All-Volunteer Force – The Rise of Professionalism in the U.S. Military

Essay, 2012

8 Pages, Grade: 1.0 (A)


In 1969 President Richard Nixon established the President’s Commission on the All-Volunteer Force, a 15-member commission chaired by former Secretary of Defense Thomas Gates, to "develop a comprehensive plan for eliminating conscription and moving to an all-volunteer force."[1] After the Gates Commission recommended ending the draft, which ended in 1973, critics alleged the move to an all-volunteer force would negatively alter the concept of American citizenship by eliminating the connection between citizenship and military service. Thirty years later in 2003, Charles Rangel (D-NY) introduced the “The National Service Act of 2003” to reintroduce compulsory service for Americans between the ages of 18 and 26. Although Rangel’s proposal was partially motivated by his political opposition to the Iraq War, he argued, “If our nation becomes involved in all-out war, the sacrifice must be equally shared. We must return to the tradition of the citizen-soldier.”[2] Although the War on Terror, with conflicts fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, has strained the all-volunteer force, would America be better served by a return to military conscription? Would compulsory military service restore a lost notion of civic obligation and shared national experience? No, even if a return to military conscription was politically possible, the draft ended for a myriad of legitimate military, political, and social reasons that make its re-establishment even less practical today. If Americans have lost a sense of civic obligation and community, the end of the draft did not create this problem, nor would the return of conscription serve as a panacea for problems with America’s civic and political culture.

The U.S. military has relied primarily on volunteers since the nation’s inception, with the country only turning to conscription in a few rare circumstances. In 1863 the U.S. passed a draft bill during the Civil War, however, the draft was suspended after riots broke out in New York City.[3] Congress did not pass a second draft bill until 6 weeks after the U.S. enter World War I in 1917. Then the United States turned to military conscription during peacetime in 1940 prior to World War II, only to return to an all-volunteer force in 1947.[4] After failing to meet recruiting goals and the emergence of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the U.S. established the Selective Service System in 1948. The system would remain in place until its demise 25 years later. Prior to the establishment of the Selective Service System, the draft was essentially only in widespread use during the two World Wars. How could the republican tradition of the citizen-soldier have survived from the founding era in tact if the all-volunteer force supposedly destroyed the institution almost instantly?

The citizen-soldier did not vanish after 1973, but instead still lives on today. The rhetoric applied to the U.S. military members today obviously reflects an appreciation of service and patriotism by the broader public. When U.S. commander General William Westmoreland testified before the Gates Commission at the height of the Vietnam War, he expressed his staunch opposition to an all-volunteer force.

Mr. Westmoreland said he did not want to command an army of mercenaries. Mr. Friedman interrupted, "General, would you rather command an army of slaves?" Mr. Westmoreland replied, "I don't like to hear our patriotic draftees referred to as slaves."


[1] Evans, Thomas. Sam Houston State University, "The All-Volunteer Army After Twenty Years: Recruiting in the Modern Era." Accessed October 28, 2012.

[2] Oi, Walter. "The Virtue of an All-Volunteer Force." Regulation, Summer 2003. (accessed October 26, 2012).

[3] Oi, Walter. "The Virtue of an All-Volunteer Force." Regulation, Summer 2003. (accessed October 26, 2012).

[4] Ibid.

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All-Volunteer Force – The Rise of Professionalism in the U.S. Military
Military and Society
1.0 (A)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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358 KB
all-volunteer, force, rise, professionalism, military
Quote paper
Conor Cummings (Author), 2012, All-Volunteer Force – The Rise of Professionalism in the U.S. Military, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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