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"We have no choice, and I hope there will be no hesitancy," Chairman Carl Vinson of the House Armed Services Committee said recently about extending the draft laws. True to his word, Rep. Vinson hurried the bill through committee after only superficial testimony from Pentagon representatives, had the House pass it, and delivered his package to the Senate, sometimes a more deliberate body.
If the upper chamber of Congress acts as quickly on the legislation as did the House, public review of present draft inequities and inefficiencies will be postponed another four years. That there are faults in the present system no one in the Pentagon would deny. From the student's point of view the most glaring absurdities of the law scheduled to be extended can be found in the hodge-podge of deferment and exemption regulations. These result in having only 37 per cent of the draft eligible men (few men above the age of 26 are currently drafted) actually inducted or on call.
The problem of determining whether one is part of that 37 per cent, and if so when the axe is liable to fall or whether it wouldn't be a better idea to volunteer and end the suspense, gives countless students insomnia and nervous jitters. If, however, the benign American military were interested in the mental stability of its potential servitors, it could either declare for a policy of Universal Military Training or for the establishment of a professionally attractive standing army. Neither thought seems to have much appeal for the Pentagon, possibly because the Joint Chiefs of Staff are less interested in the mental condition of American youth than they are in obtaining a "reasonable" level of military spending.
For both UMT and the 1957 recommendations of the Cordiner committee on higher and more attractive salaries for trained, essential, skilled personnel are expensive items to present to a budget-minded President. UMT, if it were as universal as the British system, would require all fit American males to perform their military obligation for some period immediately after graduation from high school and would also rely on an active reserve establishment designed to guarantee rapid mobilization of trained troops. The Cordiner report, of which some provisions have been adopted, envisioned greater reliance than is presently possible on a stable body of well-trained professionals. It advocated a salary and promotion system based on the critical skill and merit of a soldier rather than on his time in grade, and deplored the rapid turnover in skilled manpower. Cordiner pointed out that only about 23 per cent of American service men sign up for a second hitch and that the re-enlistment rate for "soft" skills, such as cook and truck-driver, was twice as high as that for "hard" skills, electronics, mechanics or Signal Corps technicians. Considering the expensive and lengthy training in the critical skills area, it seemed to the committee ridiculous to perpetuate a policy which simply fed trained and valuable men out of the military into higher-paying jobs in industry.
But UMT, even if it could survive a debate on the scale of that which accompanied the first such proposal in 1953 and 1954, would cost a chunk of cash. The Cordiner pay scale contemplated a first-year increase in expenditure of $650 million, though the committee thought that in four to six years the plan would decrease in expense and might even be cheaper than the present system in the long run.
But in a year when missiles are cut from the budget still-born, any expenditure on the scale of either plan seems out of the question. Moreover, neither plan contemplates ending the draft, for even under the Cordiner proposals the Army will need privates and the Navy able-bodied seamen. But the only suport for the present system seems to be the argument that without the draft, enlistments in all branches of the armed forces would fall and make it impossible to maintain a military establishment of two-and-a-half million men.
The paradox of the draft as an incentive to enlistment is actually a fairly strong argument for draft extension, if one concurs in the belief that the armed forces must maintain their present size. Most Congressmen do concur and are naturally puzzled when the Army announces that "for economy reasons" it is weeding out 30,000 of its 900,000 men. Perhaps Congress could take the trouble to clear up some of the peculiarities of the deferment and exemption provisions, but these and the anxieties they may create among students are obviously not powerful enough reasons to scrap the draft. It has been suggested that Congress renew the act only for a two-year period and appoint a special committee to report on the inequities of the present laws, but even this moderate suggestion seems fated to oblivion.
The real question that needs to be asked and isn't being asked about the draft is whether it is assuring the nation a well-trained force of men under arms and a reserve capable of rapid and effective mobilization. To both parts of the question, many critics maintain, the answer is an unqualified "No." They view the present arrangement as obsolete in terms of military realities in that it does not set up small fighting units ready for instant transportation to limited trouble spots, so-called "brushfire wars." Nor does it encourage the maintenance of a highly trained technical corps which, once trained, will stay in uniform. Nor does the reserve system actually keep its members in anything near mobilization readiness or preserve the expensive training undergone during active duty.
If all these criticisms are valid, then something is quite clearly wrong with the present draft arrangement. The law expires this June, and perhaps it is not possible for the Congress to give the problem the careful scrutiny needed for legislative reform by then. But perhaps, also, such scrutiny is obligatory, not because of anxiety neuroses in American draft eligibles, but because the draft is actually a totally inadequate answer to America's defense needs. If Congress does decide to explore the question or to extend the act on a sort of probation, it might also look into the fact that of the two divisions of American troops in Korea, half are borrowed Korean soldiers.
But maybe that's another question.
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