EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the July 4th, 2005, issue of National Review.
Figures on U.S. military recruitment just released for 2005 show that the Army missed its monthly announced goal, achieving only 75 percent of its anticipated enlistments for this May. The Army National Guard and the Army Reserve also missed their desired monthly targets. Stories in the press followed, claiming that the Pentagon is lowering Army standards to pull in new recruits and address the fallout from the depressing news from Iraq.
Recent dips in Army enlistments also fueled a new conventional wisdom: that the U.S. military is almost dangerously undermanned, exhausted, and overstretched. An unpopular war, domestic opposition, televised casualties, extended service, divorce and social dislocations, an improving economy, and supposed disparity in the sacrifices made by troops of different races and classes have all, it is said, conspired to cut recruitment to the volunteer army and reserves to alarming levels.
In turn, fears of undermanned armed forces have prompted existential questions about who should serve and the nature of U.S. foreign policy. Opponents of the war in Iraq also make the argument–perhaps legitimate in its own right–that our options are limited in dealing with Syria, Iran, and North Korea because we are overextended in Iraq and Afghanistan. Such critics also know that the cover of an exhausted military means they will never be called to spell out their exact position on the future use of force elsewhere.
Behind most critiques, oddly enough, is the promise of the draft. Some critics of the current war profess support for a return to conscription–both to address the purported manpower shortage and to ensure less military action abroad in the future. If a broader cross-section of the population serves in the military, it is argued, won’t we all be more careful how it is used? And isn’t the present system making inordinate demands on minorities, the poor, and the undereducated?
We might ask how accurate is the current picture of military disarray. . . .
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