The United States has been engaged in war in Afghanistan since October 2001, when it launched Operation Enduring Freedom, and in Iraq since 2003. But more quietly, the U.S. has also been fighting, and generally losing, a cyberwar with both China and Russia since the early 2010s.

During this time, the U.S. has relied on a volunteer military, despite significant stress on American military personnel from frequent redeployment in the Middle East and an increasingly challenging cyberconflict and artificial intelligence battle space. It is not surprising, therefore, that formal military forces have been augmented by significant contributions from private contractors. Sporadic calls for bringing back conscription—the draft—to relieve the stress on the military and avoid too much privatization have generally fallen on deaf ears. (The selective service system, the administrative backbone of the draft, remains active, although the draft itself was terminated as the Vietnam War wound down, in 1973.)

Given this political dynamic, it is somewhat surprising to find that the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2017 created a National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. The commission website says it “will listen to the public, learn from those who serve, and recommend to the President, Congress, and the American people ideas to foster a greater ethos of military, national, and public service to strengthen American democracy.”