Want to bring back the draft? Here’s how.


There he goes again. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York, has reintroduced his perennial bill to bring back the draft.

This year’s version would draft women as well as men. Rangel wants to bring back the draft because he thinks U.S. leaders would be less likely to get into wars like Iraq and Afghanistan if they had to fight them with a conscript army instead of an all-volunteer one. His proposal has nothing to do with military preparedness or necessity.

“Reinstating the draft… would compel the American public to have a stake in the wars we fight as a nation,” Rangel said.

Militarily and practically, the idea verges on insanity. The total number of men and women currently serving in the U.S. armed forces — Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard — totals roughly 1.5 million. Every year approximately 4 million American men and women turn 18. If the military were to draft them for two years of active duty, the length of service for conscripts under the old draft, it would have 8 million recruits, a force more than five times larger than the current military, for whom it would have no earthly use, but which would require hundreds of billions of dollars to equip, train, billet and pay.

Still, Rangel has a point when he argues that the Americans should have a personal stake in the wars we fight as a nation. For both moral and pragmatic reasons, if the country is to go to war, everyone needs to have some skin in the game. A while back I offered some modest proposals for how a resurrected draft should be structured. Since Rangel is recycling his proposal, this is a good time to revisit them.

First, no exemptions. This time everyone — everyone — will be eligible. Men and women. Gay and straight. Rich and poor. Smart and dumb. White and black. Fit and frail. Honest and crooked. And so on. If you’re an American and have a body temperature of approximately 98.6 F, you would be eligible to be drafted. The only exception would be those who have already served.

Second, before anyone can be drafted, Congress will have to pass a formal declaration of war. If the country is going to force people to go to war for it, the least it can do for them is put itself on a war footing.

Third, unlike the old draft, which was for two years, the duration of military service for conscripts will be for the duration of the war. This will provide a huge incentive to fight to win, and to win as swiftly as possible — and a big disincentive to getting involved in low-intensity, long-duration, no-win conflicts.

Fourth, Americans would become eligible for the draft upon reaching age 55. There would be no upper limit. To be sure, war is usually thought of as a young man’s game, because combat involves strength and stamina. But the proportion of military occupational specialties that involve direct participation in combat is rapidly shrinking and could easily be filled by young volunteers. By most other metrics it makes more sense for the country to fight its wars with senior citizens instead of junior ones.

For example, if someone must fall in battle, the country generally is better off if it’s someone my age — I’m 70 — than an 18-year-old who has not yet had a chance to live, create, produce and pay taxes. Especially payroll taxes. Better to lose the potential recipients of Social Security and Medicare than those who will have to sustain the trust funds.

Think of this as entitlement reform with live ammunition. The vast majority of military jobs — probably more than 80 percent of them — do not require extraordinary physical fitness or stamina, and could be filled by the middle-aged just as easily as by the young.

There are millions of Americans who drive trucks, repair planes, cook meals, clean latrines and shuffle papers well into their 60s. They could obviously do the same in uniform. A healthy 55-year-old is just as capable of flying predator drones or driving remotely controlled robots as, say, a 20-year-old. (Hey, 55-year-olds have been playing video games for a lot longer.)

Much of what the modern military does involves command, control and communications — management, in other words. Americans over the age of 55 have a lot more management experience than Americans aged 18-25. Uncle Sam needs them. Their employers, who are desperate to reduce pension and health care costs, don’t.

And, of course, when it comes to hatred and grudges, the stuff that wars are really made of, the old beat the young hands down. In war, the young can sustain themselves with righteous anger easily enough, but for genuine, industrial-strength hate, for grudges that transcend time and space, for the psychic poison that fuels and sustains fights to the death, ah, that is the stuff of old men.

Like I said before, war, like youth, is wasted on the young. Don’t send a boy to do a man’s job.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.