McChrystal, speaking at the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival, said:
"I think we ought to have a draft. I think if a nation goes to war, it shouldn't be solely be represented by a professional force, because it gets to be unrepresentative of the population, I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk. You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game."
According to the General, the burdens of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan haven't been properly shared across the U.S. population. He emphasized that the U.S. military could train draftees so that there wouldn't be a loss of effectiveness in the war effort.
"I've enjoyed the benefits of a professional service, but I think we'd be better if we actually went to a draft these days," he said. "There would some loss of professionalism, but for the nation it would be a better course."
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq placed unfair and extreme burdens on the professional military, especially reservists, and their families, McChrystal said.
"We've never done that in the United State before; we've never fought an extended war with an all- volunteer military. So what it means is you've got a very small population that you're going to, and you're going to it over and over again," he said. "Because it's less than one percent of the population . . . people are very supportive but they don't have the same connection to it."
Reservists following multiple deployments have trouble maintaining careers and families and have a "frighteningly high" rate of suicide, he said.
"The reserve structure is designed for major war, you fight and then you stop, but what we've done instead is gone back over and over to the same people," he said. "We're going to have to relook the whole model because I don't think we can do this again." Multiple deployments often result in divorces and split families, he said. "The marriages I see most strained are the senior NCOs (non-commissioned officers) and officers who have four or five tours . . . you're apart so much that it's hard to have a marriage if you're not together at least a critical mass of time, and that's tough," McChrystal said.
This whole idea of bringing back the draft really surprised me, especially since we are about to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan. But, I have always had a lot of respect for General McChrystal so I sat down and gave this idea some thought. I understand completely what the General is trying to say -and I admit he makes some very valid points. However, I remember the "draft" only too well. It hung over us like a dark cloud when I was in high school. I, personally, only escaped being drafted into the Army by using the fact that I was a Naval Sea Cadet and by scoring high on the Reserve Officer Aptitude Test to talk my way into the NROTC at UC Berkeley. A good many of my high school buddies were not so lucky and wound up being forced to interupt their lives by being drafted into the service.
While it did share the feeling of participation and it did lessen the burdens on our Reserve and National Guard forces, the overall effects were far from what the good General suggests. It caused a great deal of resentment for the military and sparked a feeling of distrust for the government. Some of those feelings still linger today.
While I certainly agree with the General that, should the United States actually go to war again, it should be something all Americans participate in and support. That includes using the draft to build up the armed forces. That is one very good reason why going to war is a grave decision and should only be reached after very careful thought and open debate (unless, of course, it is in response to an attack on us as happened at Pearl Harbor in World War II).
Moreover, I would argue that the strain these "limited wars" we keep getting into, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, put on our professional military and our reserve forces (and their families) is unfair and should be avoided when at all possible. But it does have one good effect. I helps force the Generals and Admirals in the Pentagon and our elected representatives in Congress to stop and take these strains into consideration before commiting us to fight conflicts that stretch on and on for 8 and 10 years at a time, with little hope for a positive outcome. A war is something you avoid because it is so costly and it's effects are so awful. Every man woman and child should know that declaring a war means it will effect all of them in some way and they should be willing to share the sacrifice before asking our professionals to go fight.
The best way to avoid the strains of war on our professional military, the reserves and the military families is not by going back to the draft. It is by being damned sure it is necessary before going to war in the frst place and then, if we decide it must be done, go fight it hard and fast, with everything we've got, and get it over with.
Live Long and Prosper...