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The Case for the Draft?

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the debate surrounding National Service has drastically changed. Average Americans are suddenly eager to know what they can do personally to help the war effort, and lawmakers are beginning to provide answers. Senators John McCain and Evan Bayh have introduced legislation to dramatically expand the size and scope of voluntary national service programs such as AmeriCorps to include civil defense.

"Americans did not fight and win World War II as discrete individuals," McCain writes in the October Issue of The Washington Monthly. "Their brave and determined energies were mobilized and empowered by a national government headed by democratically elected leaders. That is how a free society remains free and achieves greatness. National service is a crucial means of making our patriotism real, to the benefit of both ourselves and our country."

Others have gone further and called for compulsory national service, including Mark Sheilds, who asked in the Washington Post, "Should only American volunteers be asked to die in the defense of the United States? Should we not reinstate a draft to affirm the duty for all Americans to serve when the American nation is in genuine need? Is it not both unhealthy and unjust to apportion the fighting and the dying to such an unrepresentative and unpowerful segment of our national population?"

Paul Glastris and Charles Moskos have also called for a draft, claiming in the Washington Post that, "[R]e-instituting the draft is the obvious way to meet the suddenly increased manpower needs for military and homeland security."

How will the attacks of September 11th affect the debate on National Service? Can National Service help meet the new manpower needs for homeland security? Should Women share in potentially dangerous assignments? Will enough young people meet the call voluntarily? Or has the time come for a 21st Century draft to meet 21st Century threats?


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  • James Fallows
    Chairman, New America Foundation

  • Paul Glastris
    Editor in Chief, The Washington Monthly

  • Michael Lind
    Whitehead Senior Fellow, New America Foundation and Author of What Lincoln Believed: The Values and Convictions of America's Greatest President

  • Charles Moskos
    Professor of Sociology, Northwestern University