Updated March 31, 200727 June 2005
The US Armed Forces are composed of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. Of these, the Army is the only branch which has relied on conscription, popularly known in the US as "The Draft." In 1973, at the end of the Vietnam War, Congress abolished the draft in favor of an all-volunteer Army.
Until the prolonged military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army had met its annual recruiting goals. However, that is no longer the case, and many soldiers and officers are not re-enlisting. This pressure on existing resources has led many to speculate that Congress will be forced to reinstate the draft. For example, retired General Barry McCaffrey, former head of the U.S. Southern Command and division commander during Operation Desert Storm said:
We broke the Army after World War II, and paid for it in Korea. We broke the Army after Vietnam, and paid for it with the "hollow force" of the 1970s. We are doing it again, with an Army that is overcommitted and underfunded. And if we end up in an unprovoked war with North Korea, then the United States could pay a very heavy price as a result.
Our all-volunteer army will remain an all-volunteer army... We will not have a draft... The only politicians that supported a draft are democrats, and the best way to avoid a draft is to vote for me.
Conscription is probably as old as mankind; in general, it means involuntary labor demanded by some established authority and is mentioned in the Bible as means to build temples. In modern use, it is synonomous with required time in a nation's armed forces.
At least 27 nations require military service, including Brazil, Germany, Israel, Mexico and Russia. At least 18 nations have volunteer armies, including Australia, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and the US.
That modern societies still rely on conscription says much about the power of the state and how this tool eases the creation of an Army. It is also an artifact of government policies instituted worldwide in the late 1700s:
To meet its defence needs, the Convention of the French Republic raised an army of 300,000 men through national service [in 1793]. This was soon followed by other nations such as Sweden in 1812, Prussia and Norway in 1814, Spain in 1831 and Denmark in 1849. Conscription enabled the raising of mass armies at little cost and completely changed the scale of warfare. It enabled Napoleon to raise the first great conscription army of 0.6 million French soldiers which he led against Russia in the late 1790s. It also allowed the Northern German Alliance to raise 1.2 million soldiers against France in the 1870s.
By the 20th century, most major powers were relying on conscription for their military. In World War I, the German Emperor Wilhelm II drafted 3.4 million conscripts while Russia drafted 15 million soldiers for its army. Conscription sustained the armies of both Allied and Axis powers during World War II as well NATO and Warsaw Pact during the Cold War. In addition, it was also widely adopted in many other countries, especially newly independent countries who had to build up their defence capability quickly. By the second half of the 20th century, conscription was firmly entrenched as a prominent feature in modern societies.
A young United States created a militia in 1792, mandatory for every white male age 18-45. Attempts to pass federal conscription legislation for the War of 1812 failed, although some states did so.
In April 1862, the Confederacy adopted the draft. On 1 January 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in the Confederacy. Acknowledging an undersized military, in March 1863, Congress passed the National Enrollment Act, which subjected all single men age 20-45 and married men up to age 35 to a draft lottery. Enlistment bounties led to immigrants (25 percent) and southern blacks (10 percent) forming a sizeable portion of the Union army.
The draft was controversial, especially among the working class, because the wealthy could "buy their way out" for $300 (less than the cost of hiring a substitute, also allowable). In 1863, a mob burned the New York City draft office, touching off a five-day riot that targeted anger at the city's black population as well as the wealthy. The draft resumed in August 1863, after the federal government stationed 10,000 soldiers in the City. Draft opposition occurred in other cities throughout the north, including Detroit.
US Conflicts and The Draft
|Conflict||Draftees||Armed Forces Total|
|Civil War - Union |
|164,000 (8%) |
(1917 - 1918)
|2.8 million (72%)||3.5 million|
(1940 - 1946)
|10.1 million (63%)||16 million|
(1950 - 1953)
|1.5 million (54%)||1.8 in theatre, |
2.8 million total
(1964 - 1973)
|1.9 million |
(56% / 22%)
|3.4 million in theatre, |
8.7 million total