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To Raise an Army: The Draft Comes to Modern America.

To Raise an Army: The Draft Comes to Modern America. John Whiteclay Chambers II. Free Press, $24.95. Military history occupies a bottom rung in the academic prestige ladder. The low regard in which most professors hold military people probably has something to do with this. Still, it boggles the mind that until now there has been no full-scale history of conscription in America. Fortunately, John Whiteclay Chambers II has given us a superb history of the draft and more.

He addresses the question of how conscription came into being in a country that traditionally values individual liberty. The short answer is that from the beginning the United States has embraced two kinds of armies--large, volunteer, citizen-armies in times of war and small professional forces in times of peace. Chambers takes us quickly through the colonial period, the War of Independence, and the first half of the nineteenth century. A watershed was crossed with the introduction of the first national draft during the Civil War when the supremacy of the federal government over the states in raising armies was settled forever. The denouement of To Raise an Army is the establishment of the modern draft in World War I, pushed by industrialists, financiers, corporation lawyers, and university presidents, particularly from the eastern seaboard. In contrast to today, the South (along with the Midwest) was the region most resistant to military conscription. Most of the conscriptionists were actually advocates of universal military training, a plan whereby all young men would receive basic training followed by an extended term in the reserves.

Learning from the Civil War experience, the World War I draft did not allow conscripts to purchase substitutes. A system came into being that blended some 4,500 local draft boards with a centralized Selective Service in Washington. On June 5, 1917, one of the most remarkable days in American history, ten million young men were registered. The awesome demonstration of bureaucratic efficiency contributed in no small way, Chambers argues, to today's keeping of birth and life records and other kinds of demographic statistics.

The World War I draft, with its mixture of localism and nationalism set the pattern for the future. What Chambers doesn't stress enough is that local draft boards have been staffed by volunteers, a unique example of how the federal government can perform a gigantic task without a large, paid bureaucracy. We should not forget that the peacetime draft of the mid-1950s to early 1960s was widely accepted precisely because it was deemed fair. All this changed during the Vietnam war with the upper-middle class and rich largely avoiding military service. Chambers sees the end of the draft in 1973 and the move toward a volunteer format as a return to the more usual peacetime pattern of manning our military. The difference is that we have never had a peacetime force based on volunteers approaching the size of the one we have today. At the same time the national elite no longer sees military service as a civic obligation. We seem to have returned to a system of purchase substitutes in all but name.

Chambers notes that America has yet to come up with a durable system of raising military manpower. One possibility is some form of national service whereby all men (and perhaps women) would be required to perform military or civilian duty for the government. Chambers sees only the possibility of mandatory service, but the greater likelihood is some form of large-scale but voluntary service covering both citizen soldiers and civilian servers.

If the draft did come back, it would almost surely allow for a range of civilian options in a manner much broader than past experience. With the Supreme Court expanding the definition of conscience to include secular motives and with the standby draft system allowing great latitude in alternative service for conscientious objectors, we will back into a national service program without ever having quite legislated one.
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Author:Moskos, Charles C.
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1988
Words:655
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