The Draft, 1940-1973
George Q. Flynn
Individual liberty is ingrained in American culture. Yet, in contrast to this cherished ideal, American men were inducted into military service under a system that flourished for more than twenty years before its rationalization was seriously questioned by more than a small minority of citizens.
Analyzing this paradox, George Flynn provides the first comprehensive look at an institution that managed to sustain political and public favor through two wars before dying out under a barrage of protests during a third. Placing the American draft within a historical context, he shows how social and political considerations determined the character of conscription in the United States.
“Anybody interested in U.S. military manpower policy or the military and American society from World War II to the present should read this book.”
—Journal of Military History
“Flynn’s history invites a serious and multidimensional assessment of the role of selective service in the moral life of the nation.”
—Armed Forces & SocietySee all reviews...
“The 1940-1973 draft impacted the lives of millions of Americans, and this expertly done book tells the story fairly, with scholarly precision, and without ideological bias.”
“The Draft, based upon impeccable research and replete with new insights, is an essential source for military, political, and diplomatic historians, and indeed, for any student of the military in a democratic society.”
—Journal of American History
“Flynn presents a well-nuanced exploration of an institution that ‘existed in a state of perpetual tension with American culture’ yet sustained broad-based support until it was swamped in the political turmoil of the Vietnam War.”
—American Historical Review
“Written by a scholar who is eminently qualified to reconstruct and interpret this history because of his great familiarity with the material and the issues involved, this is a full and rich political history of conscription in America from 1940 through 1973 (and a bit beyond). A fine book based on great research and filled with new details.”
—John Chambers, author of To Raise an Army: The Draft Comes to Modern America
"One theme Flynn pursues imaginatively throughout is the contrast between the mythic purpose of efficient, centralized selection of manpower and the myth of equality of sacrifice in a democratic society. The research is truly staggering-presidential libraries, various military responsibilities from Carlisle to the Hoover Institute, various record groups in the national archives (including very good use of Nixon's presidential records), numerous hearings, pamphlet literature, interviews, oral histories, and correspondence with principal actors."—
“At long last we have a definitive account of the draft in modern America. George Q. Flynn blends narrative with historical detail to show how conscription first unified and then divided our country. This is must reading for anyone concerned with the changing contours of citizenship duties and obligations.”
—Charles Moskos, author of A Call to Civic Service
“A well-researched and remarkably even-handed book that places America’s experience with selective service in the broader context of the nation’s values and public policies.”
—James T. Patterson, author of America in the Twentieth Century: A HistorySee fewer reviews...
The draft developed as it did, he argues, not mainly because of military needs or strategy, but because of political decisions initiated by civilians with nonmilitary agendas. Explaining why the draft remained relatively immune to political criticism prior to the Vietnam conflict, Flynn chronicles the draft's military and strategic successes and failures in America's mid-century wars. He shows how major institutions and lobbies representing science, education, and various professions and religions influenced it and how, ultimately and ironically, the selective character of the draft eventually made the system inequitable and helped cause its downfall.
Challenging the assertion that centralization of state power has been a constant characteristic of twentieth-century America, Flynn reveals how local interests were frequently at odds with national interests and that often the local powers prevailed. Thus, he argues, the operation of Selective Service helped curb centralization and assured the continued power and influence of localism.
A complex and volatile issue in America, the draft has been a perennial concern for our presidents and military leaders in their quest for military preparedness and mobilization. Tying military issues to the broader history of state and society, this book examines a continuing problem of the modern state—how to find enough of the right individuals to shoulder defense responsibilities.