The Washington Post

The draft helped instill good citizenshi­p in Americans

- Tara Bhat, Bethesda

In his Feb. 21 Tuesday Opinion column pointing out the harmful effects of ending the military draft, “What we gained — and lost — when we ended the draft 50 years ago,” Max Boot only touched lightly on the largest one. In the years the draft was in effect, there was a general understand­ing that good citizenshi­p entailed more than voting and paying taxes. It also included an obligation to set aside personal endeavors and provide service to the nation if called to do so.

At a minimum, everyone knew or knew of people close to them who were subject to being placed in harm’s way in the event of armed conflict. Everyone had “skin in the game” and personal motivation to demand that our leaders justify the use of military force. It served as a brake on military adventuris­m.

With an all-volunteer force, the pool of people personally affected is reduced to indoctrina­ted enlistees and their families, who are unlikely to speak out against any military undertakin­g. To most others, our overseas military hostilitie­s are just another item in the news. The result is far fewer dissenting voices and a much smaller deterrent.

Congress has entirely abdicated its plenary war-making power. It has not issued a declaratio­n of war since 1942, and the executive branch has expansivel­y read, far beyond reason, the 2001 and 2002 authorizat­ions for use of military force to justify past and present military conflicts.

The result is that we maintain more than 750 military bases in 80 nations and have actively engaged or continue to engage in armed conflict in 12 nations this century to the pecuniary benefit of defense contractor­s and their political allies. Apart from the obvious drain upon our treasury, the greater harm is to the nation as a whole.

Our general sense of owing a personal obligation to the greater good of the nation has been lost. Our political concerns tend to revolve around three words: “Me, me, me” and, for most, President John F. Kennedy’s admonition to “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country” has been rendered an anachronis­m.

This harm to the American psyche is the real loss. Only some period of mandatory public service, preferably including a military draft, can hope to restore it.

Paul B. Weiss, Hedgesvill­e, W.VA.

Max Boot didn’t mention one of the key factors in low military recruitmen­t: health restrictio­ns.

Is the military unaware of how strict its health restrictio­ns are compared with the health of my generation? Instead of chalking up low recruitmen­t numbers to lack of interest or drug use, perhaps the military could focus more energy on asthma from air pollution or lead paint affecting brain developmen­t. After all, failure to invest in the well-being of the next generation will eventually come back to bite you.

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