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BRUCE K. CHAPMAN, The Politics of Conscription - Ralph Raico, New Individualist Review 
New Individualist Review, editor-in-chief Ralph Raico, introduction by Milton Friedman (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).
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The Politics of Conscription
THE BELIEF THAT political arrangements afford an efficient means to resolve problems, and the abstraction from potential special-interest pleadings, inspires much of the reliance upon government action and the distrust of the voluntary sector apparent in public policy today. The examination of the inter-relationship between incompetence and the automatic political stabilizers which preclude any radical elimination of this incompetence is a most underworked field. The operations of the Selective Service System in the United States provide a sterling example of gross bungling by a political agency generating a continued demand for reliance upon that agency.
Illustrative of one aspect of bungling by Selective Service is its handling of the I-A pool of men available for service. At any point in time, the Selective Service System does not know how many men are available to be inducted, how many will be available the following month, how many are needed by the Army, or even where the men are located geographically. This is a serious indictment, and it can be supported by examining the evidence provided by the Selective Service System itself.
In February 1966, General Hershey appeared before the Subcommittee on Education of the House Committee on Education and Labor to explain just how the draft was working and why it was necessary for students to be threatened with induction General Hershey sent the Subcommittee a projected estimate of the draft’s situation during the first half of 1966, containing arithmetic errors which left 100,000 men unaccounted for. It was returned. In the second version, the Selective Service claimed that given the I-A pool at the end of January, the number of new nineteen-year-olds being classified I-A, draft calls of 40,000 men per month, and enlistments of 50,000 per month, the I-A pool of “available” men would be exhausted and actually deficient of 5207 men on June 30, 1966. This alarming prediction convinced many that a draft of students was justified.
But it was not accurate. Monthly draft calls did not reach 40,000 during the whole spring, nor, for that matter, until October. February’s call was 29,400; March, 22,400; April, 21,700; May, 34,600; June, 18,500. Selective Service overestimated its needs by more than a third during the period; indeed, February, March, and April quotas were already known to Hershey when the projections were made. The estimate of enlistments may have been more accurate, but Hershey’s assertion that they represented a drain on the I-A pool was not. According to the Department of Defense, nearly half of the new enlistments (45 per cent in 1965) come from men under nineteen, men who are not yet in the I-A pool, and who, because of their enlistment, never will be. Another part of the 5,000 (for instance, deferred students) is also drawn from outside the I-A pool at the time of their enlistment. Finally, the Selective Service’s estimates neglected to take into account the new manpower acquired by its own reclassification of some I-Y’s (those with temporary mental and physical deferments) or those gained by the Army’s lowering of its mental standards.
Consequently, perhaps much to the surprise of draft officials, there was no manpower crisis at the end of June. No one knows how many young men on the draft’s borderline were reclassified during that period and called up by local boards anxiously anticipating an imminent shortage. How can the draft make such mistakes?
Early in 1966, the author attempted to find out, following up a public remark by General Hershey which described a clogged “pipeline” of paperwork in the draft bureaucracy. Some men’s reclassification and induction papers were—and are—handled more efficiently than others. The ones whose papers were delayed or stalled are said to be in the “pipeline,” and while it is likely that some inefficiency must arise in any system, in January 1966 General Hershey said some 500,000 men out of less than 650,000 in the whole I-A pool were in the pipeline. According to a source at the Labor Department’s Office of Manpower, Automation and Training, the problem has been growing since 1957, when only about 20,000 men were in the pipeline. By 1966 General Hershey could declare, “I’ve never been in a time where the situation was more confusing than it is now, in terms of having numbers of registrants I could really count.”1
WHEN A MAN TURNS eighteen he must register for the draft. If by age nineteen he does not obtain a deferment, he is classified I-A and is subject to induction. There presently are some 500,000 men turning nineteen each month, of whom about 30,000 will be classified I-A, while the others are either temporarily or permanently deferred. Other men come into the I-A pool, for example, when they lose their II-S student deferment upon graduation. Within the I-A pool, however, there are priorities for drafting. All single men aged nineteen to twenty-six, oldest first, are supposed to be called before married men, who also are called oldest first. Therefore, when a man is called up, supposedly all the other men of greater priority have already been drafted. But if in the process of being inducted, some men higher up had their papers delayed, they are “not available” to meet a particular month’s call, and someone further down on the lists—maybe a married man or a student who has to be reclassified for the purpose—is called instead. In January 1966, 522,472 out of 641,958 men in the I-A pool were “not available” to meet monthly quotas.
With local draft boards directed by the Selective Service System, and with the “entrance and examination” (i.e., “induction”) centers directed by the Department of Defense, it is not easy to trace the vagaries of the “pipeline.” The Selective Service System tends to blame the jam-up on the Pentagon, and a spokesman for the Army (which has charge of the induction centers) refers to it as “an internal problem of the Selective Service.” There is reason to think it is the fault of both.
The efficiency of the induction centers in processing the men is a fit subject for debate. When a man takes his mental and physical tests, the Army is required to return the results, in two sets, to the registrant’s local draft board within five days. An Army survey late in 1965 showed the five-day processing going smoothly, with a national backlog of only 6,000 men’s papers at any one time. Yet the Selective Service figures at the beginning of the new year showed 114,062 men whose first set of test results had not been returned to local boards, and another 63,510 whose second set had not been returned. Both sets must be in the draft board’s hands before a man can be ordered to report for induction.
Some men, as a result of the delays, are never drafted at all. A young man of the author’s acquaintance in New York who was graduated from law school one June at age twenty-five was reclassified then, but was not notified to report for an examination until December—on Christmas Eve, in fact. The examination was conducted on New Year’s Eve. The young man passed his twenty-sixth birthday on the 14th of February and, telephoning his draft board, found they were still awaiting receipt of his second set of test results. This is where the pipeline problem begins to develop, according to the Selective Service officials, criticizing the Army. Since the Army runs the induction centers, the Selective Service System feels there is little it can do to speed things up.
At the end of June 1966, the Department of Defense finally owned up, though indirectly, to the induction center delays, now claiming that the previously unacknowledged backlog of incomplete cases had been reduced by 32 per cent; but even on the day the Pentagon statement was released, a Boston registrant the author later interviewed was personally prodding an Army induction center to locate and deliver to the Selective Service the results of a physical examination given in December 1965, more than six months before.
The pipeline jam is even more severe outside the induction centers than within them, Among 522,000 men “not available” in the January 1966 statistics were 225,452 who were ordered for mental and physical examinations but whose papers informing them just where and when to report were delayed, “shuffling back and forth between draft boards and induction centers,” as one draft spokesman put it. There are also pipeline lags for other reasons. Some 82,937 men in January 1966 were ordered for induction, but had to wait for room to open for them in an Army training camp. There must be a twenty-one day wait, by law, so that draftees can straighten out personal affairs. Since the Army can only take about 35,000 men per month, the pipeline bulge is still remarkably large. There are always a few men awaiting hearings or decisions on appeals, and some “delinquents”—including young men ignorant of the requirements to register at eighteen and a few genuine draft-dodgers—who make up the balance in the pipeline.
ONE INTERESTED AND close observer of the draft process is the Labor Department’s Office of Manpower, Automation and Training, which likes to keep track of large movements of people to gauge their effect upon the labor market. An official there told the author in early 1966 that he found the draft’s manpower dilemma hard to understand. “So far as we can judge,” he said, “there should be no problem meeting needs even with increased calls.” He then succinctly summed up much of the pipeline problem—and the inequities it causes—by ascribing it to the inefficiency of the draft’s national operations. “Their bookkeeping is not that exact. They don’t feel secure unless they can see where the next million men are coming from.”2
The Viet Nam war has necessitated the draft’s reaching deeper into its I-A pool and lowering the induction standards. Thus more people than at any time since the Korean War are being directly affected by the Selective Service System’s operations. Draftees stand a better chance of being sent to Viet Nam than regulars, since only 12 per cent of the Armed Forces are draftees, while 33 per cent of the men in Viet Nam are draftees. Consequently, parents and other adults who have tended to shrug off the draft as a necessary annoyance are now becoming alarmed that some men are being taken from civilian life and involuntarily assigned to combat by an inherently inequitable system. The war, which is only tangentially relevant to the draft imbroglio, has made possible the development of the draft as a public issue.
Ironically, the war may also be the most effective instrument for suppressing or at least stalling consideration of draft reform. The argument is made that to debate the draft now will falsely encourage the Communists in Viet Nam and falsely raise the hopes of young men now faced with the draft here at home. Yet the use of the Viet Nam war to inhibit debate on the draft was fortuitously deterred by Secretary McNamara himself, at a speech in Montreal, when he scored the lack of universality in the draft as inequitable and suggested a program of national service; and again by the President in July 1966, when he appointed a commission to study draft operations and in August described the draft’s rules as a “crazy quilt.”
Lacking a spontaneous market process for eliminating mistakes, the viability of political solutions to various problems depends on official willingness to change, to realize and correct mistakes. Indicative of official attitudes within the Selective Service System, General Hershey commented in 1955:
There are many things that we would like to change in our present law. There are many things we would like to change in its operation. The question is whether, if you start changing them, you may not open up many other problems, and if we are going to have a democracy everybody must have their chance for a change. What the thing is going to look like when we get through many times impels us to go ahead with the evils that we face, so we live in some sort of accommodation with them rather than to jump into those we cannot fortell because, smart as we think we are, we haven’t been able to forecast the future so that we could be 100 per cent accurate. . . .3
One would think that such a reactionary attitude would have sent Congress into spasms of indignation. Imagine the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Labor admitting in public that changes in our foreign policy or labor laws might be needed but should be ignored, lest one reform lead to another.
Perhaps because the draft was such a rolling political issue in 1940, it is now a sacrosanct one. General Hershey and a number of other politicians are all eager to keep the quadrennial question of draft extension falling on an odd-numbered year, believing it makes less difference how long the draft is extended than when it expires. He said of the 1966 bill, “Let us hope, pray, or what not that the thing expires on a year that is not divisible by two. There are several reasons that I need not explain to you why this is so.”4 The years “divisible by two” are election years, of course, and Hershey feared the influence of an aroused public. Whenever the draft extension has come up for review since 1951 there have been demands from a handful of Congressmen that it be extended for only one or two years, and a complete examination be made during that time of the whole draft situation. The Congressional Record shows that each time, some of the critics have been persuaded and others simply overwhelmed by spokesmen for the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, who argue that four years is needed to give Congress the time it needs to really investigate the problems of the draft and to devise new legislation. In 1963, Rep. Robert Kastenmeier of Wisconsin pointed out this pattern during House debate, but was himself apparently persuaded, for he joined reluctantly in voting the extension. The House vote that year was 373 to 3; in the Senate the bill passed unanimously after ten minutes of debate.
Later, when criticism arises, Senate and House Armed Services Committees have typically referred newsmen to the Selective Service System, where General Hershey modestly declares that he only administers the laws; if Congress wants to change them, that’s their business. Critics are soon then told that the draft will come up for extension again in another year or two, and the whole matter can be looked into then. A variation of the draft lobby’s runaround technique is shown in the behavior of the House Armed Services Committee and its chairman, L. Mendel Rivers of South Carolina. When criticism of the pipeline and other aspects of the draft mounted in late 1965 and early 1966, Rivers told inquirers that his committe would begin hearings on the draft within a month. Public statements of such a pledge were made in early January 1966 and repeatedly thereafter; brief hearings were held in late June. Yet, then they were limited to testimony from General Hershey, a Defense Department spokesman, and several interested Congressmen. Chairman Rivers set the tone at the outset by declaring that while conscription might be “inimicable [sic] to our basic concept of individual freedom, we as a nation recognize that the alternatives can only result in jeopardizing our national security and then in turn, our precious heritage of freedom.”5 Having thereby opened and closed in the same breath the most important question of the hearings, Rivers, not surprisingly, was as markedly uninterested in exploring the efficiency of the draft as a manpower procurement system, as he is markedly uninterested in permitting other committes of Congress—such as Labor and Education—to hold hearings on the subject. Rivers in the past has been a supporter of higher military pay, but not primarily as a way of reducing the need for a draft, for he clearly isn’t persuaded of any connection; and regrettably his committe, like its Senate counterpart, does not want a wide-ranging investigation.
A somewhat different version of the stall against major draft reform can be seen in the attitude of the White House from 1964 to 1966. President Johnson has said as little as possible on the subject, and whatever his motivations, his actions have seemed more to anticipate and quiet the draft’s critics than to spur reform.
ADLAI STEVENSON was the first major politician after the war to call for abolition of the draft, a 1956 Presidential campaign stand that was roundly attacked as irresponsible. Eight years later, in early 1964, the same proposal—unhappily also presented without the body of supporting research and analysis—was almost unnoticed when made by Senator Barry Goldwater. The Senator and his opponents in both parties apparently thought there were better issues to debate, and the draft question quickly dropped out of sight. It bobbed up again briefly in April 1964, when a group of sixteen Republican Congressmen of various ideological shades let it be known that they had prepared a long series of attacks on the draft and intended to take the House floor to demand a Congressional investigation.
Three days before the Republican floor presentation, President Johnson called a hasty press conference to announce that he had just that day directed the Department of Defense to conduct a full-scale analysis of the draft, to be completed at the cost of one million dollars by June 1965. What the President did not say was that a study ordered by the late President Kennedy was then seven months underway in the Defense Department, and that a concurrent investigation of the matter, underway in the Department of Labor, was being shelved under Pentagon pressure. When the Republican group, led by Congressman Thomas B. Curtis, took the floor three days later, they found that the Johnson statement had stolen their thunder and their press coverage. The Republican draft critics realized they had been outmaneuvered; some were particularly angry and suspicious of the Department of Defense’s assignment to investigate its own operations. Rep. Curtis, one of the earliest and most determined draft critics in the country, told the House,
My experience in Washington leads me to fear that any policy submitted by the Department of Defense, regardless of how much consultation occurs with other affected agencies, will be a policy in which every dispute has been settled in favor of the Department of Defense. This means that the very important considerations bearing on the draft that normally fall within the purview of the Departments of Labor and of Health, Education and Welfare, just to name two, will be downgraded to the Defense Department’s interests. . . . [I also] fear that the Department of Defense will either ignore completely or will refuse to communicate to Congress and the public information that would not redound to the benefit of the Defense Department and its creature, the Selective Service System.
Every man who has ever served in the peacetime army is well aware of the staggering amount of feather-bedding and goldbricking that goes on. It is practically a maxim that if a job can reasonably be done by two men in four hours, it will require six men for eight hours.6
Could the Pentagon be counted upon to expose the military’s own waste of manpower, thereby embarrassing itself and the President? Could the Pentagon be counted upon to hunt down training functions which could better be performed by civilians? Curtis predicted that each branch of the service would resist the proposal of such reforms in a Pentagon study for fear of losing its own relative power and prestige in the notorious inter-service rivalry.
Would the Pentagon expose any abuses of law and regulation by its own staff? Curtis charged that “it has been candidly admitted by Army recruiting sergeants, in private conversation, that beyond a certain point they are quietly advised ‘from above’ . . . not to recruit any more young men . . . because if Army recruiting figures showed how easy it is for the Army to meet its force levels through voluntary enlistments, Congress would review the necessity of the draft.”7 What was needed, Curtis asserted, was to call a number of recruiting sergeants to testify under oath about this alleged practice, and that the Department of Defense was unlikely to do. Nor was it likely to examine the implications of the “evasion mentality” caused by the draft or the socio-economic effects of “channeling” men into jobs and other situations approved by the draft authorities. In short, Curtis expected a whitewash.
Congress as a whole felt that it was best to let the President have his way. In 1959, under a Republican President, Senator Mike Mansfield (D-Montana) argued vehemently against a Presidential commission on the draft, saying, “It is about time that we got away from attempting to meet every problem by the appointment of a commission.” Senator Richard B. Russell (D-Georgia), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, caustically observed that “Usually we end by getting the same recommendations from the commissions that we have had from the Department of Defense on the same subject. It is really a new way of asking for the views of the Department of Defense.” Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas apparently agreed, and helped defeat the commission proposal in the Senate. By 1964, President Johnson felt differently about Presidential commissions, as did Senators Mansfield and Russell.
A number of Congressmen, however, principally Republicans, were skeptical of the much-touted Defense Department study. Curtis read into the Congressional Record a newspaper column by John McLaughry describing the Johnson device as a “phantom committee” which “in practice . . . does little or nothing. Its main purpose is to quiet the demands of Congress by assuring the public that something is being done.”
IN THE SPRING OF 1965, when the study was due to appear, the only evidence of it was a calculated leak to the press that abandoning conscription would be too costly to consider. Inquirers in June 1965 were told that the study was on the desk of Secretary McNamara, awaiting transmittal to the President. Summer passed, and autumn, and winter. By June 1966, a year after the completion date, the study had yet to be released, and its contents were still a secret even to General Hershey.
When Rep. Rivers held his hearing in the summer of 1966, a statement by Thomas D. Morris, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower, was billed as an unveiling of the Pentagon report. Yet, though the Rivers committee seemed adequately satisfied with it, the statement was nothing more than a report on a report, touching on only a few of the charges leveled against the system, and giving no evidence that the Departmen of Defense had attempted a definitive study.
The twenty-three page, wide-margined, double-spaced Pentagon paper gave away its bias early by describing the growing supply of new manpower in America as “A principal problem affecting the operation of the draft system,” as if abundance were a “problem” and not an opportunity. It noted that the percentage of men age twenty-six (the effective final date of draft vulnerability) with military service had dropped from 70 per cent in 1958 to 46 per cent in 1966 and would drop to 42 per cent in 1974 if the present size of the military were maintained, and to only 34 per cent if it were restored to the levels that preceded the Viet Nam build up.
Nonetheless, the Pentagon said it had concluded that the draft was an essential influence toward supplying the military manpower. “To document this influence,” said Mr. Morris, “a questionnaire survey was made of a representative sample [of military personnel] to determine the extent to which the draft influenced their decision to enter military service.” That “survey” concluded, on the basis of one simple question, “Would you have entered service if there had been no draft?,” that only 41 per cent of regular officers and 38 per cent of enlistees would join without the pressure of the draft. Apparently no deeper probing of motivation was attempted! The Pentagon paper did not explain, for example, why its survey made no distinction between men who said they would have enlisted if there had been alternative influences and those who would not have enlisted under any circumstances. The Army, which has the hardest time getting enlistees, issued a report two years before the Pentagon study based on a more detailed survey which produced quite different results. The Army study is clearly more thorough and convincing than that released by the Pentagon; but the Pentagon apparently ignored it and came to the pessimistic conclusion that without the draft the military could not maintain its force levels.
As if pretending to test the hypothesis that increasing the levels of military pay would provide the necessary additional recruits for an all-volunteer military, the Pentagon reported on a survey that asked boys sixteen to nineteen whether pay alone would induce them to join the military if there were no draft. The findings were (“surprisingly”) that “equal pay with civilian life was considered the most important inducement by less than 4 per cent.” But pay alone is not the “most important inducement” in almost any career, especially in the minds of sixteen- to nineteen-year-olds; and if it were, many would not admit it. Nonetheless, good wages certainly are one important—an essentially important—inducement to almost anyone. The higher re-enlistment rate of blacks, who tend to come from poorer circumstances than whites, shows the importance of pecuniary rewards in the military. Here again, the Pentagon study’s probing of motivation was simplistic, if not simpleminded.
The final estimates of how much pay scales and total outlays would have to be increased to provide an all-volunteer military not only differed by billions of dollars from the estimate leaked to the press the previous year, and with those of Secretary McNamara himself, but were so widely divergent—“pay increases of 110 per cent to 280 per cent” and the total increase in funds “from $6 billion to $17 billion”—as if to indicate that if implemented it would mean a $6300 average raise for every person in the military. Presumably it does not take into account any of the substantial savings from drastically reduced manpower turnover. If the figures did take such savings into account, they are even more outrageous, since the average pay raise implied in them would be higher still. It is useful for perspective to note that the median personal income for employed males in the United States is $5431 (1963 Census sample), much less than the average pay raise implied in the Pentagon scale figures.
The fears of a whitewash expressed by Rep. Curtis and other critics were fully realized in the Pentagon’s statement. Extensive surveys and reams of “raw statistics” were alluded to, but not presented; one could not tell whether they really existed or not; and the all-important matter of just what prejudices and assumptions were programmed into the Pentagon’s computers on this study along with those statistics was anything but clear. What was clear was that the Pentagon was going to placate only the most tepid draft critics. Yet, no sooner had it been unveiled than once again President Johnson attempted to head off the attackers by announcing a blue-ribbon Presidential “National Advisory Commission on Selective Service,” another deus ex machina, or if you will, another machina ex deo, this time operated by Burke Marshall, former Assistant Attorney General.
WHILE THIS COMMISSION was given a supposed full mandate, true friends of draft reform must be forgiven for their skepticism. For one thing, the commission operated for only five months (until January 1, 1967), and Presidential commissions have a way of meeting only occasionally anyway, calling important and busy people to Washington for brief deliberations on the work that the commission staff has undertaken. While outside authorities were consulted, their opinions were weighed entirely in private, and the public has no way of knowing what was or was not going on. What’s more, since most members of such commissions on complex issues—however well intentioned—are handicapped by their relative lack of familiarity with the operations of the governmental departments affected by their study, they tend to be overly deferential to the spokesmen for those departments. There is little likelihood, for example, that the Presidential commission on the draft seriously challenged the validity of the Department of Defense’s manpower statistics, for most potential doubters would founder on their own lack of expertise, the commission’s relative lack of resources, and the critically debilitating lack of time.
But perhaps the draft critics, at last, have caught on. When the commission was announced after the Johnson Pentagon study, Rep. Curtis was only the most vehement on his denunciation of the conveniently timed action. Said the New York Times editorially, “If Mr. Johnson thinks it desirable to call for a fresh study after finding the Pentagon’s work disappointing, Congress appears justified in a study of its own. After all, it has no assurance that the next Presidential study will be any better than the last.”8 Democrats such as Senator Nelson of Wisconsin and Representatives Kastenmeier and Reuss, also of Wisconsin, and Republicans such as Wednesday Group members Morse of Massachusetts, Bell of California, and Reid of New York, as well as Rumsfeld of Illinois, are demanding a disinterested investigation of the draft and its possible alternatives. Most believe a joint special committee of Congress, made up of members of Armed Services, Education and Labor, Appropriations, and other affected committees, should conduct the investigation in full view of the public and with ample resources and time to do the job properly.
It may be futile to expect anyone to live up to their mistakes, unless they are placed in a position where they cannot do otherwise, but the realization of this weakness should encourage the construction of institutions to avoid the temptation. The need is as close as your local draft board.
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[* ] Bruce K. Chapman, former publisher of Advance and editorial writer for the late New York Herald Tribune, is co-author of The Party That Lost Its Head and author of The Wrong Man in Uniform, from which this article is an excerpt.
[1 ] “Draft Now Hits Men Long Thought Safe,” New York Herald Tribune, January 23, 1966, p. 16.
[2 ]The Wrong Man in Uniform (New York: Trident Press, 1967), p. 47.
[3 ] American Council on Education, Proceedings of the Conference on Military Manpower, ed. by R. F. Howe (Washington, D.C., 1955), p. 19.
[5 ] Statement of Rep. L. Mendel Rivers, June 22, 1966.
[6 ]Congressional Record, June 25, 1964, pp. 15056-57.
[7 ]Ibid., p. 15057.
[8 ]The New York Times, July 5, 1966, p. 36.