With the Army running low on troops, should the U.S. bring back the draft? The Pentagon--and the rest of the U.S. Government--is strongly opposed. Resurrecting compulsory service would be a hard sell politically. Also, the military believes that volunteers make better soldiers than young men who would rather be somewhere else.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld got himself into trouble earlier this year after several lawmakers called for a return to the draft as a way of opposing the looming war with Iraq. In response, Rumsfeld declared that the 16 million Americans who were conscripted from 1917 to 1973 had added "no value, no advantage really, to the U.S. armed services over any sustained period of time." Rumsfeld apologized after veterans groups criticized his comments. But Pentagon officials stand by his key message: draftees tend to serve shorter terms than volunteers, so the armed services get less use out of their training. Moreover, the officials argue, draftee military units don't jell as well into cohesive fighting forces.
Today, despite occasional griping from tired troops in Iraq, every member of the U.S. military is there willingly (except for at least 65,000 who have been kept involuntarily in uniform because they are hard-to-replace specialists like linguists, air-crew members or medical workers). With soldiers now serving 50% longer than they did in the Vietnam era, the Pentagon invests heavily in career-length education and training, helping the troops master the complicated technology that makes the U.S. military the envy of the world. --By Mark Thompson/Washington