats was too slow, according to some of our most experienced military leaders and political leaders. On April 2nd, 2008, John McCain said the US must make a military build-up an urgent national priority, describing acute personnel shortages. “We waited too long to begin that buildup,” he said. “Had we begun to do it right after 9/11 – as we realized that we were now in a global struggle against a malicious enemy, or as we embarked on two wars, or even when it became clear to many of us that our flawed strategy and inadequate troop levels in Iraq were going to result in that conflict lasting far longer than anticipated — we would not be in the situation we are in now.” I agree with McCain on that point. Where we differ is that he believes it could have been done without a draft. I believe the need for conscription to avoid falling into this situation is the right answer, and that it is a lesson that even now – a decade after 9/11/2001, America has failed to learn.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, there are just over 3 million high schoolers graduating each year in the United States. There are currently 1.5 million active military, and 833,000 reservists. Also, according to their web sites there are 8,655 Peace Corps active service members and 750,000 active Americorps service members. In order to strengthen US readiness for potential military conflicts, as well as improve our readiness for natural disasters, a conscription process could be utilized. The conscription process would deliver needed services in crisis situations through Americorps to agencies such as the Red Cross, and provide a richer and larger pool of military inductees at comparatively low cost to “upgrade the herd”. Conscripting all high school graduates could essentially double the military and civilian forces, produce a more mature and broadly skilled work force following their service, and enable people who might not otherwise be able to afford secondary education to do so.

In terms of the benefits for conscription in military service, the following arguments can be made:

  • Dramatically increases the strength of US Armed Forces at a relatively low cost.
  • Conscription based military forces experience lower rates of desertion than all-volunteer services.
  • Conscription based military organizations fight better than all-volunteer organizations.
  • Conscription based military organizations demonstrate that economic and social class are irrelevant

Beyond strengthening the country’s deployable forces (both military and civilian), this type of national service usually engenders valuable character traits. Those involved – especially on the military side – are taught respect for authority, self-discipline, teamwork and leadership skills. In both the military and civilian service areas, conscription-based national service also teaches skills which means that when people leave they will be more qualified for the job market. It helps to promote patriotism and a sense of national pride. Finally, all Americans have a duty to “give something back” to society, and national service enables this to happen. It drives cooperation and community-based action rather than acting merely for selfish ends.

There are certainly a number of anecdotal evidences of the value of conscription. At least 30 of the 79 currently recognized countries maintain active conscription programs including Russia, China, Israel, North Korea, South Korea, and Iran. Among the most widely regarded conscription based national service programs is the Israeli military. In a 2009 book published by the Council on Foreign relations entitled “Start-Up Nation”, Dan Senor and Saul Singer explain Israel’s entrepreneurial successes as products of Israeli national character attributable largely to conscription. The book relates many accounts of how Israeli entrepreneurs leverage personal contacts made as conscripts in Israel’s army, navy and intelligence services. Top telecommunications service and equipment vendors emerged from Israel’s elite intelligence services, and the book describes the experience and training provided by Israel’s armed services as “much better than college.” Start-Up nation closes by recommending that the United States implement its own conscript-based national service in order to replicate the camaraderie, social networks, and national sense of purpose that propel Israel’s innovative, entrepreneurial society.

How could a conscription process work in the United States?

The foundation of the conscription process would be comprised of this principle: Everyone owes some national service to his or her country for the privilege of citizenship, unless they are medically unable to perform such service. Graduation from high school is the most appropriate time for that service, because young people are coming of age, and accepting responsibility for casting votes in national elections, consuming adult beverages, and carrying out other adult responsibilities such as committing themselves to marriage and children. It is also the time when most people identify – if not a specific career – at least a career field that they intend to pursue. Coincidentally, it is the most common life stage at which people enter military service. A two year “hitch” (or service period) seems reasonable – it is the equivalent of what used to be a military service period for drafted US servicemen during the Viet Nam era. The national service may be either military or civilian, with a prescribed percentage flowing into both sides each year. Conscripted individuals are first tested and evaluated, with the more intelligent candidates offered an opportunity to serve in managerial positions, working their way up through those ranks. Less physically strong candidates are guided into service level positions in civilian service, and stronger – but – less – mentally – gifted candidates are guided toward enlisted ranks in the military services. Depending on the rank or level ultimately attained by inductees, they achieve eligibility for either two years of post-service technical training or four years of state university tuition.

Such an approach would strengthen the military, broaden the capabilities of young people entering the work force, and contribute in immeasurable ways to the character and unity of our nation. It is a lesson that the United States should have learned long before 9/11/2001. However, especially in the aftermath of those events, when – as Senator McCain put it – we took too long to build up our military in order to effectively prosecute “a global struggle against a malicious enemy.” We cannot afford to continue to ignore this opportunity.

What do you think?

2 Responses to “Ramping vs. Readiness: The Case for Conscription Lesson #4 (of 7) from the Aftermath of 9/11”

  1. Brother Steve says:

    Pretty cool stuff! Wish I had more time to read and converse. Where do find the time and energy?

    Take care

    • Thanks, Steve; I wish you had time, too; would love to hear your thoughts on any of these topics any time!
      I certainly had more time for writing while I was in the Middle East, but I still manage to crank an article out here and there….

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

Powered by WordPress | Designed by Elegant Themes