Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2017

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

History

First Advisor

Professor Fred Anderson

Second Advisor

Professor Richard Jessor

Third Advisor

Professor Matthew Gerber

Abstract

By 1968 conscription as a means to raise the fighting force necessary to conduct the United States’ defense and foreign policy missions had been in effect for a half century. Since World War I, two generations of Americans had come to accept the military draft as a regular part of life. The generation that came of age during the 1960s and its reaction to the controversial U.S. military intervention in Vietnam changed this national sentiment.

In response to public disapproval, a campaign promise to end the draft and the war in Vietnam helped Richard Nixon win the presidency in 1968. Although the U.S. would not leave Vietnam until 1975, planning for a transition from conscription to an all-volunteer force began immediately. For some, the cost, quality, and quantity of the new force were the paramount concerns during the planning phase. However, others saw that the transition to an all-volunteer force would have far reaching demographic consequences that would radically alter how the United States waged war.

In the early years of the transition, many of the critics were proven correct as costs surpassed earlier predictions and the demographics of the new all-volunteer force increasingly failed to represent U.S. society. By the 1980s, the all-volunteer force was a permanent fixture and the voices of critics began to fade away. The end of the Cold War and the First Gulf War in 1991 highlighted the military supremacy of the all-volunteer force. After 2001, the U.S. found itself involved in two long counter insurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Where the consequences of the transition to an all-volunteer force have become starkly apparent.

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