We paid a terrible price, economically, socially, psychologically, and ethically. But we chose to pay that price. In a perfectly just worldwhich does not and probably cannot exist; Plato, after all, did not want to live in The Republicwe would have received something of value for that price other than the satisfaction of fulfilling that aspiration. Whether it's a reasonable wage (snort! I made less than a Catholic schoolteacher my first year on active dutyand I know, because my then-future-wife was one) or double Green Stamps, or even just enough respect that bureaucrats and politicians won't lie to us (such as calling the supposedly generous "retirement" system "deferred compensation" when it fails all of the ERISA definitions of both "deferred compensation" and a "pension" so that we still paid in to Social Security), we would get more respect.
However, both ends of the "manpower" equation are being handled ineptly, and nearly criminally so. On the one hand, the usefulness of a "draft" has been limited since the middle of the Second Thirty Years' War; by the time that mechanized land warfare and airpower and submarines and the carrier became the dominant modes of combat, cannon fodder was not enough. Today's infantryman is vastly better trained and more sophisticated than those who went over the top at Third Ypresand that's before one considers the sophistication of today's logistical system, that ensures that said infantryman has recently had a hot, nourishing meal, boots that fit, sanitation to avoid typhus, and enough ammunition to make a difference. In 1917, one expected to make a functioning infantryman from a raw recruit in around ten to twelve weeks. In 2004, infantrymen are not considered "combat ready" for nearly a year in the Western armies. In 1917, one turned a recruit who had never flown into a combat-ready pilot in around fifteen weeks. In 2004, the process of making a fighter pilot out of a raw recruit takes around five years (much of which occurs before one ever attends flight school).
On the other hand, drafting those with experienceand, functionally, that is exactly what "stop loss" and mobilization of the IRR arecreates an extreme risk of placing psychologically unprepared soldiers, sailors, and airmen in critical positions. With not that many exceptions these days, career personnel choose when to leave the military. Sure, some leave due to "up or out" policies; far more, however, do not. So, instead, we are now going to be putting critical military functionsand the critical functions in today's military extend all the way from Baghdad back to Washingtonin the hands of people who are being told that they made the wrong choice in departing the service. That is not going to help combat readiness. It is, however, the necessary corollary of our inability to expand military strength quickly through a draft.