The commandant of the Marines and the Army’s chief of staff testified before a congressional committee last week that they would like to see women register for the draft. That follows the December order from the secretary of defense, Ashton Carter, that all front-line combat units must be open to women. What with most of the Republican presidential candidates saying they would make the armed forces stronger – and three candidates expressing support Saturday for female registration – it probably won’t be too long before women will be on the list for conscription should the draft ever be reinstated.
Our third president, Thomas Jefferson, was a relentless advocate for universal military service. He was opposed to a standing volunteer army, believing it more desirable to fulfill the need for soldiers with men from all walks of life rather than depend upon an army made up primarily by a class of men whom he called “pauper hirelings.” Jefferson’s reasoning still holds.
While a re-activated draft undoubtedly would cause a great deal of hardship, the draft would provide the country with important benefits. With the lives of both women and men in the military equally at risk, we will be much more likely to avoid wars; families would devote more attention to issues of war or peace than is the case with an all-volunteer military. The draft would also bring into the military better-educated recruits.
And there could be a very different benefit to the country: Inner-city gangs would be broken up as the draft raided them. Although the military usually keeps out men who have dropped out of high school or have criminal records, a non-restrictive draft would take a lot of troublemakers off the streets. The military would instill discipline and values, and teach useful skills to a segment of American society that desperately needs such education.
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Pre-basic training remedial education would get draftees up to speed in the school subjects they previously scorned.
Draftees could provide the nation with men and women for military service and community service. Draftees would be given a choice between the two – except for those who had not finished high school or had a criminal record; they would be excluded from community service.
The Corporation for National and Community Service, which already exists, mainly consists of two components: the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, which focuses on disaster relief, and AmeriCorps, which focuses on community development.
Most female draftees probably would choose community service and find such work very enlightening and very satisfying. They would break through the barriers of social class, and become better informed about the behind-the-scenes work that needs to be done within America.
Paul Marx is professor emeritus of English at the University of New Haven. Email: PPPMARX@comcast.net.