National servants

Let’s Draft Our Kids, writes Thomas Ricks, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, in a New York Times op-ed. His goal is to discourage wars by putting the children of the powerful at risk  — and to provide cheap labor for the government.

A revived draft, including both males and females, should include three options for new conscripts coming out of high school. Some could choose 18 months of military service with low pay but excellent post-service benefits, including free college tuition. These conscripts would not be deployed but could perform tasks currently outsourced at great cost to the Pentagon: paperwork, painting barracks, mowing lawns, driving generals around, and generally doing lower-skills tasks so professional soldiers don’t have to. If they want to stay, they could move into the professional force and receive weapons training, higher pay and better benefits.

Actually, mowing lawns or pushing paper on an Army base — with no chance of deployment — isn’t “military” service and won’t put anyone’s kids at risk. The military already uses civilian workers for many routine jobs to avoid wasting the time of highly trained soldiers.

Those who don’t want to serve in the army could perform civilian national service for a slightly longer period and equally low pay — teaching in low-income areas, cleaning parks, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, or aiding the elderly. After two years, they would receive similar benefits like tuition aid.

Teaching in low-income areas!?! These are teen-age conscripts with no training. For that matter, rebuilding infrastructure? With no training?

And libertarians who object to a draft could opt out. Those who declined to help Uncle Sam would in return pledge to ask nothing from him — no Medicare, no subsidized college loans and no mortgage guarantees. Those who want minimal government can have it.

Many Americans would pledge to take only minimal government help in exchange for minimal taxes, but that’s probably not what Ricks has in mind.

The high cost of finding some sort of work for unskilled 18-year-olds would be offset by providing a “pool of cheap labor” which could be loaned to states and cities, he argues. Ricks imagines unions would let $15,000-a-year (plus room and board) teen custodians do work otherwise performed by professional custodians earning $106,329, the top base salary in New York City. Those construction workers who’d otherwise be rebuilding infrastructure wouldn’t mind if draftees took their jobs.

Even if it were fair to “put millions of innocent people in involuntary servitude so that their parents would become politically active, it won’t work, writes David Henderson. Conscription won’t reduce support for war.

About Joanne


  1. No one with any concept of a modern US army could possibly consider the draft a good idea. It takes years to make a soldier these days. Oh, you can push someone through basic and out to Afghanistan more quickly than that, but if you want someone to drive a tank, use complicated weapons systems, deal with battlefield communication and control networks or any of the other highly specialized and skilled duties, it’s going to take years.

    Our betters in the professional chattering classes are pretty sure that they are vastly superior to a lowly soldier, so they write stuff like this. In reality, I suspect quite a lot of them wouldn’t make it through marine boot camp.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      “No one with any concept of a modern US army could possibly consider the draft a good idea…”

      If one of the ideas behind this draft is higher casualty rates among the draftees if we do fight a war [thus, hopefully, causing the US to fight less], then relatively untrained soldiers (getting killed in higher numbers …) is a feature, not a bug.

    • Just like what elites who never set foot in a public school classroom* say about the teachers to whom they are of course vastly superior.

      *Except on staged dog-n-pony show tours, usually of charter schools that are miracles run by saints.

    • Ricks idea is pretty silly from start to finish, but he’s not talking about a draft in the traditional sense. As Joanne says, he’s talking about mundane, non-military service on military bases.

  2. Mark Roulo says:

    What is it with some pundits’ obsessions with having other people (usually the young) be forced to work for very low wages? If you want the damn work done, pay more in taxes to have it done. Don’t come up with some ideological reason that young folks should be forced to do it for free/cheap.

    • Because the lack of a class of nobility doesn’t prevent a segment of society from trying to assume the presumptuousness of royalty.

      The real irony of the piece is that nations governed by representative forms of government are much more loath to go to war then are nations governed by the like of Mr. Ricks.

    • Couldn’t have said it any better.

  3. More draft nonsense being pushed around. I was one of the age group required to register with Selective Service when Jimmy “numbnuts” Carter re-established registration as a response to the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan, and the idiotic decision he made to boycott the 1980 summer Olympics.

    Move forward 30 years…A draft has been kicked around by various persons in Congress (most recently Charles Rangel), but here is a interesting statistic for the persons who want a draft:

    75 percent of draft age persons are ineligible to serve in the military due to educational (lack thereof), health (obesity), or moral/criminal issues (misdemeanors and/or felony convictions).

    Not to mention, the armed forces are meeting their recruitment quotas, and are in the process of starting to involuntary separate persons in various branches of the service. Any professional military type will tell you a draft is a bad idea…

    30 plus years of selective service registration, and not one person has actually been put into uniform…


  4. Joanne, the figure Ricks cites is not for cleaners – it’s for the people at the top of the organizational chart: The people who are responsible for the higher order maintenance – elevators, boilers, HVAC, bio waste, etc. – and who hire and supervise the low-level workers. The compensation Ricks proposes for a teenager in his program – $15K/year plus room and board – is not much different from what NYC pays a starting cleaner ($15.41 per hour, with their being responsible for their own room and board).

    When somebody confuses the compensation of the most senior, supervisory worker with that of the most unskilled, entry level worker, it’s just plain embarrassing.

  5. GEORGE LARSON says:,000
    In 1966, McNamara initiated the “Moron Corps,” as they were piteously nicknamed by other soldiers. Billed as a Great Society program, McNamara’s Project 100,000 lowered military enlistment requirements to recruit 100,000 men per year with marginal minds and bodies. Recruiters swept through urban ghettos and southern hill country, taking some youths with I.Q.s below what is considered legally retarded.
    Project 100,000 was initiated by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara in October 1966 during American involvement in the Vietnam War and ended in December 1971. Considered part of Johnson’s Great Society by giving training and opportunity to the uneducated and poor, the recruited men were classified as “New Standards Men” (or pejoratively the Moron Corps) and had scored in Category IV of the Armed Forces Qualification Test, which placed them in the 10-30 percentile range. The number of soldiers reportedly recruited through the program varies, from more than 320,00 to 354,000, which included both volunteers and conscripts (54% to 46%). Although entrance requirements were loosened, all the Project 100,000 men were sent through the normal training processes with other recruits, and performance standards were thus the same for everyone.
    In all, 354,000 volunteered for Project 100,000. The minimum passing score on the armed forces qualification test had been 31 out of 100. Under McNamara’s Project 100,000, those who scored as low as 10 were taken if they lived in a designated “poverty area.” In 1969, out of 120 Marine Corps volunteers from Oakland, California, nearly 90 percent scored under 31; more than 70 percent were black or Mexican. Overall, 41 percent of Project 100,000 volunteers were black, compared to 12 percent of the rest of the armed forces. Touted as providing “rehabilitation,” remedial education, and an escape from poverty, the program offered a one-way ticket to Vietnam, where these men fought and died in disproportionate numbers. The much-advertised skills were seldom taught.
    McNamara called these men the “subterranean poor,” as if they lived in caves. In a way they did; their squalid ghettos and Appalachian hill towns were unseen by affluent America. All the better for McNamara and his president Lyndon Johnson. Unmentioned in Project 100,000’s lofty sounding goals was the fact that – as protest became the number-one course of study at America’s universities – the men of the “Moron Corps” provided the necessary cannon fodder to help evade the political horror of dropping student deferments or calling up the reserves, which were sanctuaries for the lily-white.
    Officials denied that the members of the “Moron Corps” were dying in higher numbers, but the irrefutable statistics embraced by mathematical whiz kid McNamara tell another story. Forty percent of Project 100,000 men were trained for combat, compared with 25 percent of general service. In one 1969 sampling of Project 100,000, the Department of Defense put the attrition-by-death rate at 1.1 percent. By contrast, the overall rate for Vietnam era veterans was only 0.6 percent.
    “I think McNamara should be shot,” said Herb DeBose, a black first lieutenant in Vietnam, who later worked with incarcerated veterans. “I saw him when he resigned from the World Bank, crying about the poor children of the world. But if he did not cry at all for any of those men he took in under Project 100,000 then he really doesn’t know what crying is all about. Many under me weren’t even on a fifth-grade level…. I found out they could not read .. no skills before, no skills after. The army was supposed to teach them a trade in something – only they didn’t.”

  6. Amy in Texas says:

    Forget this draft nonsense- what we need is some kind of skilled apprenticeship program for kids who hate school and want something to do.
    Every day I see students who have nowhere to go and nothing that interests them. They flood the welding and auto body classes, desperate to escape the physics and algebra that the system thinks they need.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      But if we force them to take physics and algebra, a few of them will become doctors and lawyers. Isn’t that worth the boredom and hatred of the ones who don’t?

      • Stacy in NJ says:

        You should have qualified that as “physics” and “algebra”, Roger. The scare quotes are appropriate because they’re not really learning physics and algebra, nor are they learning the trades they might find satisfying and useful. Too bad.

        There’s something a little bit facist in insisting that the young serve the public in this way. It maybe well intentioned, happy, smiley facism, but it smells the same as the old variety.

      • Like we need a few more lawyers…there may be a few recent law school graduates who are weighed down in huge debt and can’t get a well paying job who now wish they could have taken welding and auto body classes instead of “algebra” and “physics”. Why must we sacrifice one group of students for another, “more worthy” group? Is the student who wants to take welding and auto body class not worthy of the best education that meets his needs? Is he/she not contributing to society in a meaningful way?

  7. I have an idea–let’s draft 50-year-olds to work for $15k a year!

  8. Cranberry says:

    It’s not fitting for an American Baby Boomer to argue for others’ involuntary servitude.

    The high school graduates of today will support Mr. Ricks and his fellow Baby Boomers, in far better style than they themselves receive.

    The money’s already been spent. The Treasury can’t afford to delay thee try of millions of taxpayers into taxable careers.

    Now, I could see the argument for a far smaller measure, restricted to the children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews of The President, all Senators, and New York Times op-ed writers. But that’s just me.

  9. Amy,

    The only problem with skilled apprenticeship programs is that they REQUIRE the student to have a SOLID mastery of the basics. Want to be an automotive tech, you had better have a solid working knowledge of algebra and sciences (doubly true if you want to specialize in electrical systems). Want to work in HVAC, same issues apply (algebra and sciences)…Sonography and radiography…same thing… LVN/LPN/RN, same thing.

    Apprenticeship programs are not going to thrive unless you can give them a crop of students who understand the basics of math, reading, writing, etc…

    As a service manager at toyota once told me…I don’t need people to swap parts, I need people who can analyze, troubleshoot, and have critical thinking and logic skills…those are the persons you need to solve problem in automobiles today (given the number of computers that are in them).