Heidelminicast Q&A: Is There A Reformed View Of The Military Draft?

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  1. One related element to this question is that the Reformed have weighed in on the role of women in war and if they may be registered and drafted. NAPARC has had discussions, and several member denominations/federations have adopted statements specifically against the conscription of women for combat. Here is the ARP statement:
    “That the following position statement be adopted by the General Synod: The Word of God gives no warrant expressed or implied that women are to be conscripted into military service or required to participate in military combat. Therefore, the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church opposes the registration of women for Selective Service and the assignment of women to combat duty or to duties which involve a significant risk of engaging in combat.”

  2. I would prefer to see people who have worn the uniform say this, but since nobody has yet commented here and identified themselves as a veteran, and I’m not aware that any of the speakers on the audio are veterans, I’m commenting.

    I realize the pastor of the inquiring church is originally from Britain and may not be familiar with the United States and our history, unlike much of Europe, of the military draft being an extremely rare recourse used only in times of true national emergency. The continuation of a peacetime draft for decades during the Cold War is an aberration that had no real precedent in American history, and due to changes in military technology and manpower needs, is extremely unlikely ever to happen again.

    The military installation in the community on which I report — Fort Leonard Wood — is named for a general and onetime presidential candidate who unsuccessfully argued that the United States should move toward what was then common practice in Europe of widespread military training, which would, of course, imply a near-universal military draft of able-bodied men who could not claim exemptions for conscientious objector status. (It should be noted that is not new — the presence of Quakers in colonial-era government resulted in a number of our very earliest national laws with regard to military service and oath-taking having exemptions for the conscience of Quakers.)

    The simple reality is that while we do still have Selective Service on the lawbooks, it’s been a dead letter for half a century since the Vietnam War. We no longer have anyone left on active duty in the military, or the Reserves or National Guard, who had originally been drafted — a number of years ago, one of the military press operations published on article on the retirement of the person believed to be the last person still wearing the uniform who had originally been drafted.

    I realize we in the Reformed world are people who care deeply about theoretical issues and “what-if” scenarios. I also realize that the requirement for young people to register for Selective Service created real fear during the invasion of Iraq that we’d be seeing a draft by people who believed President George W. Bush was a “warmonger” whose word could not be trusted when he said he had no intention of drafting anyone.

    However, the best response to the discussion of the draft is to remind people that the post-Vietnam experience of the United States military, including its most senior leadership during the Iraq War who had often been junior officers during Vietnam, has proven that the all-volunteer force is far superior to a draftee military. My own father put it bluntly: You can tell the difference between soldiers who volunteered and those who didn’t.

    Conscript militaries, with a few rare exceptions (Israel and South Korea are the ones most often cited) simply do not and cannot compare to an all-volunteer force. It takes truly extreme threats to a nation’s very existence to create the conditions necessary to make a conscript military effective in combat against an all-volunteer force.

    I understand the history of the European arguments for a draft, or for “national service” which may involve alternatives to military service. Many of them are based on the experience of Prussia, and other countries which adopted a Prussian model during the 1800s either out of envy or out of fear of the Prussian military.

    We simply don’t live in a world today in which massive amounts of manpower (“cannon fodder”) are necessary to accomplish most military objectives. The conditions in which the concept of universal military training was necessary, or even helpful, no longer exist apart from a few rare cases of nations whose national survival is under serious threat by armed adversaries on their borders.

    Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood tried and failed a century ago to get the United States to adopt something close to the then-current European model of universal military training. He failed, and it is a good thing that he failed. As the speakers on the podcast point out, World War I created many problems that are still with us, but fortunately, what Leonard Wood wanted is not among those problems. The likelihood of having a draft in the United States is so small as to be barely worth the time to consider it, and if we ever do face such a situation, it will be a Pearl Harbor level of national emergency on which no reasonable person will doubt the need for a national mobilization.

    Perhaps China, or some now-unforeseen threat, will someday rise to that level. But things would have to change so radically as create what today are essentially inconceivable conditions before a draft in the United States would even be useful, let alone necessary.


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