There once was a time when wayward young men were given the option of jail or the military. It was believed that the experience would give them discipline and character while simultaneously boosting the ranks of our armed forces. A bit later, our involvement in Vietnam led to a draft. As long as young men could shoot straight and carry 50 pounds on their backs, they were considered ready to fight.
However, such standards did not bring forth favorable results. Citizens protested in the streets and conscripts refused to report for duty. Eventually, the draft was abolished and the service once again became all-volunteer. By the turn of the century, the U.S. military became one of the most technologically advanced in the world. Only those with a highschool diploma and a clean background were supposed to wear the uniform.
Unfortunately today, just as troop shortages in Vietnam called for drastic measures, the nation’s involvement in Iraq has stretched the U.S. military too thin. Because to some “draft” is a term more unfavorable than “tax increase,” recruiters find themselves with limited options, primarily lower standards and grant more waivers.
According to a recent New York Times article, the military is increasingly allowing more high school dropouts and recruits with poor scores on the aptitude tests, based on records obtained from the Department of Defense. Allowing people who are less qualified to fill the ranks speaks volumes about the desperation of the military. If the military is admitting individuals cannot at least achieve the minimum score on the aptitude test, what does that say about the person’s ability to fulfill an important task that could cost a person their life? Yet, lowering the educational standards was apparently not enough to bolster recruitment numbers. The military’s second solution to this problem is even scarier.
The Times reports that waivers granted to recruits with criminal histories skyrocketed by 65 percent in the past three years. Their crimes range from petty larceny, vehicular homicide, aggravated assault and beyond. Does this mean that every soldier with a shady past is prone to such behavior? Of course not. But when a fully automatic assault rifle is in the hands of a person with a criminal past, it should not be a surprise when things go wrong.
“You have a sizeable population that has been incarcerated and is not used to the same cultural norms as everybody else…The chance that one of those individuals is going to commit an atrocity or disobey an order is higher,” Aaron Belkin told the Times. Belkin is the director of the Michael D. Palm Center, an organization that studies military issues.
What may be surprising to some is the reluctance of “clean candidates” who support the war but do not actually join up. Under these circumstances, if a person is between the ages of 18-25 and supports the war in Iraq, they are doing the country a disservice by not enlisting.
The military is meant to be filled by the best. The original standards were set up to ensure that the individuals who wear the uniform are exceptional because they represent America to many abroad. In the end, there are few options. The military can withdraw from Iraq, or re-establish the draft. But allowing our military to become a rogue gallery of hoodlums and misfits should not be an option.