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Alternatives To The Draft

Properly trained the citizen soldier could function across this spectrum.
by Philip Gold
UPI Outside View Commentator
Seattle (UPI) Dec 04, 2006
There is a process in American political life by which the unthinkable becomes the inevitable. Right now, the draft is as dead as last week's road kill, and about as palatable. But the war goes on, the U.S. Army is imploding, and it's possible to conceive of a number of foreign and domestic disasters that might move the issue from a Charlie Rangel fantasy to a deadly serious possibility.

Should this happen, the American people will be told that they have only three choices. Continued reliance on voluntary recruitment. A military draft with no limits placed upon the uses to which conscripts might be put. Or so-called national service with military and non-military "options."

But there is a fourth alternative. The American people must return to the Founding Fathers of the United States' understanding of the nature of the common defense and the nexus between citizenship and defense, and then to adapt that understanding to present needs.

To the Founders, defense included a spectrum of activities, from individual self-defense, law enforcement, and border control to protection against riot, insurrection and invasion, with Federal overseas wars of choice only at the far end. They knew that these activities blur into each other. That's why the Founders cherished the militia idea. Properly trained and motivated, the citizen-soldier could function across this spectrum.

Toward that end, the Founders established, in the Constitution and the Militia Act of 1792, a universal citizen (back then, white male citizen) military obligation. But they never intended that this obligation provide the federal government with a blank check on the citizenry. Rather the opposite. Article I, section 8 of the U.S. Constitution gives the U.S. Congress the power to "raise armies," an 18th century legal term for professional standing forces. The power to draw on the citizenry is found in the "calling forth of the militia" clause, which specifies the conditions under which the militia may be summoned. You need not take the list -- disorder, insurrection, invasion -- as exhaustive to realize that it means that the citizenry is not available for unlimited service at federal whim.

Further, the Tenth Amendment clearly affirms that the federal government has only the powers granted to it, and neither the history of conscription nor a century's worth of Supreme Court waffling can change the fact that direct federal conscription is unconstitutional or, if you prefer, an extra-constitutional arrangement that may have been necessary during the world wars, but is not for that reason a valid precedent now.

Those who want conscription or national service should feel free to press for a constitutional amendment authorizing it. The rest of us might consider the following five-tier arrangement for meeting our legitimate defense needs by drawing upon the citizenry while limiting any president's power to get us into any more of these controversial wars.

First, under this system men and women could volunteer, as now, for unlimited service in the federal active and reserve forces, and in the National Guard.

Second, men and women could volunteer for active and reserve Army and Army Guard units that could not be sent outside the United States, save upon Congressional declaration of war or of a humanitarian emergency so great as to require it. Many young people would like to serve, but demur at the notion of being sent anywhere to do anything. Their service would create a significant strategic reserve.

Third, revive the state defense forces. During the world wars, many states established independent militias to provide local defense and relief while their Guard units were overseas. Today, over twenty states maintain independent militias. These units are recognized under federal law, but can't be federalized or ordered out of the state (although some states do have reciprocity arrangements with their neighbors).

If the National Guard is to remain our de facto second standing army, it cannot be expected to be available for unlimited domestic duty. State defense forces are vital supplements and replacements. Further, these militias have two great advantages. Unlike the Guard, they don't have to be organized, equipped and trained in the image of the U.S. Army. States can "build to suit." Also, citizens can serve for many years in units that form genuine parts of their communities.

Fourth, create specialized units modeled on the U.S. Civil Air Patrol, Coast Guard auxiliary, and "first responder" auxiliaries, from volunteer fire brigades to folks who volunteer their four-wheel-drive vehicles and ATVs as ambulances. Only need and imagination limit the possibilities to enhance homeland security and disaster relief capabilities. Again, individuals could serve for many years, as their desires and circumstances permit.

Finally, permit individuals with special skills to attach to all kinds of military, law enforcement and disaster relief organizations. Again, only need and imagination limit the possibilities.

In sum, such a system would enhance the common defense by re-engaging the citizenry as the Founders intended. Would everybody volunteer? Not hardly. But there could well be enough to make the necessary difference.

Of course, the Pentagon and the professionals won't like it. Too inflexible, too impractical, too much trouble to bother with all those amateurs. But when did the Pentagon ever concern itself with practicality? And in the end, who's working for whom?

Philip Gold is author of "The Coming Draft" (Random House/Presidio, 2006). He may be reached at

United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.

Source: United Press International

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