Beth Bailey


On her book America's Army: Making the All-Volunteer Force

Cover Interview of March 18, 2010


In the mid-1950s the majority of adult men in the United States were veterans.  Today that percentage (male and female) is less than thirteen.  That is in large part for a positive reason: no ground war has been fought by mass armies in recent decades.  But because the all-volunteer force has long been drawn from a small and relatively self-contained portion of the American population, a huge number of Americans—including many of those most likely to buy works of serious non-fiction—have no significant contact with anyone in military and know little to nothing about it.

Some of the most important and most difficult questions we face as a nation seem to require a basic understanding of America’s military.  I hope this book will give those readers a clearer understanding of the contemporary military and its recent history, knowledge that they can use to make their own arguments about the nation’s future.

I also hope, in the wake of the war in Iraq and the current escalation in Afghanistan, that this book contributes to a national discussion about what it means to fight an extended war in which a small number of men and women bear the burden of military service while most of the nation is asked no sacrifice. 

In most ways, such a discussion is moot.  Short of massive, total war, the United States is not likely to reinstate the draft.  There is little public desire; there is no political will.  The military has become a powerful advocate for the volunteer force, and in practical terms most analysts agree that a volunteer force provides best for the defense of the nation.  Perhaps the reinstitution of the draft (a lottery system with very limited exemptions?) would constrain American military adventurism–but that was precisely the argument the opponents of the Vietnam War made for moving to a volunteer force in the first place.

None of the answers are easy, but the moral complexities need to be acknowledged and debated.  In the end, I argue, an institution that once seemed mired in crisis has achieved remarkable successes, both as purveyor of military force and as provider of social good.  Nevertheless, in a democratic nation, there is something lost when individual liberty is valued over all and the rights and benefits of citizenship become less closely linked to its duties and obligations.

© 2010 Beth Bailey