That’s a question I regularly get from readers and friends. They ask my views because it was the Selective Service that got me started on my career in Vietnam.
After I graduated from college (University of California, Berkeley) in 1958, I was certain to be drafted unless I acted. So I enlisted in the army to go to the Army Language School (ALS) in Monterey to study Chinese, a language that fascinated me. But then I got to ALS, I learned that I was scheduled to study not Chinese but Vietnamese, a language I had never heard of—in those days we called that area of the world French Indochina. I spent the whole of 1959 in intensive study of Vietnamese. When I graduated, I asked the army to send me to Vietnam. They said no, since I had graduated first in my class, I was to be assigned to the National Security Agency (NSA). In 1961, when I completed my army tour, NSA hired me and, in 1962, sent me to Vietnam.
Had there been no draft, I certainly would not have enlisted. That enlistment changed my life.
I look at young people now and perceive that they lack the discipline and self-control that military service instills. Those are qualities I am deeply grateful for. They have served me well during my life. If the draft were still in force, all young men would benefit from the same training I did.
I’m sympathetic to the arguments that say (1) a new draft law should include alternatives to the army, such as the Peace Corps or a similar service internal to the U.S.; and (2) if young men are subject to the draft, young women should be, too. All that said, the self-reliance and value of teamwork I learned in basic training and combat training have been of inestimable value to me. Whatever service might be included in a draft should emphasize training that enhances those qualities.
Mandatory service to the nation is not unheard of in other nations and has proven especially fruitful for Israel, for example. I think we can learn from others.