Sunday, September 7, 2014

Quickies: The Evil Cry That Will Never Be Stilled

When men want something done that they themselves are unqualified, unable, or unwilling to do, they often seek to impose it on others – seldom naming those others, but usually with a conception of them in the backs of their heads – coercively, such that the others cannot refuse to perform except on pain of punishment. When the something to be done is warfare, the imposition proposed is conscription: the draft.

Say what you will about Richard Nixon, the man effectively ended military conscription in 1973. Moreover, he had pledged to do so as part of his 1968 campaign promises. His handling of the War in Vietnam, by the end of which he had reduced the American infantry presence in Southeast Asia by approximately 90%, was in large measure aimed at putting an end to the draft. Ever since then we’ve had an all-volunteer military – and that military has worked wonders no conscript army has ever equaled.

But there remain some with an unholy fondness for involuntary servitude at arms:

... we have also become a nation so detached from the tradition of the American soldier-citizen that we now insist on fighting wars using “other people’s kids.” Want to know why many of those captains and majors getting their pink slips have already served three or four combat tours? Got a mirror handy?

In polite company, of course, we don’t talk about “other people’s kids,” just about our all-volunteer military, and did we remember to thank you for your service? This summer, in The Journal of International Security Affairs, I revisited the issue of the all-volunteer military, a successful defense policy that is rapidly becoming infamous for its financial and social costs. Because volunteer manpower is scarce and expensive, we didn’t mobilize the nation after Sept. 11 to prevail in the war on terrorism. Instead, we sent our citizens back to the shopping malls — effectively drafting the reserves.

Please read as much of the article as you can stand. It’s typical of its sort: it brays about “social costs” and the “ethic of service,” runs down private pursuits as “sending our citizens back to the shopping malls,” but never confronts the vast costs of the draft itself:

  • Conscription weakens the bond between soldiers.
  • Conscription engenders a severe distinction between the sexes.
  • Conscription makes “cannon fodder” cheap and wars easier for politicians to contemplate.
  • Conscription creates a scheme of privilege in which “some” are deemed too vulnerable – or valuable – to “serve.”
  • Conscription necessitates a Selective Service system with unreviewable discretion and de facto powers of imprisonment.
  • Conscription violates the most basic individual right possessed by any human being: his right to his life, and to choose what risks he will and will not take with it.

For me, the rights argument clinches it. (Say, doesn’t the Thirteenth Amendment say something about involuntary servitude?) But atop all of that, our all-volunteer military is the finest the world has ever seen. Its record for effectiveness and decency is unequaled anywhere in human history. Among engineers the all-powerful maxim is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Surely that’s sufficient to dismiss notions about promoting vaguely defined “social costs” over the priority of a smoothly functioning, highly effective military.

Perhaps the clinching practical argument against conscription is this: Whenever the Left seeks to prevent the government from going to war, it proposes to reinstitute the draft. The last prominent person to do so was the despicable Charles Rangel (D, NY), recently best known for having been censured by the House of Representatives for tax evasion during a period when he was a highly influential member of the House’s tax writing Ways and Means Committee. Rangel knows that the draft is viewed with horror by today’s young Americans and their parents – that the possibility of a draft would galvanize anti-war sentiment as nothing else could. When a contemplated war isn’t as popular as World War II, the prospect of conscription could evoke a fatal opposition to it.

For the best presentation of other side of the issue, Google “Charles Moskos” AND “the draft.” I consider his arguments to be as valueless as those of the cited article, but persons obsessed with forcibly instilling “a service ethic” and “a sense of shared purpose” in young Americans might find them more persuasive than do I.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I, a veteran of the all volunteer military, wholeheartedly agree with your view of the draft, with one apparent difference. Those who have already taken the 'kings coin' (ie non-military employees of the federal gov't) should be subject to reassignment to the military in time of war.

If you want to be an FBI agent, be prepared to be an infantryman. If you want to be a bureaucrat in the department of energy, be prepared to be a combat engineer. I would not force them to serve in the military against their will, but if they are reassigned and choose not to, they lose their federal job and any future ability to hold one. You want a draft? Draft the bureaucrats. The government has the right to tell its employees what to do and where to do it, but not right to force others into its service.