Milton Friedman, who would be 100 years old today, is primarily remembered as a Nobel Prize winner in economics. But for all his achievements in his chosen field, it is a very different accomplishment that may be his biggest legacy. Friedman is known by those in the defense field as the father of the all-volunteer military.
Some say he got the idea from an old friend and college roommate, but that is moot. It was Friedman in the 1970s who sold the idea to then-Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, who first moved the U.S. away from a conscript force. Friedman also famously countered General William Westmoreland’s comment that he didn’t want to command an army of mercenaries with the rejoinder “Would you rather command an army of slaves?”
Reinstating the draft has come up recently because some think the draft would get more of the American people involved in national security issues. The (eventual) massive success of the all-volunteer force has already laid this argument to rest. Freidman’s prescience is his gift to America.
The all-volunteer force is more representative of the American people than the draft ever was. Despite occasional disparagement from activists who are still looking through a clouded Vietnam-era lens, the military is not over-represented by the poor and minorities, nor is it as politically skewed as some seem to think. It is filled with young men and women who want to serve, who are doing so at great sacrifice, and who are able to execute their duties—both technical and in leadership—in ways that never cease to amaze anyone willing to objectively observe them.
The all-volunteer military works, and it works very well. On his 100th birthday, we owe Milton Friedman a hearty thank you for convincing a lot of doubters that it was worth a try. Dr. Friedman, you were right.
The looming cuts from sequestration will fundamentally change the all-volunteer force through dramatic personnel reductions. Congress should uphold its constitutional responsibility to provide for the common defense in view of Dr. Friedman’s legacy. Overturning these cuts will restore faith in the men and women who voluntarily go into harm’s way to defend the nation.