Events

The Citizen Soldier: An Idea Whose Time Has Come (Again)?

March 12, 2002 // 11:00pm

Summary of the meeting with Charles Moskos, Wilson Center Visiting Fellow, and Annenberg Visiting Fellow, Professor of Sociology at Northwestern University and Chairman of the Inter–University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society and General Edward C. Meyer (USA, ret.), former Chief of Staff, U.S. Army

Since September 11 there has been an urgent call for national service, and recruiting young people to serve for brief periods in the military is discussed increasingly. Cosponsored with the Atlantic Council of the United States, the Conflict Prevention Project hosted two experts with extensive military knowledge to discuss the dynamics of military service by non-enlisted soldiers. In his State of the Union Address, President George Bush asked for 200,000 new volunteers to join the "USA Freedom Corps." In November, Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), introduced the Call to Service Act. The bill, cosponsored in the House by Representatives Harold Ford (D-TN) and Tom Osborne (R-NE), would create 200,000 new AmeriCorps volunteer positions, with half of the volunteers dedicated to homeland defense efforts. The Bayh/McCain proposal also modernizes GI Bill benefits, and includes a new military enlistment program that would offer greater flexibility and more options for those interested in serving in the Armed Forces.

Citing his recent study conducted with more than 1,000 college students at Northwestern University, UCLA, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, Charlie Moskos noted that while college students tend to have negative impressions about the military in general, they are more likely to enlist if offered short-term enlistments overseas with educational benefits. In his opinion, the millions of dollars in educational grants given by the United States yearly is like having a GI Bill without the GI. Although Moskos admitted that no politician would support publicly the reinstatement of the draft, the Department of Defense should come up with alternatives to encourage younger people to become "citizen soldiers." For instance, to enable homeland defense, conscripts with professional supervision could work as border guards, customs agents, anthrax inoculators or disaster-relief specialists. "It takes less than five months to train a border guard. The FBI turns applicants with law or accounting degrees into full-fledged agents after only four months of training," Moskos said.

Enlisting citizen soldiers to undertake peacekeeping activities is another option, Moskos said. U.S. deployments to conflicts like Bosnia and Kosovo, while controversial, are unlikely to subside. With and average tour of duty in Bosnia or Kosovo at six months, short-term draftees could act as civilian police or peacekeepers while professional soldiers could continue training for war fighting without sacrificing other U.S. commitments.
Agreeing with Moskos that the Department of Defense has been slow to change to the new reality, General Meyer offered some cautionary remarks. First, he stressed that short-term recruits will make cohesion among units difficult and second the important roles of the U.S. National Guard and Reserve needs to be addressed so there is not competition or duplication of purpose.

Conflict Prevention Project, 202-691-4083

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