If legislation existed that ensured every congresssional declaration of war automatically prompted the beginning of a national draft from which no one – not the children of the politicians, the wealthy, and the general officers – would be exempted, our nation would only enter into wars that are of paramount national interest of the United States of America. The willingness to send the sons or daughters of every American family into danger is a high bar to clear for the use of American military might, and would force deliberate thought and consideration as to what that use entails and what its outcomes/effects would be. As it stands, this fantasy will never come into fruition, and the current reality of the casual use of military force is far removed from this ideal. The shadow of Vietnam’s draft is too long; the forever war is too firmly entrenched into the national identity; the military industrial complex profits too much from endless conflict; and those who do not wear a uniform are too comfortable with being unaware or unbothered by the reality of a nation at war.
Political pressure, as applied by a concerned electorate, ended the Vietnam War; whereas the Forever War has continued on indefinitely because there is no concerned electorate marching in the streets demanding for its end. There is no concerned electorate clamoring for transparent defense policy because an all volunteer force came into effect after the Vietnam War, isolating the effects of a war to a small subset of the population. When people self-select into military service, they insulate the general populace from the effects of war. This creates a gross disparity between the effects of two decades worth of war has had on civilians and servicemembers, creating a substantial civil-military gap that most “regular Americans” are not even aware exists between them and their uniform wearing counterparts. They do not know, so it is hard for them to care. Because this disparity of hardship is borne by a minority of the country, the damaging effects of the War on Terror aren’t felt by enough people to generate the political clout necessary to force politicians, generals, and policymakers to practice sound decision making like the kind that ended the war in Vietnam.
The all-volunteer force has created an inability to hold substantial conversations concerning the use of American military power. Former and current service members are treated as the only individuals who are allowed to participate in the public discussion of America’s current wars and all related issues. Civilians are relegated to thanking the uniformed masses for their service, lest they be identified as unpatriotic or unsupportive of the troops. The hero mantle that has been pressed upon the service member bloc has made it difficult to separate discussion of the truly noble sacrifice of the all volunteer force from discussion of the policies and orders that guide their actions in warzones. Criticizing the futility of the War in Afghanistan requires individuals who can draw the distinction between the men and women who have died in its mountainous valleys and open deserts, and the policy makers (uniformed or otherwise) that have wasted the lives of those soldiers. For example, the Korengal Valley, made famous through the movie Restrepo, is an insurgent hotbed in Afghanistan now; the gains of a solid decade of American presence erased. Anyone not affiliated with the military in some way, fact would immediately be shamed for not respecting the sacrifice of the troops if they pointed out this kind of glaring failure. The all-volunteer force has created an environment where because the brunt of the warfare effort is borne by a select group, no one outside the group has the right to contribute to the discussion.
What a draft, mandatory service requirement, or any other program that requires forced military service from households across the nation accomplishes is that it enlarges the group of American citizens experiencing any given conflict. The more people who feel the burden of war, the more people there are that will hold politicians and policymakers accountable for the decisions that will decide the lives of those who wear the uniform. When all of the negative effects are so fiercely concentrated on such a small portion of the population, who are prociferously thanked and idolized by the rest of the country for their service at the same time, discussion is stifled. Until laws are passed that forcibly distribute the burden of war across the entire country, without hope of deferment or exception from service, America will remain perpetually divided, perpetually at war, and perpetually unable to hold elected represenatives accountable for the most serious of State actions.
As long as the Authorization for the Use of Military forces exists in parallel with an All-Volunteer Force, Presidents of the United States (regardless of party) will wield an undue military might that runs counter to what the founding fathers envisioned in their system of checks and balances. Repealing the AUMF and instituting a draft are two ways that the public can wrest power back from politicians who have proven over the last four decades they are unfit to wield such might without a check by the people.