The land of the free again: Two wars but no conscription
In war as in life, what doesn't happen is often as significant as what does. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with their setbacks, victories and casualties, have many things in common with past American wars. But there is one big thing missing this time: the draft.
Hendrik Hertzberg noted recently in The New Yorker magazine that "for the first time in a century, America is fighting a long war -- indeed, two long wars, each longer than our participation in both World Wars put together -- without conscription."
That change represents a sort of throwback to the early days of the republic. When President James Madison proposed conscription for the War of 1812, New Hampshire's Daniel Webster rose on the House floor in eloquent opposition.
"Where is it written in the Constitution, in what article or section is it contained, that you may take children from their parents, and parents from their children, and compel them to fight the battles of any war in which the folly or wickedness of government may engage it?" he demanded. That was the end of that idea, until the Civil War.
It's not just that no one wants to bring back the bitter divisions and organized resistance the draft produced in the 1960s. It's also that we have established the clear superiority of a military composed of men and women who choose to serve.
No one would imagine you could run a private business with employees who are forced to take jobs there against their will. Imagine the difficulty of motivating them. Yet we used to run the Army that way.
There is no doubt that the current wars have put exceptional burdens on the active duty force as well as reservists -- burdens far greater than they expected when they signed up. But future soldiers will have no illusions about what to expect, and they will adjust their choices to fit the new reality.
Thanks to the abolition of the draft, if Americans want to keep making such heavy demands on the military, they will have to pay generously enough to get people to enlist and re-enlist.
It was once a novel experiment: fielding a force to protect freedom without grossly violating freedom by dragooning young men to serve. But it's worked so well we've almost forgotten there's an alternative.