David H. Hackworth
December 27, 1994


I've been rethinking the unthinkable and have worked out we should bring back the draft. This has been one hell of a mind wrestle, but the state of our troubled youth and a recent experience with Air Force officers who view the American public as the enemy have convinced me to do an about face.

Today, our military is made up of all volunteers, the most costly but most professional force we've ever had. The soldier in me likes the idea of having a pro team that can play a Desert Storm game with few fumbles. But my historian-side rejects an all regular force because the past shows states like Rome that depended on mercenaries eventually bellied up. And the draft is healthy -- the military will be infused with sharp citizen soldiers capable of handling the increasingly more high tech systems while the rich and connected won't be so eager to jump into the Bosnias of this world if its their kids doing the jumping.

Sadly, the majority of those who do our soldier work today are not a fair representation of the U.S. The fighting burden is borne mainly by a coalition of minorities, a cross-section of the lower middleclass sector of our population. The duty of defending America is in the hands of many who view the military not as a patriotic duty, but rather as a job. This job security mindset causes many of these regulars to put following orders over following conscience.

The draft -- which in the past filled the military with citizens from all walks of life -- has been pushed from George Washington to Sam Nunn. Advocates for a Citizen Army, an idea our country was built on, say soldiering enriches both the participants and our armed forces, allowing our youth to fulfill a civic responsibility while keeping the military in tune with democracy.

I agree. I served with draftees from all walks of life. Few blindly followed orders. They wanted to know "why," and if the order was not just or if the leadership was corrupt, they blew the whistle and kept the system honest.

Most citizen soldiers didn't want to be there, and they weren't wind-up GI dolls who could be trained like a guard dogs, but people who believed that serving their country was their reluctant duty even as it disrupted their lives. The Army profited, since many were a lot smarter than regulars -- and not nearly as expensive.

Today also, a large part of our youth need the military as much as the military needs them. Their families and schools have failed them by not instilling discipline, values and standards. Drugs, crime, a damaged belief system and sick entertainment industry have produced a lost generation in need of structure and salvage damn fast.

The Military already has straightened out millions of young Americans -- including my daughter, myself and scores of friends. Drill sergeants and other leaders teach high standards and not only make good soldiers, but good citizens. With the cold war over and no enemy in sight, the military is looking for a purpose. If given the mission, get out of their way.

My no-deferment plan calls for every 18 year old to take 12 weeks of boot camp and then serve a two year hitch with minimum pay. Sure, if every 18 year old were drafted, there would be too many bodies in the pool for the forces to drill. Volunteers would be skimmed off for active units, and the rest would be detailed to the America Corps. The Corps would: help care for old people; clean up the inner cities; work in our parks; provide security in subways and schools; serve as assistant police officers; teach Ghetto kids to read; work in libraries and museums. Our kids -- both boys and girls -- would be paying the price of admission for living in this land, and when they finished, they'd be paid back with the GI bill and grow as their grandparents did into an even greater natural resource.

Returning to the draft would be healthy for America and produce better citizens who would both find themselves and the lost values that made this country so great.