Military Service and American Democracy

From World War II to the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

William A. Taylor

“When I became secretary of defense,” Ashton B. Carter said when announcing that the Pentagon would open all combat jobs to women, “I made a commitment to building America’s force of the future. In the twenty-first century, that requires drawing strength from the broadest possible pool of talent.”

That “pool of talent”—and how our nation’s civilian and military leaders have tried to fill it—is what Military Service and American Democracy is all about. William Taylor chronicles and analyzes the long and ever-changing history of that often contentious and controversial effort, from the initiation of America’s first peacetime draft just before our entry into World War II up to present-day conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. A history that runs from the selective service era of 1940–1973 through the era of the All-Volunteer Force of 1973 to the present, his book details the many personnel policies that have shaped, controlled, and defined American military service over the last eight decades. Exploring the individual and group identities excluded from official personnel policy over time—African Americans, women, and gays among others—Taylor shows how military service has been an arena of contested citizenship, one in which American values have been tested, questioned, and ultimately redefined. Yet, we see how this process has resulted in greater inclusiveness and expanded opportunities in military service while encouraging and shaping similar changes in broader society.

“A well-researched and discerning examination of the historical context of current debates about the nature of military service and civil-military relations as a framework for larger discussions about service, citizenship, and democracy. William Taylor’s principal achievement here is to have persuasively shown that the study of changes in American military service during and since World War II, often in the face of strong opposition, gives us reason to hope that the bond between citizen and soldier can one day be reforged.

—Michigan War Studies Review

“Ultimately, Taylor’s work is as much about civil-military relations as it is about the US military itself—the relationship and subsequent changes that he highlights would not have been possible without the considerable influence of civilian leaders on military policy.

—H-Net Reviews
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In the distinction between compulsory and voluntary military service, Taylor also examines the dichotomy between national security and individual liberty—two competing ideals that have existed in constant tension throughout the history of American democracy.

About the Author

William A. Taylor, assistant professor in the Department of Security Studies at Angelo State University, is a former Marine Corps officer who held posts in III Marine Expeditionary Force, Expeditionary Force Development Center, and Marine Corps Combat Development Command. He is the author of Every Citizen a Soldier: The Campaign for Universal Military Training after World War II, which won a 2015 Crader Family Book Prize Honorable Mention.

Additional Titles in the Modern War Studies Series