At the end of September, I reported how a recent article in the Army War College academic journal examined lessons learned from the war in Ukraine and that one of the most concerning was the claim that the military might need to reinstate the draft in order to wage a high-intensity war. I argued at length that this was an example of the military laying the groundwork to resume the draft and laid out the reasons why it might be necessary from the regime’s perspective.
This report garnered a good deal of attention online for understandable reasons; being press-ganged into the military to fight and potentially die in a war is one of the most extreme infringements on one’s liberty that can be imagined, especially since the US has a track record of fighting, and losing, pointless wars on the other side of the planet. As sometimes happens online, the headline took on a life of its own, and people began to share screenshots of the headline and state that the military was reinstituting the draft rather than what I actually said, which was that it was laying the groundwork to do so.
As readers and fans of the Mises Institute are likely aware, it is ideas that move the world, and any course of action, whether it be some new regulation or some new reform that advances liberty, first begins as an idea that is put forward, promoted, debated, and ultimately adopted. Laying the intellectual groundwork is a necessary part of this process, and it is natural that any consideration to bring back the draft would begin in an academic journal, in the same way that the Mises Institute’s associated scholars put forward new ideas in the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics.
However, in response to what was apparently a mini online panic, the Associated Press began fact-checking the claim that the military was about to begin conscription. To the author’s credit, he reached out to me for comment in light of his conversations with both the US government and a coauthor of the Army War College journal article that prompted the whole situation.
What is noteworthy is not so much the fact-check or that people online lack reading comprehension but rather the response of the US government and the coauthor of the journal article, John A. Nagl, to inquiries from the Associated Press.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Defense was quick to note that there were no plans to bring back the draft at this time, though a “deputy associate director” at the Selective Service System helpfully noted that if the government did reinstate the draft, the bureaucracy was “continually” working to ensure quick and efficient mobilization.
Perhaps the most elucidating response to this kerfuffle came from Nagl, a professor at the Army War College (where he is notably “Co-Course Director for the elective ‘Black Soldiers in America’s Wars: DEI in Action’”), who is quoted by the Associated Press as stating, “The piece doesn’t even recommend the resumption of the draft.”
This is a laughable distinction without a difference. As I quoted in the very first paragraph of my original essay, in the context of discussing the huge losses that could be expected in waging an honest to goodness large-scale war, the authors explicitly state, “Large-scale combat operations troop requirements may well require a reconceptualization of the 1970s and 1980s volunteer force and a move toward partial conscription.” Elsewhere in the same section, the authors state that the expected huge losses imply that “the 1970s concept of an all-volunteer force has outlived its shelf life and does not align with the current operating environment.”
Stating that the all-volunteer military “has outlived its shelf-life” is an implication of your findings, and then going on to claim that “a move to partial conscription” may be required, but that somehow you aren’t advocating for a return of the draft requires some etymological gymnastics that defy any commonsense conception of the English language.
However, the fact that Nagl felt compelled to try and downplay the obvious implications of his words, combined with the outrage garnered online by the idea that Zoomer men might be press-ganged to go fight Russia, is quite enlightening.
If the Army is short tens of thousands of recruits, even with up to $50,000 in signing bonuses, then people are obviously going to be rather disgruntled at being forcibly conscripted with presumably no signing bonuses at all! Trying to avoid a further tanking of its approval rating, it is no wonder the military does not want people to dwell on the fact that this might be a possibility.
The implications of this state of affairs are obvious. Being prepared to deploy sufficient force to wage a modern industrial war would require a much larger active-duty and reserve manpower pool than currently exists. The population would react with outrage to being forcibly shipped off to be blown in half fighting on the steppes of Ukraine or some other place irrelevant to American interests. Either the US government must be prepared to resort to Ukraine-level street kidnappings carried out by impressment gangs, or it needs to drastically alter the planned scope of missions the military would be used for.
Unfortunately, given the government’s track record, there is little reason to think it will adopt a humbler foreign policy without being forced to do so by public pressure.