- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2009



This is the second of three excerpts from Tony Blankley’s new book, “American Grit: What It Will Take to Survive and Win in the 21st Century” (Regnery, 2009).

On the campaign trail Barack Obama acknowledged our dangerous shortfall in military recruiting but proposed no effective remedy; his program for national service - focused on environmentalism instead of the military - will do nothing to replenish our perilously over-stretched armed forces.

The United States needs a bigger army. If eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, it is a price that should be paid by all - and that requires national service. The draft is essential for achieving victory in the long war on Islamist fascism and assuring our capacity to meet the many other threats that are likely to emerge in this already dangerous twenty-first century.

A military draft is well within the American tradition, and the scars of the Vietnam-era draft should not keep us from doing what our national interest requires. During the Vietnam War the draft became not a symbol of unity but of division. The reason was simple: the draft became unpopular because the war became unpopular.

The draft should not be viewed as an instrument to force citizens to fight an unpopular war. As was the case during both world wars, the draft is effective at marshalling needed manpower to fight wars that society, by general consensus, deems just and necessary. It also helps to stimulate volunteers who might need that extra incentive to step up and answer the call to duty.

But the primary reason for reinstituting the draft is this: our military needs it. Between 1990 and 2000, the Army shrank by a quarter of a million troops. The Navy, the Air Force, and the Marine Corps had their manpower reduced by 36 percent, 34 percent, and 12 percent, respectively.

Despite all our technological advantages, troop strength matters. Even the addition of just 20,000 to 30,000 troops in Iraq during the “surge” completely changed the complexion of the conflict. In the second half of 2007, after the surge reached its full force, violence in Iraq declined by 60 percent, forcing even Democratic congressman Jack Murtha, a die-hard opponent of the Iraq War, to admit that the surge was working.

There’s no substitute for boots on the ground. The lack of available ground troops has led some officials and analysts to conclude that if the United States found another unavoidable military conflict, we would have to rely on air power and even, if it was serious enough, nuclear weapons. We must face the reality that, given our current international commitments, and the likelihood that these commitments will grow, we will need a bigger army than our current all-volunteer force.

National service is a call to renew the self-sacrifice, patriotism, and stoicism that once animated our country, but that today seem too often shelved in favor of a self-centered veneration of personal happiness. Yes, national service would be a costly endeavor and would undoubtedly provoke libertarian outrage from a number of eighteen-year-olds who’ve become estranged from the very idea of a citizen’s obligation to his country.

But the question is this: is enlarging America’s military to defend our vital national interests and renew our sense of national unity worth the price of a national service program? The answer is undeniably yes. More than that, it’s inevitable, if we are to survive and prosper as a free and independent nation.

Tony Blankley is the author of “American Grit: What It Will Take to Survive and Win in the 21st Century” and vice president of the Edelman public-relations firm in Washington.

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