Reinstate the Draft?

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I was speaking to an internationally known Christian scholar a few weeks ago, and I decided to ask about the “All Volunteer Force” (AVF).  I don’t particularly know why I asked, but there was a long pause in the conversation, which I hate, so I decided to fill it. He responded that, essentially, he could not endorse a draft, could not support the government in having such an incredible amount of power, to command the will and the body of citizens to conduct national service.  I had said “military draft” in my question but his response, if I remember correctly, was more broadly “national service.”  I don’t know if the switch was intentional, but it was significant.

Here is why the shift is important – there is a huge (moral) difference between forms of national service.  I see military service as a type of national service, and others might be things like the Peace Corps, Americorps, etc.  Heck, by now, I’d even include on the list ‘public school teacher.’  While I agree that we should not compel military service, what if national service was made mandatory?  What if individuals who are the age of majority had a choice between a number of service opportunities; National Parks Service, Peace Corps, etc., then if, by the age of 25, they have not completed, say, 2 years of service, they were then conscripted into one of the branches of the Armed Forces.  We could reduce the recruitment budget tremendously, and the shared experience of service to our country would no longer be one performed primarily by the poor.

But anyway, I am more interested in the question of the legitimacy of the AVF based on three fundamental questions it begs (each of which I voiced that night);

  • Does every recruit  enter the military with full agency
    • Is the contract dissolved if the recruiter has been shown to have withheld or falsified information?
    • What does social distress (poverty, family/neighborhood violence…) do to force the ‘choice’ to enlist?
  • How does vast monetary incentive corrupt the language of volunteerism
    • Why does it require so much money to convince men and women to “volunteer”
    • How does financial reward compromise the virtue of one’s service
  • What is the social obligation of the individual citizen to the common good
    • Should so few bear so great a burden (ex. soldier/veteran suicide rate)
    • Why should 99% of America reap a peace they do not sow

I challenge each of you to think about how these questions impact your own life and the lives of the increasingly invisible American service member.  Especially given the soldier and veteran suicide rate, we need to reconsider why society allows the few to continue to be so heavily burdened by the psychological toll of combat.  When we come home fragmented, weary, and isolated, nobody comes to our rescue, nobody fights for us.  When 6 LGBT students killed themselves in one month, it made national headlines.  Jim Swilley, a mega-church pastor in Ohio, came out as gay before his entire congregation, saying (of “the recent rash of gay teen suicides”);

“As a father, thinking about your 16, 17 year old killing themselves. I thought somebody needed to say something,” Swilley said through tears.

Brave New Films

The AVF is an illusion.  It is pretty, painted glass ready to shatter under the weight of repeated deployments, lack of dwell time, and social insulation from the reality of life during war.  I think somebody needs to say something.  When will that somebody be you?

Logan Mehl-Laituri is an Iraq veteran and a student in the theological studies program at Duke Divinity School, where he is a founding member of Milites Christi. He also acts as the Executive Officer of Centurion’s Guild and is the author of Reborn on the Fourth of July (InterVarsity Press, 2012).

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About the Author

Logan Mehl-Laituri

Logan Mehl-LaituriLogan Mehl-Laituri is an Iraq veteran and a student in the theological studies program at Duke Divinity School, where he is a founding member of Milites Christi. He also acts as the Executive Officer of Centurion's Guild. Logan is the author of Reborn on the Fourth of July (InterVarsity Press, 2012). and, most recently, For God and Country (In That Order) (Herald Press, 2013).View all posts by Logan Mehl-Laituri →

  • I’m not sure what you’re advocating here? Are you suggesting that MORE people serving the government would be a good thing?

    • Jacobmic

      I think he saying that ALL people serving the government would be a good thing

      • not necessarily the government per se, but the common interest. if the government has a monopoly on it, than that should probably trouble us too…

        • In you’re scenario, isn’t the government defining the “common interest?”

          • i think that is going beyond any point i’m making in the post. in fact, i raised more questions than i did concrete statements, so i wouldnt say i’m defining anything  :)

    • I am critiquing the illusion of the All “Volunteer” Force and wondering why we allow volunteerism to be a foil for our criticisms against the military. It is mostly the poor who are recruited while 99% of Americans allow it to go on without much criticism, on both the left and the right (each say, with varying motivations, “well, they signed a contract”). We generally talk as though there is not effectively a draft, albeit one fueled economically. I think the AVF is not sustainable and unjust, and we need to consider alternatives.

      • dapowellii

        “Mostly the poor who are recruited” is just plain false.

  • I think a mandatory 4-year military service would help solve our illegal immigration issue. Any illegal immigrant who is caught in the United States has the choice of being deported back to their country or the choice of serving in the Armed Forces for a minimum of 4 years. Upon completion of 4 years of service, the immigrant along with his/her family is granted full U.S. Citizenship. Bada bing!

    • I’m not sure if you’re being facetious, but in case you are not – a number of immigrant do in fact enlist for those reasons. The pathway to citizenship can be very troubling, as families might get deported while the member is deployed, sometimes the paperwork or other things get fudged… it’s a mess sometimes. But there is that program, I just can’t remember the name off hand…

      • Anonymous

        I think you are getting confused with those who already have their Green Card. Currently there is no program in place that allows illegal immigrants to enlist in the Armed Forces. Nobody can enlist in the US Armed Forces without proof of US citizenship or green card.

    • Lightbygrace

      That is actually an interesting idea…

    • dapowellii

      No thanks. As a career officer, I can tell you this is a bad idea.

  • Jacobmic

    Yeah, but not all of us are nationalists who believe in the American project.  There are other ways to serve the common good and your neighbor; I’m not saying that a draft into community service is a bad thing – it just is what it is.  And what exactly do you mean by, “Why should 99% of America reap a peace they do not sow”? are you implying that American Troops keep us safe from foreign invaders.  If that’s what you are saying, it is a laughable concept at best and certainly an antithesis of many Christian ideas about security and safety.  

    • Justin Dalton

      I stumbled over the “peace” statement as well, as the American military today sows much more war and violence, which the entire world is forced to reap, than any semblance of peace. I recognize that the fault for that lies with federal leadership and high ranking officers, though, and not with national service men and women. The statement unfortunately distracts from the greater points the article raises, which I believe are good ones.

      In response to the article, I agree that there are many issues with who is recruited and how they are recruited to national service. I don’t believe that mandatory service for everyone is the solution, but I don’t personally know enough about these recruitment issues to have any ideas about what should be done. I fully support looking for alternatives to the current system, though.

  • Jonathanstarkey

    Is volunteerism, a bait for the poor? Is it their stepping stone so that they can have a piece of the American Pie?

  • Jonathanstarkey

    Is volunteerism, a bait for the poor? Is it their stepping stone so that they can have a piece of the American Pie?

  • Roland Van Deusen

    NO! NO! A thousand times NOOOOO!!! No draft!! The poverty draft of this great recession will do fine, thank you. I had 10 years military service during the Vietnam war, and have been a member of Veterans For Peace ever since, will go to my grave waging peace. The draft favored the rich, the white, the well connected – and a new one would do the same. Make the military/industrial complex work hard to trade blood for oil. Anyone thinking the draft would be the answer, needs to email me at I can set you straight, IF you’re brave enough to handle the truth. At 66, I was arrested at the White House in March with 111 others, the day we started our Libyan war, and year nine in Iraq.We don’t know how many veterans like me it will take committing civil disobedience to bring our brothers & sisters-in-arms home. but we’ll find out. WWJD – Who Would Jesus Draft?

    • Logan Mehl-Laituri

      “The poverty draft of this great recession will do fine, thank you” 

      Without yet addressing Andy’s comments about the recruitment levels, I’m really troubled that, whatever it is you find the poverty draft to be, that it is fine with you. The draft did not favor the rich nearly as much as the “volunteer force” does. Now, the affluent need only turn the other way when expected to perform some kind of contribution to the common good. It’s much easier to escape service when you don’t need the money dangled in front of those who do… 

  • Lightbygrace

    Um, NO. 

  • davidjspuria

    I think we need to remember this is an all volunteer Army doing violence on our behalf. This is why we need to be more certain we need to fight all these wars. I’d like us to have a moratorium on all wars for 5 years. That included the undeclared operation in Libya. This is a great place to learn about emergent or what I call convergent faith. We have a small group of folks there who really care about these things! Please check it out and join on the conversation.

  • Roger Wolsey

    After reflecting on this, I’ll say YES – as it would result in using our troops far less frequently in combat situations.

  • Chris

    I instantly cringe when I hear the word “mandatory.” Even if it’s for a “good” reason.

    If something is needed to make it “mandatory” than perhaps the message isn’t clear or good, or it is the wrong message.

    As for the teen suicides – what saddens me most (after their suicides of course) is the reactions AFTER.   All the support AFTER the fact.  All the protesting against bullying AFTER the fact.  All the standing together as one AFTER the fact.

    Where was all this support for them BEFORE?  They committed suicide because they had no hope – no one to turn to – no one to stand up with (not for) them.  They were utterly lost.

    Had we been there BEFORE, they might not have felt so hopeless.

    Yes being bullied and teased is bad, but if someone has the support of friends and family the impact is greatly lessened.

    These teens killed themselves not ONLY because they were teased, but because WE FAILED to stand with them, we failed to love them.

    • Logan Mehl-Laituri

      Absolutely. Let’s not make the same mistake again. Let’s figure out why military service carries with it the obscene rate of suicide before it continues to climb. I think the connections between poverty and the illusion of the volunteer force and suicide is something to explore more, which is the reason for the post. You will notice I do not say we should conscript military service, but suggest there are alternatives to allowing the poor to fight for us while we continue to turn our eyes from the highest rate of suicide our nation has ever known.

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  • Burton

    Please note that James Swilley is the pastor of a church in Rockdale County, Georgia. Not Ohio.

  • You do not in any way show that “the poor” are disproportionately represented in the military. In fact your argument is extremely flawed because of it. The mean household income for recruits in 2003 was $42,822. Middle income zip codes provided more recruits than anywhere else.

    Moreover, why work for a mandatory military draft when we should be working for a massive reduction in the military. This proposal is so flawed it is mind-blowing.

    • Logan Mehl-Laituri

      First of all, I think you and both would take anything the heritage foundation says with a HUGE grain of salt. I worked with Oscar Castro of AFSC awhile ago, who compared census data with the (unreleased, protected, i.e. leaked) recruitment reports from TRADOC. The highest concentration of new recruits came from heavily urban or rural areas of economic distress. Heritage can say whatever they want, but I know it’s highly suspect. Over six years and I never heard a recruitment story that didn’t have some kind of economic overtone, besides, the numbers they cite likely was for the household, not necessarily for the 17/18 year old kid that ended up enlisting. My folks had that same approximate income (maybe more, I think), but they still went on to go bankrupt sending me and three siblings to school, leaving me to find a way to fund college on my own.

      Secondly, what I propose (not contained here, they recycled an old blog that I had written up on a whim) would have the effect of reducing the size and cost of the military. Gimme a call if you are interested in more, Mark and Joanna have my number (typing is not my best friend, I still hunt and peck, so I avoid it if I can), and may be able to shed some light on my political orientation (for lack of a better word).

      Finally, that’s great that you don’t “believe” in the project, whatever it is you see it to be. But if there is any group that might have a claim to be immune to its ethical implications on the individual or collective conscience, it’s the Amish. However, the Anabaptists came to the US explicitly for the religious freedom it offered. There IS something that America offers that represents something we benefit from. To assume we are not impacted by this reality, that our social ethic somehow is not touched by our privilege of (at least) communicative freedom, etc., is invalid. I am no fan of political conservatives (at least not after being accused of being a traitor and a coward for refusing to carry a weapon), but what is our response to the claim that in China, we wouldn’t be having this conversation? After all, Jesus Radicals has quite the online presence, does it not?

    • chrishaw

      I concur with Logan, if only intuitively, that a draft would seem reduce the military’s dominance. The rich and powerful, who most of us agree hold special sway in our society, would have some more significant considerations when the next war drum starts beating. Perhaps fewer will be so eager and zealous having a (rich) child’s life on the line. (As an anabaptist note, I have talked with a few neo-hutterites who are proponents of the draft for this reason.)

      • chrishaw

        “seem TO reduce”

  • Wayne Froese

    Even universal service requirements would have an unequal impact on the rich and poor. Those working their way through college may have an extended undergrad already. I also fear that the privileged class would continue to avoid requirements that apply to the masses.

  • dapowellii

    Yeah, the draft worked out som well for us in Vietnam…why not go back to those good ol’ days? “The times, they are a-changin’….”

    I know this is an old article, but it sounds to me like someone needs a good lesson in history. As a 24-year veteran of the AVF, I can tell you with all certainty that your conclusions are based on flawed assumptions. Military service is definitely NOT “performed primarily by the poor.” If you really think that, perhaps you should pick up a rifle and join the rest of us on point.

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