When There's No Draft

April 13, 1999

A recent column by Joseph Califano once again reminds us how easy it is for a president to use military force when he has an all-volunteer army. He says, "The greatest inhibition on a democratic leader's ability to wage war is the need to muster the support (and muffle the opposition) of the people for such a drastic action. The all-volunteer force has made it too easy for a president to order American troops and aircraft into wars and dangerous "peacekeeping" adventures."

Califano should know. He served as a special assistant to President Lyndon Johnson. When LBJ received congressional support for troop buildup in Vietnam, he knew there would be political dangers. At the time, the Selective Service System and the draft were alive. But in the early stages of buildup, deferments went to those in college and graduate school. Those exclusions gave the middle class a comfortable cushion on which to sit out military service.

However in 1967, President Johnson called for a lottery and ended deferments for those in graduate school. Suddenly the affluent middle class found their sons in harm's way and hard questions began to be asked about the war. Soon parents were supporting their children's protest marches.

Califano points out the an all-volunteer army prevents such a backlash. Those in the enlisted ranks are disproportionately minorities and less advantaged. He argues that fact made it easier for presidents to deploy forces in Haiti, Bosnia, Somalia, and Grenada and to order bombing missions on Sudan and Iraq.

I doubt that Califano is calling for a resumption of the draft. I know I'm not. But he is pointing out how much easier it is to use force when middle class men and women are less likely to be deployed. Would we be in Kosovo right now if we had the draft? I doubt it.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.