A New Draft

Bill Neinast


History repeats itself sometimes, but it is always a guide for what to do, or not do, in the future.

This thought came to mind with the announcement that historical markers for the gymnasium and football stadium in Somerville will be dedicated next month.

Those two enduring structures are icons of a memorable period of American history.  No!, not of the great depression, but of a period when untrained individuals were building solid portions of the nation’s infrastructure.

Memories of that workforce brought to mind a classmate at the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s School at the University of Virginia in 1962.  He was a Turkish officer who told us that every male in his country was required to serve in the military for one year.

The only things the Turkish government provided during that year of training was food, weapons, uniforms, and housing.  There was no pay.  Any money for individual troops had to come from their families or other sources.

Combining these two memories produced a radical idea. Why not reactivate the military draft with a provision that every 18 year old American male and female would have to serve his or her country for 12 months?  The only exemptions would be for real physical or mental disability and bona fide conscientious objectors would be trained as medical corps personnel.

Have induction ceremonies every three months for everyone turning 18 that quarter.    The first two months would be for basic military training and the remaining months would be for public service projects.

Among the service projects could be restoring, repairing, and maintaining the national parks and monuments.  The millions of acres of public forests and other areas might become as pristine and clean of fire spreading brush as those in Europe.  

Damage to public areas like that sustained at Lake Somerville and other areas during the last floods could be repaired much faster, cheaper, and better than currently.

Each “soldier” would also be required to perform at least two weeks of litter patrol on public roadways.  That could produce generations of adults who would not permit empty cans, bottles, fast food cartons and other detritus to be tossed from vehicles.  

Another two weeks of old fashioned KP (kitchen work) and barracks cleaning would be required.  This would produce generations with an appreciation of what it takes to feed and maintain families.

This is a very short list of how the Army Service Corps could be trained and used.  The list can be expanded to many pages with just a little thought.

There are, of course, numerous details to work out.  Among them are the laggards who may not pull their load or just take off for home--go AWOL.  

Possible solutions to those two problems would be to rely on each team to be self-disciplined by assigning specific tasks with deadlines.  If one member was not pulling his or her own weight and delaying meeting the deadline, the other members would provide the necessary spark to have everyone working to meet the deadline.  That is the old “I have your back” camaraderie at work.

Anyone going AWOL would have the length of his absences tacked on to his one-year obligation.

Here, however, is the kicker.  The Army Service Corps would be based on the Turkish model.  There would be no pay.  The Government would furnish only the training and supervision, clothing, housing, and food.  “Spending money” for the soldiers would have to come from home or other sources.

That will raise eyebrows.  The prevalent thought will be there is no way this could be done without paying for this service.  This would be involuntary servitude.

Surprisingly, this bridge has already been crossed.  Clause 12, section 8, Article I of the Constitution provides: “Congress shall have power to raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years.”

One of the earlier military draft laws imposed under this provision was challenged for imposing involuntary servitude.  The claim was dismissed by the Supreme Court.  

Whether a new draft law establishing an Army Service Corps in which the soldiers served without pay would survive a similar challenge would depend on the makeup of the Supreme Court.   A court with a majority of the justices being President Hillary Clinton appointees may decide the issue differently from one composed of President Donald Trump appointees.

So here’s the perspective.

Before this bizarre suggestion is thrown on the dust bin of history, consider it under the words of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address to “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” 


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