From military draft to all-volunteer force: some history
I recently came across an article on the history of the all-volunteer military. I found it fascinating, and so I thought I'd call your attention to it.
Prior to reading it, if you'd asked me to sketch the history of how the draft ended and the volunteer military began, I would have said something like this, "The antiwar sentiment that grew during the Vietnam War fed a growing anger and discontent in the American public about the draft. With the policy of Vietnamization, the US profile in Vietnam was much reduced, so that by 1973 Nixon and Congress were able to do the popular thing and end the draft."
I would still imagine that this scenario played some role in the draft's end, although the article doesn't go into it. And, as part of the Nixon library website, there's no doubt that the piece is inclined to put Nixon in the best light possible.
One of the most interesting points the article makes is that proposals for an all-volunteer military were floated seriously way back in the Fifties:
...the end of the draft was proposed by Adlai Stevenson during his campaign for President in 1956. President Eisenhower earlier had called for universal military service as a substitute for haphazard conscription. Neither approach drew strong support.
But the calls for the end of the draft were not a Democratic monopoly; both sides got into the act. As a matter of fact, it appears that support for the all-volunteer Army was somewhat more a Republican than a Democratic thing (a fact which is open to different interpretations, depending on what one thinks of the Republican Party). Barry Goldwater made it part of his campaign in 1964, something I certainly don't recall.
Other names that are very familiar come up in connection with this story: ...Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan veered from the field of economics to argue support for the end of the draft.
And look at this: A very vocal volunteer force supporter was a young congressman from Illinois, Don Rumsfeld. Now, there's consistency for you.
Rumsfeld's anti-draft activities occurred at the beginning of Nixon's first term. I was surprised to learn that Nixon had made the all-volunteer Army proposal a part of his 1968 Presidential campaign. It makes me wonder why more of the young men subject to the draft didn't vote for Nixon as a result; perhaps they thought that Dick was just being Tricky. But Nixon continued to pursue the idea quite early in his Presidency, and was consistent in supporting it strongly, sometimes against quite a bit of opposition--including opposition from the Pentagon and many Republicans.
There is evidence that if Watergate had come any earlier, the legislation to end the draft might have fallen by the wayside:
Even with major public debate and a strong White House lobbying and public relations campaign, it took until mid-1973,almost eight months after Nixon’s 1972 reelection, for Congress to end selective service. With Watergate looming more and more on the scene and Nixon’s strength with congress diminishing, the draft might still be in effect had it not been approved at that time.
Read the whole thing, as they say.