Sen. John McCain’s recent comments about the wealthy avoiding service in Vietnam through deferments not only took an unsubtle swipe at the current commander-in-chief, but also highlighted the key inequities that characterized the draft-era military. While the implementation of the all-volunteer force effectively removed those class disparities over time, the military remains unrepresentative in other important ways.
As McCain highlighted, the proposition of conscripted service in Vietnam was deeply unfair. Affluent draft selectees could obtain deferments for college or medical reasons with relative ease and as a result, The Washington Post notes, nearly “80 percent of those who served in Vietnam came from working-class families.”
The end of both the war and the draft, however, reset the composition of the military. Through the expansion of the all-volunteer force in the 1980s, and subsequent growth and reductions since, the class divide in the military all but disappeared. Several studies of the affluence levels in the neighborhoods of enlisted recruits show that the military is almost completely balanced in its representation of socio-economic groups, if only barely over-representative of the middle class. A prominent report by the research organization CNA indicates that enlisted accessions into the military in 2015 were slightly over-representative of the middle three economic quintiles, while they slightly under-represented the poorest and richest segments of America. From the perspective of socio-economic class, military service is considerably more equitable in today’s society.
Read the full op-ed in Fortune.