Draft Debate

First part of a three-part series

Richard T. Gill, Lecturer on Ecoomics, likes to tell Ec 1 students that his field is a sort-of science as it is now, and that it would be more of science if there were a laboratory in which to test economic theory. "After all," he says, "you can't expect the government to raise taxes a bit so we can see what happens, can you?" This gets a laugh, perhaps because it comes early in the year when it is especially nice to get a principle of economics dirt cheap.

The real joke is that suddenly social scientists have decided that the government ought to give them a colossal laboratory -- the military establishment and the attendant Selective Service System. And with pressure for draft reform coming from the most respectable places, they just might get it.

The army is indeed an ideal place to study social change. Witness the case of integration in the armed forces.

President Truman issued an executive order in July of 1948 abolishing racial segregation in the armed forces. By the mid '50's the plan was an accomplished fact -- and the change had produced enough fascinating material on race relations to stuff a hundred theses. It might have taken decades of observing society-at-large to get the same information.

Or take the problem of "occupational cross-over": what do you do with the thousands of highly skilled military police who leave the army each year? Do you discount their training entirely and send them to a police academy -- as is done in New York City? Do you hire them the minute you see their discharge papers, as is the practice in small towns?

The social scientists are not interested only in stacking up data; they are advocating drastic reform, and it is from their work that politicians draw the ideas and phrases which are daily displayed as part of the debate on the draft, Partly the scientists are excited by the prospect of having their theories tested, partly they are excited that the government, after years of sullen hostility to academics, is soliciting their advice.

If they are economists they want to apply new managerial techniques and manpower selection methods to the draft system. They want to cut costs and minimize waste of human resources by calling for an end to the draft and the establishment of a volunteer army.

If they are anthropologists or psychologists or sociologists they look to the military and the draft as one last chance of saving drop-outs, cop-outs and freak-outs; as a way of up-setting the habits and responses of slum life. They want some form of national service, involving as many people as possible.

It is the lawyers, half-breed social scientists, who call for a reconsideration of the present system. The lawyers are interested in protecting the rights of men seeking conscientous objector status, of ending the arbitrary power of local boards in granting deferments, in making sure that every man who signs up for the Selective Service understands what his obligations and privileges are.

Volunteer Army

The economist's case is presented by Milton Friedman, professor of Economics at the University of Chicago. He argues that it would cost the government about $5 billion annually to make military salaries. Friedman claims that we are "taxing" young men in the army by paying them less than what they could earn on the open market. If these "taxes," he continues, are added to the present military budget, it will actually be cheaper to pay for a volunteer army. The obvious and over-riding advantage of such an army is that the amount of coersion in society is reduced.

Friedman maintains that a volunteer army could be smaller than the present army because the reenlistment rate would be higher and so fewer men would be needed to train new inductees. Better pay during a volunteer's career might lessen the political appeal of veterans benefits which now amount to some billion dollars a year.

Transitional Draft

To get from the present system to a volunteer army Friedman would use a "transitional draft." He calls for reduced physical and mental qualifications for volunteers and offers them rehabilitation; volunteers might even receive higher salaries than draftees. Civilians would still be available for the draft, but only from the ages of 18 1/2 to 20 1/2. (Today a man can be drafted anytime between the ages of 18 and 26. The theory behind the present system according to the Selective Service, is that the threat of eight years of vulnerability goads a man into volunteering.) Under the "transitional draft," deferments for hardship cases would be retained, while the 2-S would be eliminated. Students, drafted during their college years, however, would be allowed to put off service until after graduation. Some 3.2 million men would find themselves classed 1-A if this system were adopted today, which is about twice the number needed to fill the military's needs. A lottery could be used to choose men from the pool. A skeleton Selective Service, based in Washington, could keep track of draft-age men in case they were needed for a general mobilization.

Advocates of the volunteer army have also suggested that men taken by the "transitional draft" be compensated for their involuntary service by an income tax deduction -- not a credit -- of $600 a year for ten years.

Opponents of the plan protest, first of all, that a volunteer army would cost not $5 billion but $17 billion. The latter figure is derived from the same data as Friedman's, but as one Defense Department official points out, "econometrics is an art not a science. No one really knows how to handle the data for such a long-range estimate." To this Friedman replies that the surest way of seeing who is right is to raise salaries and watch the enlistment rate. If the number of volunteers increases with salary, keep raising the salary until the draft can be ended.

Some social theorists fear the political consequences of a volunteer force. They point to the police forces in the large metropolitan centers where a "self-selective" process -- sons of policemen joining the force, the daughter of one policemen marrying the son of another -- has produced a social group relatively isolated from the rest of society. These theorists claim that such self-selection is dangerous not only in that it encourages the formation of a military elite but also because a social group gives a certain "style" to any bureaucracy it controls. Look, they say, at the difference between American police, who are recruited from groups where lawlessness had a political virtue, and English police, who were selected for certain specific characteristics -- strength and patience.

Friedman's rebuttal is that officers, not enlisted men, can become politically dangerous and that officers for a volunteer army can be recruited in the same democratic way employed now -- by an elaborate system of geographic distribution controlled by admissions officers at West Point, and by the ROTC program. "People are forever saying that a conscript army full of unwilling soldiers is a safeguard against a military take-over," Friedman says. "They forget that the army behind Napoleon was a conscript army. In fact the word conscript was coined during the French Revolution."

Tired Soldiers

The most politically potent argument for a volunteer army is a slogan: "The soldier is worth his hire." Friedman says that it is plainly unfair to punish a man by drafting him and then punish him a second time by forcing him to accept substandard wage. Again he argues from history: "Was not one of the great gains in the progress of civilization the conversion of taxes in kind to taxes in money? The elimination of the power of the noble or the sovereign to exact compulsory servitude?"

But many remain unconvinced. Military men doubt that a volunteer army will be flexible enough; it will be too difficult, they say, to beef up the army in time of crises such as the Berlin wall incident or the Cuban missile affairs. What will happen to the reserves? Reservists, almost to a man, signed up to avoid the draft. If the threat of induction is removed will the reserves, a valuable second line of defense, evaporate?

Liberals and radicals have their rhetorical questions also. Is it fair to ask the poor, who presumably will be attracted to a volunteer army, to fight our wars? Shouldn't there be some feeling of community, a desire to distribute, if not death, then the likelihood of death, among all classes in the population?

These same liberals and radicals question the influence of a volunteer army on foreign policy. A President is less likely to commit American troops in a given situation, they reason, if he fears that American involvement might force higher draft calls affecting the politically articulate middle class. Thus a professional army effectively increases a President's power. He will be able to use a moderate-sized military force without considering the domestic consequences. This argument, however, can be turned around. Once the United States does get involved in a war, the middle classes find reasons for supporting the war, and it becomes politically dangerous to admit mistakes or attempt to withdraw. It is often said that the only way we can get out of Vietnam is by changing Administraitons. A change of Administration preceded the Korean cease-fire. If this assumption is true, then it is wise to give the President a professional army because it will be easier for him to pull out American troops when he decides involvement was wrong in the first place.

Another draw-back of the volunteer army, from the radical point of view, is that such an army will swallow up the most energetic element of the ghetto. The college-trained Negro will not be interested in the army; industry is opening up to him. The poorest Negroes will not be able to pass the physical or mental tests. It is the aspiring Negro, the man who still believes he can get more than he has, who will be attracted to the volunteer army. And is that the best place for him? Should he become part of an ingrown bureaucracy, or would it be better to put him in charge of community organizing in his own neighborhood?