Posted on: August 30th, 2012 by Stas



In June, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the  former U.S. commander in Afghanistan,  stunned many Americans by advocating that the United States bring back the draft:

“I think we ought to have a draft. I think if a nation goes to war, it shouldn’t be solely .. represented by a professional force, because it gets to be unrepresentative of the population,”

The idea is not politically popular, but would solve a serious problem, which is helping to educate younger Americans and give them a set of skills and values that will prepare them for the workforce and for life.

The Council on Foreign Relations recently issued a report which highlighted the implosion of education, skills and values on younger Americans:[1]

*63% of aerospace and life science firms say they cannot find qualified Americans to work at their companies even with high unemployment and expect the situation to worsen as current workers retire.

*75% of “U.S. citizens between the ages of seventeen and twenty-four are not qualified to join the military because they are physically unfit, have criminal records, or have inadequate  levels of education.”

*25% of students who drop out of high school “are unqualified to serve” as are approximately 30% of high school graduates “who do graduate but do not know enough math, science, and English to perform well on the mandatory Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.”

McChrystal  said: “I think if a nation goes to war, every town, and every city needs to be at risk. You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game,” according to a FOREIGN POLICY report by Josh Rogin.[2]

The report went on to quote McChrystal as saying “I’ve enjoyed the benefits of a professional service, but I think we’d be better if we actually went to a draft these days …There would (be) some loss of professionalism, but for the nation it would be a better course.”

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq placed unfair and extreme burdens on the professional military, especially reservists, and their families. Reservists following multiple deployments have trouble maintaining careers and families and have a “frighteningly high” rate of suicide, he said.

“The reserve structure is designed for major war, you fight and then you stop, but what we’ve done instead is gone back over and over to the same people,” he said. “We’re going to have to re-look the whole model because I don’t think we can do this again.”

In July, Thomas Ricks, a fellow at the Center For A New American Security, supported McChrystal in an Op-Ed appearing in the New York Times. He wrote that the General’s call was a good starting point for looking at a national service system to ease the burden on professional soldiers in time of war. He added that such a system could also help male and female high school graduates by improving their skills and education and giving them tuition credit to further their education. He advocates three options for a revised national service:

1) Serve in the military for 18 months as support troops doing paperwork and maintenance. This will save the Defense Department money by using low-paid draftees. The draftees’ reward is getting free college tuition upon service completion and the option to join the professional military.

2) Serve for 24 months as a part of a public service army reviving public education and infrastructure. Draftees would teach school in low income neighborhoods, help the elderly and rebuild infrastructure. These participants would also receive free college tuitions upon service completion.

3) Allow for libertarians to opt out of national service altogether, but those who decline to serve their country “would in return pledge to ask nothing … — no Medicare, no subsidized college loans and no mortgage guarantees. Those who want minimal government can have it.”

A successful precedent was when the Roosevelt administration put 300,000 young men to work in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) improving federal lands and parks during the Depression of the 1930s. The program provided the participants with employment and military discipline that prepared them for service during World War II.[3]

Ricks concludes: “Critics will argue that this is a political non-starter. It may be now… A new draft that maintains the size and the quality of the current all-volunteer force, saves the government money through civilian national service and frees professional soldiers from performing menial tasks  would appeal to many constituencies.”[4]

As the CCC demonstrated in the 1930s, national service can save millions of younger Americans from the ravages of poverty, unemployment and an imploding education system that spells: NO FUTURE.

National service can be the catalyst for restoring a sense of purpose and pride in millions of younger Americans and help restore their country’s future.


[1] Council on Foreign Relations,U.S. EDUCATION REFORM AND NATIONAL SECURITY (2012)


[4]  Ricks is a fellow at the Center for a New American Security and the author of a forthcoming book “The Generals: American Military Command From World War II to Today.”


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