Conscription is the compulsory or obligatory enrollment into the armed forces by personnel to render service (The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition). More commonly called ‘the draft’ or mandatory military service, conscription has already been utilized in the United States and is presently being observed in several countries. The United States first used mandatory military service during the American Civil War from 1861-1863, followed by World War I in 1917 (Conscription in the United States). Conscription was continued in varying degrees and intensities and with several revisions to the conditions or requirements until the year 1971, when it officially ended.
This proposal is a move to reactivate the concept of conscription and act as support to the Universal National Service Act of 2007 introduced by Representative Charles Rangel of New York.
Is there really a need to revive conscription? Will there be obvious benefits if it is to be implemented again? What are the constraints to its implementation?
Before we proceed to a full discourse on mandatory military service in the United States, let me cite aspects of the Bill passed by Mr. Rangel in Congress. The Bill requires all persons between the ages of 18 and 42 in the United States to perform national service, which comprises the maintenance and advancement of national defense and homeland security, with a choice between being a member of the uniformed services or the civilian service (Universal National Service Act of 2007). Other aspects include the induction of persons who are involved in the uniformed services during times of war to meet strength requirements and the amending of the 1986 Internal Revenue Code to permanently establish a positive treatment towards combat pay which is under the earned income tax credit.
The mandatory military service spans a period of two years. This is the general rule but may be extended at the discretion of the President if the person consents to it. The reasons for an extension being medical attention or hospitalization resulting from illness or injury acquired or sustained in the line of duty and compensation or offset by the person due to any reason for the time lost to training.
There are also exceptions due to conditions prior to being drafted to service. These exceptions include mental or physical disability and extreme hardship or financial difficulty.
The enactment of a new law on mandatory military service will not in any way disrespect any moral, ethical, or religious conviction against combatant training or participation of any kind in war. There are other venues in civil society or in the public sectors where a person may serve.
This, of course, is still subject to a due process of evaluation and assessment to avoid abuse of the condition.
What are the dilemmas or predicaments present in American society that entails the revival of mandatory military service? At the grassroots level, we can focus on the population who will make up the bulk of the draft should a conscription law be enacted. In this day and age, Americans seem to be less concerned with contributing to society and to the United States of America as a whole. Parents, the community, and even the school are not really keen on teaching children the value of doing service for the country or giving gratitude to the country for all the benefits experienced on being an American. Some of them are, but the effort is not enough to activate the spirit of nationalism. Military service will give people the chance to serve their country. They would also learn to appreciate the efforts and sacrifice given by the military by experiencing the challenges themselves.
It should be stressed, however, that doing military service is not solely benefitting the military service as an institution or the government, but it is also very beneficial to the community, the families, and the persons who will be drafted. The benefits to the military service include the lessening of expenses for recruitment programs and the allocation of the budget originally set for recruiting to more useful programs like training and acquisition of facilities.
The advantage given to the United States is the increase in national spirit and cooperation among its people. National Unity becomes more apparent as Americans from different backgrounds, races, and social statuses work together and support each other toward a common goal.
The persons who will eventually be drafted will gain important life skills and discipline from their experience in the military service. They learn skills like self-defense, wilderness survival, and first aid. They develop physical fitness and mental strength or strength of character resulting from military training. These skills will not only be advantageous to the individuals and their families but will also be beneficial to the community as the skills and discipline acquired will translate to good habits even in the workplace or in public venues.
Mandatory military service will not take away a part of the lives of the individuals who will be drafted. It will not veer them away from education or a successful career outside the military.
Rather, doing service in the military will enrich their lives with significant and purposeful activities and experiences. It will even help them be focused on their goals in life. The discipline they will acquire while in the service will help them a lot in their efforts toward a college degree or a specific position in a company. The leadership abilities that they are set to gain in training will definitely put them in a better position in the community. Some may even realize their true calling in life and opt to continue public service or may aspire to achieve a higher position in military service.
Now let us take a look at another important highlight of the cause of reactivating the mandatory military service in the United States. Who makes up the existing military service? The answer to this question could be seen in the colleges and universities where the majority of the students who are given a chance to further study come from the middle and upper-income brackets of society. Those who have economic difficulties and those who are not able to afford college education for better work opportunities resort to military service because of benefits that include health and education provisions.
A study of the Heritage Foundation found that during the 2003 to 2005 war period, there was an overrepresentation of active-duty military recruits from the $35,000 to $79,999 and $85,000 to $94,999 income levels (Stauffer). Another organization, the National Priorities Project, in a separate study, found that in the war period of 2004 to 2005, the income level range was lower where overrepresentation of active-duty recruits fell on the $30,000 to $59,999 income levels. With the results of the studies, we can state that not everybody is a willing participant to the advancement of the cause of the country. The bulk of those who serve come from the poorer sectors of society.
A mandatory military service law will equalize the participation of individuals from all societal levels.
The sacrifice for country will not only be shouldered by a few from a distinct social and economic status, but it will be spread and shared by everyone.
The issue of budget constraints resulting from the mandatory military service may be addressed by a kind of socialized tax scheme based on who is rendering military service and who is not. Those out of the military service should pay higher taxes as a form of subsidy to those in the service. This is their social duty as a member of the American society. They may not undergo the rigid training and the actual combat experiences but they should be able to do their part and contribute to the country’s goals. The decrease in the cost for widespread and multilevel recruitment programs should also augment part of the expenses for a mandatory military service program.
The enactment of a mandatory military service law or the passing of the National Service Act of 2007 will create a multitude of arguments and protests. The foremost argument is the suppression of the people’s freedom of choice. Opponents will contest that their right to choose what they want in life and what is best for them is trampled upon. There will be noise and some will even try to create chaos out of situations, but then again, there will always be an opposition to everything. Without it, balance will be inexistent. What about the institution of the military service itself?
Are they all for the compulsory military service? Some may agree with the points of the advocates of this program but some may oppose it. A point raised by a cadet in the U.S. Military Academy states that by making military service compulsory, the effectiveness of the armed forces will be reduced because some recruits would show no interest at all and would carry on their tasks half-heartedly, resentment among citizens will be created and individual rights will be violated (Chang). This is an opinion which should be respected in a democratic society, and whenever there is an opinion given, there is always a contradicting point raised against it.
Democracy is not an absolute concept and it is not about people doing whatever they like.
Being a citizen of a democratic country has duties and obligations attached to it. There are rules to follow and responsibilities to perform.
While individual choice and aspirations are primary concerns of everyone, there will be times when our country will ask that we consider the greater good first before our personal interests. It will take more than personal sacrifice to be able to go beyond our own motives. It will entail conviction and a higher value system in each person to be able to heed the call of the country.
- Chang, Jackie L. “DOWN WITH CONSCRIPTION.” 2005. U.S. Air Force Academy.
- “Conscription in the United States.” Wikipedia. Web.
- Stauffer, Zachary. “Class War.” 2006. Metro Active.
- The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.
- “Universal National Service Act of 2007.” 2007. The Library of Congress.