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Was Ending the Draft a Grave Mistake?

Was Ending the Draft a Grave Mistake?

Danny Sjursen

I spent last week at Angelo State University in remote central Texas as a panelist for the annual All-Volunteer Force (AVF) Forum. It was a strange forum in many ways, but nonetheless instructive.

In sum, throughout this century the U.S. military has won zero wars, achieved few, if any, “national goals” and cost Americans $5.9 trillion tax dollars, more than 7,000 troop deaths, and tens of thousands more wounded soldiers. It has cost the world 480,000 direct war-related deaths, including 244,000 civilians, and created 21 million refugees. Talk about unsustainable.

Ultimately achieving victory is not what these wars about. They are intended to ensure a steady flow of wealth into the pockets of the 1 percent. They are intended to ensure Corporate America retains and regains access to the Worlds natural resources and they are intended to keep the US Citizen as a subjugated population.

Ending the draft helped in all of these areas.


“An interesting game. The only way to win is not to play.”
–the supercomputer, “War Games”

Going beyond draft vs. AVF, didn’t our founders unanimously mistrust standing armies?


Yes, a potentially fatal mistake. The draft would bring better , and more diverse REAL Citizen soldiers into the military, and hopefully not as many right wing people who may or may not want to just be able to go some where so they can kill with impunity. So, no thank you for a praetorian guard. And, by the way , never mind!

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Ditto what Suspira said. And because of it - and not so much because of the educated citizens who would be against sending their kids to war, because they don’t really have any power unless they belong to the 1% - the possibility of having a real “fair” citizen’s defense force (not that this would be a good idea at all, by the way) is almost nil. It’s too bad that so-called “thoughtful” journalism still often operates in fantasy land.

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There were financial enticements back in the Vietnam era, and I presume ever since, when the need arises. Forced conscription makes for an unhappy military that is there only biding their time to get the hell out.


The military is today actively promoting female officers, some to the rank of General.
Women are encouraged to join the military for combat now.

Many, many female congress persons voted for the ongoing abominations being perpetrated in “the greater middle east.”

I hope Major Sjursen by “equitable” means drafting young women as well as men, where these young women can break the glass ceiling in boot camp.

These considerations aside, “Trying to stay a hegemon (a dubious proposition in the first place) with rising deficits and a paralyzing national debt is a recipe for failure and, ultimately, disaster.”

Many ordinary citizens, such as myself, have been saying this for years, but we have no effect on our government, even though we vote, march, and contribute.

Actually, I want no one drafted and no wars of choice. Who cares what I want?


Given the opportunity to comment on the military I would offer that the military is under-scrutinized. What do we always see portrayed? It’s the infantryman. Not the rest of the branches support. Cooks, clerks, mechanics, logistics, transportation, artillery, etc etc.

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The worst aspect of the AVF is that those that enlist, particularly in times of low unemployment, self-select based on their love of guns, violence and fascist thuggishness. Consequently, the military is becoming a right-wing political club. This is very dangerous.

Police forces seem to be similar. Maybe we should have a draft for cops?


There is an old expression for test cases - “Run it up the flag pole and see how many salute”.
This entire piece of writing and the premises feel seriously inverted. I hesitate when, at the ouset, the author self-identifies as the “most progressive” participant in a forum of interests that are about as clear and fully discernible as overcooked spaghetti on too small a plate. Perhaps the temporal components of the question leave out entire elements, and the participants in the forum - and their perspectives leave out entire contexts of past historical situations v.a.v. personal choices having nothing to do with the consequences in the present and forum - such as “career” impact.

The PEW, like all opinion survey outfits, produces work that is to some extent inherently biased and there is a constant struggle to balance values. Not taught in schools is the extent to which Hollywood gets funding from the military for specific propagandized presentations - with veto power.

Recruitment practices are documented as not infrequently being criminal . The Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors is worth exploring for those too young to recall.

The mention that ‘elite’ age service candidates do not serve is simple historical fact long predating AVF and says considerably more about the premises of the piece than the author seems to realize.

In short - the argument strikes me as largely a tale wagging the dog of centralized, utterly weaponized modes in all three branches of institutionalized administration of “Citizens United” model of predatory hegemony, of which the military foot soldier is is becoming increasingly obsolete.

And what is the old wisdom about “standing armies”? And how do private mercenary powers figure into the argument?

Sorry - too many sagging and missing threads here.


The question of cops is interesting to me. The explosion of urban centers - the police - inhabitant ratio being blown beyond healthy human cognitive scales and healthy personal interaction is, to my mind, another indicator of the dehumanization being implemented over centuries by predatory capitalism.
Police forces have been taken out the hands of civil well being of communities and placed in the economic contexts of industrial extractive interests. As such, like the federal military, and increasingly OF the federal military, the scale of dehumanization is a topic deserving of deep and ongoing conversation and committee work at the local, state and federal levels.


I think most would agree that in an unstable world a country should require a year or two of national service. Israel is a good example. Everyone gets a basic training in the military. From my experience, a drafted G.I. going to Vietnam had very little training.
A country thinking of becoming a more socialistic country will likely want to see the majority of it’s citizens opt for service of their choice. If the military is under served, other short termers could be moved into combat units.
Like a previous poster, who cares what we think or want?


More important than the draft vs AVF is the issue of when the government decides to go to war. In my 65 year lifetime, it is hard to see any time the US really, really had to engage in military conflict. Diplomacy seems to be entirely disregarded. Diplomatic alliances, having many nations agree to work together to end conflict without military force, seems to be grossly neglected. We are ruled by the wealthy, despite the charade of elections and freedom, and the wealthy make tons of money from war. But to any moral person, unnecessary war is an abomination. US politics is a mess, people propagandized by media until almost all sensibility is gone, but I think people ought to vote for government that avoids war to the full extent possible. If that means voting for Sanders instead of Biden or Harris, so be it.


Before discussing ending the AVF we need to go back to discussing our country’s vision of how we plan to engage with the rest of the citizens of this planet. What we’re doing now is certainly not working.
The current Congress, still top heavy with rich, privileged, old white guys, is not in a position to lead us to much of anything actually useful, in this regard. They’ve abdicated to privately funded " think tanks " whose membership consists of folks called " threat assessment analysts " whose main job it is to see a pit of rattlesnakes under every wood pile, pretty much. And, their consensus appears to mostly say, " we must burn the entire wood pile to secure safety and stability for our families, friends and communities. "
That’s just insane given what we already know about most kinds of snakes; ya know, the fact that around 2000 types aren’t poisonous and are vital to healthy eco-systems.
" If we can’t defend this country on $350 Billion dollars a year, it is time to get some new generals. " Retired 4 Star General Merrill Anthony " Tony " McPeak.
I couldn’t agree more with the General on this issue.


The main problem with the posit is that it assumes that enough of the American political class learned the main lesson from Vietnam: do not fight colonial wars with a conscript army. In fact, the war lust amongst said class remains, and they are bound and determined to go in no matter what sort of army exists. As the memories of Vietnam go from experience to history, and given the rapaciousness of the Military Industrial Complex, it is only a matter of time before the whole mess repeats itself.

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There is something deeply weird about the idea that conscription will save us from war. The logic seems to be that the more people are afraid of having their own personal ass shot, or that of a loved one, the less likely the US will be to invade its enemy du jour.

This assumes that (1) wars can be prevented by public distaste and (2) public attitudes toward war depend strongly on personal fears.

Assumption (1) is doubtful, assumption (2) is false. Re. (2):

a) If one thinks that personal risk as such explained anti-Vietnam-war sentiment – sentiment that was not, by the way, able to prevent that war or its millions of deaths – how does one account for the popularity of World War II, with its far bigger draft? Not by the cowardly-peacenik theory, but by noting that most people accept risk willingly if they perceive it as meaningful. WWII was perceived as meaningful, Vietnam (by many) as meaningless and/or criminal. Whether future wars are resisted will depend not on how many people are at risk but on how few or many can be persuaded – perhaps by lying propaganda, as in 2002-3 – that the cause is meaningful.

b) During the 2003 US war against Iraq, persons with friends/family in the military were more supportive of the war than the general public: https://www.beaumontenterprise.com/news/article/Poll-Military-Families-Support-War-752843.php Dissent does not track risk.

c) Conscription into militaries puts people into environments controlled by those institutions. The resulting chance to indoctrinate in pro-war values, whether by making recruits chant “We’re gonna kill Charlie Chan” on the run or by subtler methods, is never neglected. Thus, conscription, whether into shooting armies or mandatory alternatives, delivers people into systems of indoctrination. To ignore this in discussing the political effects of conscription creates a radically false picture.

Finally, the idea that a no-loopholes lottery would be “fairer” than today’s economic draft is also ethically surreal. It’s superficially true, of course: what’s twisted is the idea that the way to tackle an injustice against a small group is to inflict it on a larger group.

As long as we are a hyper-militarized society with a de facto global empire, whose military is almost exclusively tasked with aggression, not defense, there can be no fair way to staff that military.


Sjursen is clever and interesting, but not trying to solve the problem that exists.

The trouble is that the government and imperial ruling classes keep cajoling and coercing its kids to fight wars that are not defensive and that are therefore perforce “unwinnable, immoral, and ill-advised.” as Sjursen acknowledges in deep retrospect with respect to Vietnam, though he does so as though this were not equally true of every US military engagement since and most before.

The wars are not “winnable” and not “won” because the Western empire re-styled itself through the two “world” wars to conquer differently than in its old way. Empire now invades and occupies territory less, and assassinates politicians and terrorizes populations more. It’s booty is less the use of pasturelands and enslavement of peasants for tithing, more the control of industry and finance and information and markets to accomplish the enslavement of so-called “debtors.” “Winning” in any recognizable sense is not a goal, but a human relations trope to gull citizens and particularly military employees.

Volunteers are indeed more “rural, Southern, and likely to hail from military families” than their peers. Though Sjursen does not mention it, they are also far more likely to be poor, African-American, Hispanic, Native American, or some combination thereof as well.

It is good that Sjursen is live to at least part of the injustice here, and it strikes me that he may be partly setting aside for this statement specific objections to many recent conflicts. But the US drugs its soldiers because they fight against themselves, their good friends, and their natural allies, and they cannot be counted on to do that sober.

There is no fixed number of “foot soldiers and cyberwarriors” that “the military” or its ruling investors needs. That is determined by policy, and policy has been to a large extent determined by the presence of a standing army. There is no lottery system to ensure “fairness and sustainability,” and de facto deferment for children of the rich never stopped outside the military. The armed and armored knights of fancy tales fought beside ill armed and unarmored serfs, whom they directed. Some children of the rich and relatively rich volunteered in WWII, in particular, because very nearly all of the public believed that the cause was just and that the times were dire. That was arguably been the case, and it has not been at any point since for the United States, at least not with respect to sensible argument.

Sjursen is correct that the poverty draft is unjust and ought to end, and he could probably say a lot more about the prejudices around it. But the way to reduce and eliminate it is to reduce and eliminate poverty.

As part of that, as a really large part of that, let us allow the United States to find its soldiers scarce and their lives not so easy to misspend. Let us provide education and medical care without charging people to kill in order to get it.


As a former Draft Counselor I strongly disagree that reviving conscription is a good idea. The solution to the inequities of an AVF is not involuntary servitude. The problem is the military juggernaut. Eisenhower is quoted as saying that one day people will rise up and demand peace. That is where we must put our efforts.


The draft is founded on the false, and evil notion that our lives belong to the State. Ending the draft was one of the more moral things the US Government did.

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I agree with Major Sjursen completely.

Back in the sixties, I joined the reserves when there was a draft in order to avoid getting that ugly notice in the mail when it might be inconvenient. I served with men from all walks of life, not just poorly educated ones who had difficulty finding a good job. That made it a citizens’ army. Most of the guys did not want a career – they wanted to get their obligation over with. We did our duty, and I bet we did our military jobs just as well as today’s mercenary forces. A country can’t keep a democracy for too long if its military is voluntary (and highly paid), and sure enough, we have already lost most of ours.

We should also require a Congressional vote to start a war, as the constitution clearly states.