The Draft Is One of the More Controversial Subjects Facing Our Nation
The military draft is one of the most controversial topics in the last century. Many people claim that it was a useless waste of American lives. I, however, must disagree. I believe that the military draft was an important part of our victory in several wars, and was necessary in defeating totalitarian powers world-wide. I believe that the North could not have defeated the South without it, nor could the Allies have defeated the Central Powers in the Great War. During Vietnam, although anti-war protests were abundant, the draft was necessary in holding back Communism for as long as possible. It may not have been an ideal system, but it worked.
I think the first thing that must be understood is the history of the draft in America. In the colonial times, there wasn’t anything formal. The colonies each had militias made up of the men from the colony, but it wasn’t official or paid (Chronology of Conscription Online). Then the Revolutionary War came around, and the first regular Continental army was established. Men who enlisted were given cash bonuses and promised land in the West (Online). Not enough men enlisted, however, and General Washington was forced to call upon state militias (Online). The men they did send were untrained and would leave at inconvenient times to take care of their families and farms. (Online) We won, of course, and after the war Congress created the United States army to replace the broken up Continental army. In the War of 1812, however, there were still not enough volunteers for the army. President Monroe called upon the states for soldiers, but some states refused to send men (Online). It was obvious that when future wars came, there would have to be a better plan of action.
Unfortunately, the next war came less than 50 years later, and it was a big one. The Civil War, the North against the South, was the deadliest American conflict ever, mostly because everyone that died was an American. In the early stages of the war, the only method for acquiring troops was enlistment, and neither side had nearly enough troops. So in April, 1862, the Confederacy draft was implemented for all white men between 18 and 35. There were numerous exemptions possible. Substitutes could be hired. Throughout the Confederacy, non-compliance is extensive, morale is low, and low numbers of troops take tolls on the Confederate Army. However, conscripts counted for almost one-third of all soldiers in the South (Faust Online). In the Union, the same thing was occurring. “Conscription nurtured substitutes, bounty-jumping, and desertion” (Online). Loopholes in the draft allowed healthy men to evade the draft, while physically and mentally handicapped people were sent to the front lines due to faulty medical exams. A $300 exemption from the draft, called a commutation could be bought by those who could afford it. Of course, the lower class, comprised mostly of immigrants, hated this idea. Out of the 250,000 names drawn in the draft, only 6% actually served, the rest hired substitutes or bought commutation to escape the draft (Online). In 1864, however, they changed the law to only conscientious objectors (The Draft in The Civil War Online). Overall, the draft was an important source of soldiers during the war, and that it did make a difference in the Confederacy’s ability to maintain the war effort for 4 years.
Another war that the draft made a big difference in was World War One. Although the United States didn’t enter the war until 1917, their entry was key to the victory over the Central Powers. In 1914, when WWI started, there were only 200,000 men in the military, and the National Guard made up 80,000 of them (Yockelson Online). When we entered the war, we were forced to make an army that included draftees and enlisted men. 24 million men registered for the draft, but only 3.7 million were conscripted to active duty and sent overseas. By the end of WWI, only 300,000 men in the military were enlisted; the rest were drafted (Online). In total, 4,000,000 men served our country in WWI. Since we all know that the war ended a little over a year later, I would say that the draft, and the subsequent 4 million men definitely helped the war effort.
The final war that benefited from the draft was Vietnam. Yes, I know, Vietnam is one of the most controversial wars in history. However, the draft was implemented, it helped, and I’m going to use it as an argument because it’s valid. So during Korea, the “Reserve Forces Act” was put in place. This Act basically said that all men had to serve an eight-year tour of duty, and then be on reserve in case of national emergency or war until they turned thirty-five (“Chronology of Conscription” Online). When Vietnam began in 1965, we sent 200,000 men over there that year. The next year, we sent another 200,000. In all, half a million men were sent to Vietnam during the course of the war (Zinn Online). Of course, everyone knows there was massive resistance to this on the Home Front. Anti-draft protests became severe for the first time since the Civil War, and, subsequently, Congress expanded the definition of “conscientious objector” to include “religious beliefs non-traditional and non-theistic in nature” (“Chronology of Conscription” Online). Between 1967 and 1970, the number of conscientious objectors increased 250% and many others leave America in order to evade the draft (Zinn Online). Finally in 1969, Nixon ordered the “nineteen-year-old draft” so that, if a young man was not drafted by the time he was 19, he wouldn’t have to fight (“Chronology of Conscription”). Although it was wildly unpopular, the draft in Vietnam helped to slow the spread of Communism, and I see that as a win.
Of course, there are going to be people that argue against the things I’ve said, and I just have one thing to say to them: you’re wrong. I do realize I have to back this claim up, however, so I will. Many people will bring up the argument that we didn’t win in Vietnam. Nobody won, it was pretty much a draw. We withdrew our troops because the American people were protesting so much. Another argument is that with the draft we wasted a lot of American lives. To the people who bring this point up, would you rather we have slavery again? This seems like a relatively simple question to me. One point I heard someone make at a press conference back in the day was what if we had lost an entire generation like the French did. Well, for one thing, their country was invaded, so there’s that. In addition, we didn’t send an entire generation overseas, so there would be no way to lose them in warfare.
The draft was a necessary, if controversial, part of our overall military strategy over the last 150 years. The Civil War (Beavers!), World War One, and Vietnam all showed us that if we don’t have a draft, we are pretty much screwed. So, in conclusion, I have but one question: how much worse might our situation have been without the institution of The Draft?