Is there virtue or vice to be found in an all-voluntary military? According to Rep. Charles Rangle, D-N.Y., and others on Capitol Hill, placing American servicemen and women in harm's way should be a shared experience. Bring back the draft is their mantra. Let everyone take part in the danger.

While it makes sense to have a draft system ready in the event this nation finds itself stuck in a long-term war, requiring policing operations or, as in the case of World War II, fighting on two very different fronts, the all-volunteer military has worked well and shouldn't be scrapped just to make a politically correct point.

Today's military is better trained and more qualified than the days of compulsory service, says Walter Oi, professor of economics at the University of Rochester and staff economist for President Nixon's Commission on the All-Volunteer Force.

Writing for the Cato Institute, Oi contends that the shift from the draft to volunteers may "have had a dramatically positive result," with only 147 battlefield deaths during the first Gulf War. U.S. battlefield deaths numbered 74 in Afghanistan and 137 in Iraq. Far more than that died in Korea and Vietnam.

Those numbers are comparing apples and oranges, of course. Both Vietnam and Korea were long-term conflicts. But the point is that the volunteers were prepared from the get-go. They were professionals doing the jobs for which they have been intensely trained.

Rangel's approach - and that of like-minded colleagues - is to ensure that everyone shares in the suffering. "But compulsory service did not produce an equal sharing of sacrifice. In 1964," says Oi, "for example, 35.6 percent of draft-eligible young men were exempted from military service for physical or mental reasons. Under the draft, women made up only four percent of the active-duty forces, as compared to 15 percent in 2000. Today, college-educated African Americans comprise some 12 percent of the officer corps, yet only 7.6 percent of college graduates are black. African American enlisted men in the all-volunteer Army are under-represented in the infantry and special forces, and over-represented in logistical support and administrative occupations - positions that they can serve in to retirement and that provide them with skills valued in the civilian world. Would it be acceptable to use compulsory service to bring those numbers in line with national demographics?"

What the nation needs to do is increase the size of the all-volunteer force to better deal with military crises. The National Guard and Reserve are intended as an augmentation, not as a permanent force serving in Iraq or other countries.

While draftees have served this nation faithfully and magnificently, an all-volunteer force makes sense militarily. Professional military people are likely to be more receptive and expert in employing new technologies.

That brings us to the basic fact about war: The idea is to win, with as few casualties as possible, not to further political correctness.

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