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Does the U.S. need a draft for self-defense? No.

If a war is worth fighting, Congress will vote to declare it and people will volunteer.

[Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), statement on introducing the Selective Service Repeal Act of 2021, 14 April 2021.]

There is no realistic scenario in which a draft would be needed for any defensive purpose. Politicians and military planners see a draft as likely to be “needed” only for political reasons or in bizarre and unlikely hypothetical circumstances. A draft is not a defensive measure, much less “needed” for national defense even if a draft based on the current Selective Service registration list would be feasible or enforceable, which it wouldn’t.

You don’t have to be a pacifist, a conscientious objector, or opposed to all war to oppose the draft, draft registration, and contingency planning for a draft, when these are the only purposes a draft would serve, or circumstances in which it would be “needed”.

Here’s what supporters of the Selective Service System say, both publicly and privately, about the “need” for a draft for national defense:

“When asked about the political feasibility of a large-scale mobilization, one SASC [Senate Armed Services Committee] staff member responded that SSS [Selective Service System] is kept around largely for political reasons, but no one realistically thinks it will be used…. He remarked that the draft is currently designed to replace large numbers of infantry overseas; however, such numbers are not likely to be needed in the future and the current lead time for training and skills development for various occupations needed to fight modern wars makes the SSS model less practical….”

[Internal notes by staff of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service (NCMNPS) on a meeting with Senate Armed Service Committee (SASC) staff, 1 October 2018, released by the National Archives and Records Administration after the expiration of the NCMNPS]

Dr. Joseph Heck [Brigadier General, U.S. Army Reserve; former member of the U.S. Congress (R-NV); Chair of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service:

Yesterday, we heard from individuals that talked about the changing threats that we face; that the homeland is no longer a sanctuary; that future warfare will probably require different skillsets than folks picking up a rifle and going off to battle. So, I want to pose a hypothetical scenario and ask your response. So,… we’re in a Red Dawn scenario where we are being attacked through both Canada and Mexico. There is no Selective Service System. The All-Volunteer Force is insufficient. There’s been a Presidential/Congressional call for volunteers; for people to step up. However, the response has not been enough to meet the threat, the actual threat to our homeland; not an overseas operation.How would you propose to meet the demand?… Mr Hasbrouck?

Mr. Edward Hasbrouck [Resisters.info]: You talked [earlier in these hearings] about the poor record of the government in assessing threats.

Now, that’s both threats that are missed that we aren’t prioritizing — the existential threat to human survival posed by nuclear weapons, including those of the U.S.; the existential threat to human survival posed by global warming — but those errors in threat assessment also include the false claims of existential threats:

  • The claim that was made that the Vietnamese posed a threat to the U.S. in the Tonkin Gulf — that proved to be false, but led to a war in which millions died and in which the most honorable thing anybody could say about what they did in that war is that they refused to fight.

  • The claim that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction posed an existential threat to the U.S. — that proved to be false, but has led us to 17 years of war in Iraq.

So I think what is called for, and what history shows we need more of when the government makes this claim of existential threat, is more skepticism by the public about it.

And when the public says, and votes with their bodies, “We are not prepared to fight that war,” that’s called democracy.

[Testimony at a formal hearing on Selective Service before the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, Washington, DC, 25 April 2019.]

What about the argument some people have made that a draft, especially a draft of the children of those in power, would help prevent war?

Aside from the ageism of that argument, it’s contradicted by common sense (a draft enables longer, larger wars; unavailability of a draft places constraints on war planning and war making) and by history. Here’s what Daniel Ellsberg had to say (full interview) about the lessons about the draft from the U.S. war in Indochina:

Despite the fact that the draft did account for large rallies, it also was essential to a large war. And I think that if we got the draft back, in other words if we started drafting people we’d have a much larger military, and I believe that we would — dangerous and wrongful as it is for us to be operating with special forces in many, many countries around the world — if we were operating with brigades and divisions…. then what’ll go with that is a hell of a lot more bombing than you’ve seen yet. With the American troops would come bombing of the local country on a vastly greater scale…. The fact is that the overall scale would be enormously greater. A draft, I’m afraid, would facilitate that. That’s one lesson from Vietnam.

[Daniel Ellsberg in a conversation with David Swanson at the San Francisco Public Library, 28 May 2016, at 1:25:25 of video.]

More reasons to oppose the draft:

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This page most recently modified 16 April 2021. This site is maintained by Edward Hasbrouck. Corrections, contributions (articles, graphics, photos, videos, links, etc.), and feedback are welcomed.