COMMENTARY | The draft got a bad rap during ‘Nam. Wholesome, clean-cut, all-American boys were being forcibly enlisted by Uncle Sam to fight and die overseas in a conflict they had no interest in and which had minimal direct impact on U.S. interests. So, in ’73, the draft was ended. America shifted to a happy, free market, all-volunteer military. And things were pretty good.
Until, that is, America fought two lengthy wars. Twenty-eight years after the draft ended the U.S., after the September 11 terrorist attacks, embarked on a war in Afghanistan that is only now winding down. A year and a half later the U.S. pre-emptively invaded Iraq and stayed in force for about a decade, maintaining a presence even to this day. Volunteers who signed on with the military found themselves frequently being re-deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, serving combat tour after combat tour.
The Institute of Medicine has found that the military is failing to effectively handle the mental strain faced by routinely redeployed soldiers, reports TIME. Billion-dollar programs are proving relatively ineffective at curbing incidences of personnel afflicted with PTSD, depression, or who have committed suicide.
First of all, how is this surprising? War is hell. It would almost be worrisome if there was a simple and effective way to remove the mental trauma of repeated combat deployments. It is naive to assume that a conveniently-packaged U.S. government program can swiftly reverse PTSD and depression and turn war veterans who have completed multiple year-long tours in combat zones into amiable, smiling PTA members. Sending someone to Iraq or Afghanistan every other year for an entire year at a time is something that cannot easily be neutralized when it’s time to become a civilian again.
It is naive of our society to expect that someone who spent three out of the last six years in Iraq or Afghanistan to be a smiling civilian right after demobilization. Yet, somehow, that’s what we want to pursue rather than acknowledging the honest truth. We want people to be able to have lengthy military careers, and handle these frequent combat zone deployments, while still being savvy and smiling civilians when not on duty.
Mental trauma may not strike on your first, second, or even third deployment. But maybe your fourth, fifth, or even sixth. Even if the horror of combat doesn’t faze you, you may struggle with the strain of missing life back home. Kids growing up without you, spouses and partners growing distant, losing touch with friends and family.
It is time to acknowledge that we cannot keep a small, long-term, all-volunteer force and expect it to handle lengthy occupations of foreign hot spots and be able to stem the tide of growing mental strain that afflicts that force.
We need to bring back the draft. It’s simple division: The more available troops you have, or can get, the fewer deployments each soldier needs serve. Draft them, train them, pay them, and have them serve one tour with the option to volunteer for more. This would decrease unemployment, provide young people with job training, skills, and self-discipline, and shift all of society’s burden on to…all of society.
Politicians would be less hasty to advocate for war, knowing that their children, cousins, nephews, or grandchildren could be the next draftees. Leaders would no longer be able to simply quip “well, you volunteered” when soldiers reported problems. More young people would learn the concepts of duty, obligation, responsibility, and respect.
And do we think any of our potential foes would hesitate to enforce a massive draft in preparation of a conflict? Of course not. Syria, Iran, North Korea, and China do, or would, draft in a heartbeat.
How long will we keep fooling ourselves that a military draft is not the better, more realistic alternative?