|DEBATING THE DRAFT|
April 8, 1999
Phil Ponce and guests examine the fairness of an all-volunteer military force and whether the draft is a better option.
JIM LEHRER: Last night here on the NewsHour, five US college newspaper editors discussed the war over Kosovo. One of the issues raised had to do with there being no military draft, no mandatory national service that brought the war to them as a personal matter. Phil Ponce pursues that debate now.
PHIL PONCE: When America goes to war, questions often come up about who's doing the actual fighting and dying and whether the system that gets recruits is a good one. It's been more than 25 years since the United States has used the draft. The draft was first used in the Civil War, and in this century America has gone to war three times with the draft in place -- through World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam. But as war raged in Vietnam, protests raged at home, and many of the protesters were draft-age young men. Amid growing concern about the draft's fairness, who could and could not get deferments, for example, politicians took another look at it. President Richard Nixon ultimately abolished it in 1973. The US military then switched to a so-called "all volunteer force."
Alongside that, the Federal Selective Service System created a "stand-by-draft." It requires males between the ages of 18 and 25 to register just in case they're needed for a national emergency. Since the 1980's, the military services have been able to attract as many high quality recruits as they needed, but in the last year they've been having trouble meeting their basic quotas. But even this volunteer system has come under severe criticism for relying heavily on the poor and minorities. One third of the current armed forces are minority, something that was dramatized last week by the Serbian capture of three American soldiers, two of whom were Hispanic. Concerns over the composition of the military arose once again this week.
In the Washington Post, Joseph Califano called for the return of the draft. The former aide to President Lyndon Johnson wrote: "An all-volunteer army relieves affluent, vocal, voting Americans of the concern that their children will be at risk of going into combat. That makes it too easy for politicians to embark on dangerous foreign missions without thinking through every down side and facing, up front, nagging questions from articulate, skeptical citizens."
|The all-volunteer army.|
PONCE: Joseph Califano is with us now, along with Lawrence Korb, Assistant
Secretary of Defense during the Reagan administration and now a vice
president at the Council on Foreign Relations. Gentlemen, welcome.
LAWRENCE KORB: Absolutely not. Even though we switched to a voluntary military in the early 70's, Americans are still very concerned about casualties. Look at what happened in Somalia when 18 Americans were killed; the American people, their elected representatives demanded that we get out of the operation. Ironically, during the War in Vietnam that Secretary Califano was talking about we had conscription, and yet, we had 50,000 Americans died in a very, very flawed military operation.
PHIL PONCE: So, Lawrence Korb, you're saying that it does not cause -- an all-volunteer force does not cause a disconnect between the society at large and what's happening now in the battlefields?
LAWRENCE KORB: Absolutely not. In fact, if you look at how concerned Americans are with casualties, the war in Kosovo, a lot of the strategy that we chose was basically to minimize casualties because the political leaders are concerned, because the American people are concerned about their young men and young women dying in combat.
PHIL PONCE: Joseph Califano.
JOSEPH CALIFANO: Well, I think what you have to look at is, one, it's fundamentally unfair to ask basically a less-advantaged, the poor and the minorities -- the armed forces, as the piece noted, are made up now of 30 percent of the armed forces are black, African-American; 12 percent of the comparable pool of the work force is black. The pay, even at this low pay, the Army is now saying it's going to lower its standards even further in order to get people in the military. I think it's very important that we have a system that requires every social and economic group in this country and every class to bear their fair share of the dangers of dying in escapades that we think involve our national interest. I would go back to Somalia.
We pulled out of Somalia because of the gruesome pictures of that American soldier being dragged along the ground. We might not have ever gone into Somalia if we had had a draft. We have troops in Haiti today. The general down there says that they're accomplishing nothing and are in grave danger. There's no move to move them out. And the Vietnam War, I think, is a very good example -- the draft originally excluded anyone who went to graduate school. President Johnson changed it to a lottery so they were no longer drafting the youngest Americans who couldn't afford to go to college and graduate school, and then expose the entire populace to the same chance that they might have to die in the jungles of Vietnam -- all hell broke loose. We had the October 1967 demonstration right after the president made those changes. I think it's very important to put every inhibition we can on a president sending young men into war. And today in Kosovo -- I would bet that there's not a single son or daughter of any member of Congress in the Senate or members of the Cabinet who are at risk of going to Kosovo and having to fight. That's not fair and that's not right.
|Who's making the sacrifice?|
PHIL PONCE: Lawrence Korb, not fair, not right?
LAWRENCE KORB: Well, if you go back and you look at Vietnam, there weren't too many sons or daughters of the affluent in Vietnam at all. In fact, what happened was when the War in Vietnam came, it also -- the birth of the people who are the large birth rates after World War II -- the so-called "war babies" -- came into the population. We only needed one out of every six Americans. And we did give deferments, yes, through graduate school, till '67 or so. But we also deferred people all the way through college, even when President Johnson changed that, and you take a look at some of the political leaders today, people running our country, they were able to avoid military service during that war. And right now, what we've done is we have a military force that actually is a higher caliber than the draft force. If you draft, you'd get a lot of people who didn't go to high school because you get a lot of people -- or who didn't finish high school, because you get a lot of people in this country who don't. I mean, virtually you have to be a high school graduate. Secretary Califano mentioned we're dropping out standards. Our standards -- even as we drop them a little bit -- are higher than they were at any time during the draft in terms of high school graduation, where they score on the Armed Forces Qualification Test. And they're even higher than they were at the height of the Cold War during the Reagan administration. So you're getting much better people. You keep them for a longer period of time. One of the problems in Vietnam was because they were draftees, they could only stay for 12 months, and we were continually breaking up units. We had very little unit cohesion.
PHIL PONCE: Joseph Califano, how about the argument that an all-volunteer force is more motivated and therefore a better, stronger, more effective force?
JOSEPH CALIFANO: Well, I don't think it is necessarily more motivated or a better, stronger, or effective force. I mean -- and I - incidentally, one thing that Larry said that I would quarrel with -- the standards are not higher than they were. That's simply factually not correct.
LAWRENCE KORB: Well -- force -- in Vietnam -- you have a lot of people --
JOSEPH CALIFANO: Larry, let me finish. I let you finish -- if you don't mind.
PHIL PONCE: Go ahead Mr. Califano. Mr. Korb, I'll get back to you presently.
JOSEPH CALIFANO: I think there is a real question of fairness. What's the one ultimate act? It's dying. And I don't think we want to in a democracy, a situation in which we're paying at poverty and below poverty levels the lowest three enlisted grades; we're getting the poorest people in them; and they're at greatest risk of dying. I think that the wealthiest and the most affluent and the middle class should be at exactly the same risk, and we should all be subjected to it. I think you've got to force a president and a Congress to think things through. I think it's fair to say that things haven't been thought through in Kosovo, what would happen to the refugees, how brutal this animal Milosevic would ultimately be, whether to use ground forces or not use ground forces, whether to do -- we didn't think this through. A president that had to explain to the articulate people that know how to call and complain and are skeptical about a problem, has to explain that, will have to explain it up front. It's too easy. You know, it's not just Somalia. It's Haiti. It's Bosnia. It's bombing Sudan. It's bombing Afghanistan. It's bombing Iraq.
|More opportunities for minorities?|
PHIL PONCE: Let's get Lawrence Korb on the question of fairness -- how about that -- is there a basic unfairness? Is the current system unduly relying on the poor, on minorities, and is that unfair?
LAWRENCE KORB: No. First of all, we don't pay poverty level wages. If you take a look at the wages that are paid to junior enlisted people, they're comparable to what they would get with similar education in society. I mean, the General Accounting Office has just done an analysis of that. And the idea that somehow they're underpaid is not true. In fact, during the draft they were underpaid. For your first two years we paid you basically subsistence wages. When you went to a volunteer military, you have to pay the market wage. Is it unfair? Sure. It's unfair in the sense that if you argue that every citizen should serve his country, and that everyone should do compulsory military service. But we've never had that in this country and why it collapses is we could never figure out how to decide who shall decide who shall serve -- when not all shall serve, and that's what happened in Vietnam. Even at the height of that war we only needed one out of every six people, and ironically, I would turn Secretary Califano's argument on its head. If you are -- the president is sending people to fight wars that don't make a great deal of sense, people are not going to volunteer. When you had conscription, they could just open up the manpower spigot and force people to come in, which is essentially what happened in Vietnam.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Califano, how about that, does the nature of the call to duty influence whether or not somebody is going to volunteer? And is that kind of a leveling effect?
JOSEPH CALIFANO: No, I don't think it is a leveling effect, because I think especially in a booming economy -- when the lowest three grades are paid from $11,000 to $13,500, that is incidentally below the poverty line for any family -- a man and his wife and one child, all of those grades -- I think that we really are getting the less advantaged; it shows in the numbers. I mean, as I mentioned before, 30 percent of the Army is African-American; they're 12 percent of the comparable civilian work force. About 55 percent of the Army is white. The comparable civilian work force is 72 percent white. Now, that's a serious problem in this country. And I think that we've got to face it. Secondly, I do think that the way you force a president to make sure that the people think it's in the national interest is to say that you're going to fight this war, you're going to fight it with groups drawn at the same kind of risk, no matter how thick their daddy's wallets are, how filled their mommy's pocket books are -- the way we're choosing who shall serve or not all serve today is by money and affluence. People are not in the military -- not subject to the enlisted ranks.
PHIL PONCE: Lawrence Korb, how about that?
LAWRENCE KORB: Let me make a point about the percentage of African-Americans in the force. It's not only because they enlist at slightly higher rates than the generalization but they reenlist. People forget, if you went back to a draft, all you'd get is people for the first two years. What you have to take a look at is why are African-Americans enlisting in the service, and I would say one of the reasons is the service provides much better opportunities, but they reenlist at rates four to five times higher than non-African-Americans.
PHIL PONCE: Joseph Califano, real quickly on that, more opportunities for African-Americans and other minorities in the service?
JOSEPH CALIFANO: Oh, I think there are some opportunities in the service, but I don't think that -- I think that's a more general comment on our society. We need to provide more opportunities for African-Americans across-the-board in American society; we shouldn't have a country in which the only place in which some -- some African-Americans think they have an opportunity is to join the army and put their lives -- why should they have to put their lives at much greater risk than everybody else in order to have some opportunity? That's not fair.
PHIL PONCE: Gentlemen, that's where we'll have to leave it. I thank you both very much.
LAWRENCE KORB: Thank you.
JOSEPH CALIFANO: Thank you.