Steve Chapman

Back then, it was accepted wisdom that the draft was a more economical way of fighting a war, since soldiers didn't have to be paid much. But that belief was grossly mistaken.

The first reason is that the draft doesn't reduce the cost of carrying on a war. It merely shifts it from taxpayers at large to able-bodied males, a saving for the federal budget but an enormous burden on conscripts. That's why the journalist Nicholas von Hoffman once urged, "Draft old men's money, not young men's bodies."

Another is that it's a colossal waste to cycle large numbers of people, many of them poorly suited to military service, through the ranks for a couple of years just so they can bail out at the first opportunity. The all-volunteer force provides a far bigger return on training dollars, while enlisting men and women who want to do what soldiers do -- including combat.

There is no doubt that the current wars have put exceptional burdens on the active duty force as well as reservists -- burdens far greater than they expected when they signed up. But future soldiers will have no illusions about what to expect, and they will adjust their choices to fit the new reality.

Thanks to the abolition of the draft, if Americans want to keep making such heavy demands on the military, they will have to pay generously enough to get people to enlist and re-enlist.

It was once a novel experiment: fielding a force to protect freedom without grossly violating freedom by dragooning young men to serve. But it's worked so well we've almost forgotten there's an alternative.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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