What If We Reinstated the Draft?

David Fazekas
What If?

There are over 20 million former Jarheads, Zoomies, Squids and Grunts, in the U.S – better known as veterans. And because we have a volunteer military, this revered population is expected to dwindle by 50 percent over the next 25 years. So we wondered, what if military service was mandatory?

The last time Uncle Sam came calling, forcing American men to serve in the Vietnam conflict, anti-war protests swept the country. Not everyone was in step to the drumbeat of war, so if we forced Americans to take up arms now, would it be any different than the 1970’s?

“It'd be a better and stronger and more patriotic America,” said Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) who introduced the Universal National Service Act in 2003 and has been lobbying for it ever since. “If indeed a president decided that he is going to place our young people in harm’s way, the congress now has to go home and tell you why we need your kid.”

What we’re talking about is conscription, forcing every man and woman to serve their country. As in the 70’s, Americans may get desperate in how they dodge their responsibilities, but unlike the 100,000 that ran off to foreign countries, current dodgers may stay put, and hide behind their career.

"If we had mandatory service again, there would be ways of say working at a hospital or something. Working at a nursing home or those kinds of things,” said David Henderson, Associate Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Graduate School of Business and Public Policy. “So I would see that as the way people use to get out of being into the military rather than moving to Canada or Sweden or wherever.”

But for those that do answer the call of duty, would they really be pulling their weight alongside the over 1 million active military men and woman currently serving?

“I'm not sure it would add a lot from a standpoint of quality of the service,” said retired U.S. Marine Corps four-star General James Cartwright. “We should never get rid of the potential and capability to institute a draft if the nation needs it. But the likelihood of that is relatively low and the ability of the current force to do everything that we've asked it to do so far has been demonstrated to be the best in the world.”

Keep in mind, mandatory service means plucking the nation’s youth, 18 to 25-year-olds, out of the economy. That’s 35 million Americans pushing dirt, instead of pushing buttons on a cash register.

“If you took every 18 and 19 year old, you would have a tremendous decline in parts of the labor force,” said Henderson. “It would be harder to get people to work at McDonald's, so wages there would go up for the people that do work, and the prices of those items would go up.”

And eventually, all those dedicated men and women, become veterans, deserving of financial benefits. Right now, the government spends more than $140 million dollars on our veterans’ services, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. That number would have to balloon if every American became a vet.

“They would have to cut spending elsewhere. They would have to increase taxes. It would come out of somewhere,” said Henderson

More patriotism, a smaller workforce and a bigger military budget. The U.S. would join the ranks of more than 20 countries, including Russia, South Korea, Israel and Switzerland, if we mandated military service.

And alongside the morning reveille, we may hear more wedding bells, if everyone in America was forced to serve.

“Right now in the military with the current incentives there are a lot of things that would motivate a couple that's already fallen in love to marry and or start a family,” said Scott Stanley, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver. “Better housing, better housing allowance, good childcare subsidies.”

Then again, we may hear Taps played on a number of those marriages.

“I think there you would actually see a net increase in divorce in the country because,” said Stanley. “It's pretty clear to social scientists that marrying under the age of 23 and especially under the age of 21, so the earlier you go, the more great the odds that the marriage isn't going to make it.”

Host: Dan Kloeffler
Producer, DP: David Fazekas
Associate Producer: Stefan Doyno
Editor: Maurice Abbate