Andrew Bacevich misses a significant point in his Feb. 2 op-ed “Once a duty, military service recast as a right,” which decries the demise of duty in military service “whether pursuant to defending the homeland, advancing the cause of freedom abroad, or expanding the American imperium.” That most of our country’s military engagements since World War II have fallen into the second or third of those categories explains much of the change from obligation to right. Sending people off to die, whether in Vietnam or Iraq, for a cause that makes our country no safer is a poor way to inspire people to serve.
However, I do lament that, going forward, most Americans, including those in government who’ll make the deadly decisions to put their countrymen in harm’s way, will not have served in the military. Serving provides a perspective on the capabilities and limits our military. It certainly did for me.
A better alternative to either the current system or a reinstated draft would be to take Thomas Jefferson’s suggestion and require military service of all young Americans. In addition to serving, they’d benefit from exposure to Americans they would not encounter otherwise. I’d also suggest that only those who volunteered to do so be required to participate in overseas adventures.