December 18, 2017

1970. Senators Propose an All-Volunteer Military Establishment

Republicans Goldwater and Hatfield Seek to Abolish the Draft
"Draft Director Curtis W. Tarr spins one of the two Plexiglas drums in Washington on Feb. 2, 1972, as the fourth annual Selective Service lottery begins. Inside are capsules containing birth dates and orders of assignment for men born in 1953" (source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

August 20, 1970

For different—and equally sincere—reasons, one of the Senate's leading Republican doves was teamed in legislative harness today with a leading Republican hawk. Their primary goal is to quiet the political unrest over the Vietnam War by turning the fighting over to a volunteer army of American professionals.

Arizona's Senator Barry Goldwater and Oregon's Senator Mark Hatfield don't see eye-to-eye on many things concerning the US involvement in Southeast Asia and other military policies, but they have found common ground to make their stand to abolish the present Selective Service System and establish an all-volunteer military establishment.

Hence the Goldwater-Hatfield amendment to the $19 billion military appropriations bill, which would implement President Nixon's campaign pledge to go to a volunteer army as soon as feasible.

However, Defense Secretary Laird strongly opposes the move while the US is trying to disengage from the Vietnam War. Laird said abolishing the draft now would "needlessly endanger the national security."

Hatfield and Goldwater say the shift to an all-volunteer force would add some $3.5 billion a year to the Pentagon budget, but other estimates say the cost would more likely be at least $12 billion.

The proposal would raise the basic pay for new recruits by 50 percent, establish a system of merit pay for professional soldiers, and raise retirement and death benefits for survivors. The Selective Service System would be retained on a standby basis in event of a global emergency.

For more than a year now, a special Pentagon panel has been studying the feasibility of several voluntary army plans, but the tentative conclusions are that a professional military force would be exorbitantly expensive to the American taxpayer, and that there would not be enough volunteers in special categories such as doctors. And even among some top generals and admirals there are qualms about turning over the national defense to an elite band of military professionals.

Hatfield says such fears of rampant militarism are groundless, that Canada and Great Britain have shifted to the volunteer army and become less militaristic in the process.

Goldwater holds that military service can be an honorable profession for which people will be glad to volunteer if they are offered a decent salary with fringe benefits similar to civilian opportunities. And the Arizona senator asks:

"Is military service to be equated with a jail sentence?"

The answer to that question, Senator, is that it depends on what war you're fighting.

One of the major facts which has taken much of the steam out of the administration's argument for a voluntary army was turned up by a Pentagon review of its military manpower. Out of 200 million Americans, only some 800 men a month enlist for combat duty, which does not exactly make the US a warmongering nation.

This is Bill Downs in Washington with "The Shape of One Man's Opinion," a service of ABC News.