Why doesn’t the U.S. have mandatory military service?

Many countries require their citizens to serve a minimum number of years; should the U.S. follow suit?

By Military1 Staff

A question recently posted on Quora asks: “Why doesn’t the U.S. have mandatory military service?” Check out the answers below and add your own in the comments.

Brian Baker

The military couldn’t handle the numbers. Our population keeps getting larger and the military basically remains at or near one and a half to two million soldiers.

We no longer have the capability to build the equipment needed to give tens of millions of people jobs in the military. It’s not because we’re less industrial than we were, it’s because technology has changed the lead times on production of high tech hardware is huge. The cost is also huge.

In World War II, we built 300,000 aircraft in four years. We could not build 10,000 military aircraft in four years now. The expense would also be crippling. It took millions of people to operate, maintain, support and transport those planes. The same with the Navy. We currently build a new aircraft carrier every five years. It would take a massive effort for the U.S. to build three carriers in three years currently. In World War II, because they were so much less complex, we built almost 200 carriers. Without all that new equipment what would you do with all those new soldiers?

There is no point. We currently have less than .5 percent of our population in the military. During a war, volunteers typically jump up to over 1 percent or even higher. In World War II, we had over three percent volunteerism. Three percent of our current population is about 10 million people. Too many for our military to use effectively. In World War II, it took about 10 percent of our population to reach 10 million people in uniform, and so we needed a draft. Two-thirds of the soldiers in World War II were drafted, even though we had such high volunteerism. Vietnam had a much lower percentage of drafted servicemen, and to reach three million people in the service we needed less than three percent. Our population had more than doubled, and we needed less troops. Technology had already leaped forward and despite a decade of war we built a fraction of the equipment.

We’ve currently been at war in two places for over a decade. We’ve not even come close to a draft and we didn’t make any effort at all to build extra ships or aircraft. The lead times are too long. Planes ordered today are delivered next year or later and budgeted last year. A three percent military would be almost the largest force we’ve ever had and we would still not have enough equipment or roles for more than 50 percent of them, other than maybe making more and more infantry.

It’s never going to happen, it’s a pointless expense and no longer relevant to modern warfare.

Clayton Stone, veteran

Let's be blunt. The majority of males can't serve. The Pentagon says 71 percent of America’s 34 million 17 to 24-year-old population would fail to qualify for enlistment.

The military doesn't accept you if you don't meet the height and weight requirements.

It's a no-go if you are a felon.

ADHD medications during the last year? You are a no-go.

Can't pass the Armed Forces Qualification Test? That's a no-go.

There are several other medical conditions that disqualify you also. The vast majority of males are simply not fit to enlist. Only one percent of young people are both "eligible and inclined to have a conversation with" the military about possible service, according to the Defense Department.

The military is a great career; however, not everyone can make it.

Joel Postma, Navy veteran

Because we are able to fill our needs with an all-volunteer force.

While the draft has been enacted during certain periods in our history, thankfully those instances have been few. Some nations have mandatory conscription; everyone has to serve.

During my time as a Navy Seabee, I worked on a joint mission with the Croatian army. They had conscription. Every able-bodied male had to serve two years. Some of the Croatians I worked with were regular army, and some were conscripts. Here are my impressions of that experience.

The regular army guys were good soldiers. They enthusiastically did what they had to do and generally wanted to be there. The conscripts were lazy and did everything they could to get out of working. They did not want to be there. Some of these conscripts were doctors and bankers. They had finished their educations and were just there to get their mandatory service out of the way. They were fairly worthless for the most part.

I think it is much better to have an all-volunteer force. The majority of the people want to do what they are doing and that is the backbone of a professional fighting force.