By Jay Jamison
It’s not a comfortable topic. I still remember news footage from the Vietnam War era of members of the United States armed forces returning home to the scorn of protesters. The irony behind those ugly scenes was that many, if not most of those in uniform who were given such treatment, were not volunteers – they were draftees.
The tradition of drafting people into the armed forces is an old one. We even fought a war with Great Britain in 1812, largely because the British were drafting our sailors, grabbing men off of American vessels on the high seas, to serve in the Royal Navy.
During the American Civil War, riots broke out in New York City over the draft. One of Richard Nixon’s promises in the 1968 presidential campaign was to bring about an end to the draft. He didn’t get it through Congress until 1973, but the draft came to an end just when I was coming of age to be eligible, a prospect that loomed over me as I approached graduation from Jacksonville High School in 1974.
Like every other 18-year-old male, I still had to register for the draft, and I carried a Selective Service card during those years as a young adult. The system remains in place to reinstitute the draft should a national emergency make that necessary, but I’m glad that no one is being forced to enter the armed services against their will.
Ending the draft made an enormous difference in our nation. Notice how Veterans are treated today as opposed to how some were treated 40 years ago. That Veterans are treated with respect today is a good thing. We are a nation of volunteers: volunteer firemen, service club volunteers, church volunteers, coaches, umpires, referees, scouting volunteers … the list goes on and on. So, having all-volunteer armed forces fits in perfectly with who we are as a nation.
Having an all-volunteer armed forces is expensive, but, in my estimation, it’s worth the cost—both by avoiding the damage done to our society by having some people subjected to the draft while others are not, and also by the honor bestowed upon those who take the oath and don the uniform. That, among other things, is the distinguishing difference between 1973 and today.
Since the end of the Vietnam War and the end of the draft, the United States has engaged in at least five major military conflicts, including the longest war in American history. We can complain about the policies of various administrations and other politicians, which have committed our armed forces to combat in the intervening years, but the men and women who volunteer and actually do the fighting gain a much-deserved honor far above our poor power to add or detract. The Veterans who fought in the Korean Conflict, often called the “Forgotten War,” and draftees and volunteers who went to Vietnam, among others, deserve a respect today that many of them were denied decades ago.
Whenever I hear somebody complain about the Pentagon budget, they must take into account that the largest expense in the Defense Department is personnel, and a sizeable part of that cost is the difference between dragging people off to the military against their will and providing a decent amount, on which an all-volunteer force can live.
So, as a civilian, I think an all-volunteer force is worth the price.
Happy Veterans Day.