Since the attacks on 9-11, the issue of the draft has sat simmering on the backburner of American politics with intermittent bouts on the front pages of political news. Its latest proponent is Congressman Charles Rangel, a left-darling from New York, whose entire professional life has been spent in Washington. Quoting Mr. Rangel,
“I believe that if those calling for war knew that their children were likely to be required to serve — and to be placed in harm’s way — there would be more caution and a greater willingness to work with the international community in dealing with Iraq. A renewed draft will help bring a greater appreciation of the consequences of decisions to go to war…We need to return to the tradition of the citizen soldier — with alternative national service required for those who cannot serve because of physical limitations or reasons of conscience.”
This columnist joins several prominent Republicans and America’s Founding Fathers in being patriotically hostile to the concept of compulsory military service.
Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan both questioned the legitimacy of conscription during their respective career pinnacles. In fact, Ronald Reagan’s opposition to compulsory military service was not all that dissimilar from Ayn Rand’s reasoning. Reagan stated: “[T]he most fundamental objection to draft registration is moral…a draft or draft registration destroys the very values that our society is committed to defending.” Although Goldwater supported the war in Vietnam, he opposed the draft in favor of an all-volunteer military.
The Founding Fathers weren’t exactly keen on conscription either: not only is there no provision in the constitution for compulsory service, King George’s “standing” armies are condemned in the Declaration of Independence.
“He [the King] has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.”
During the War of 1812, Daniel Webster fervently condemned the draft on constitutional grounds:
“Where is it written in the Constitution, in what article or section is it contained, that you may take children from their parents, and parents from their children, and compel them to fight the battles of any war, in which the folly or the wickedness of Government may engage it?”
The United States went on to win that war without a single conscript. Proof that when liberty is truly threatened, there is no shortage of Americans willing to take up arms in its defense.
Some conservative entities, such as The National Review and Bill Bennett, support compulsory military service in lieu of some sort of civics education that will supposedly make one more patriotic. A civics class in a school can be patriotic, but lowering the collective professional standard of our military by requiring conscripts is not. While he was Defense Secretary, Dick Cheney stated “The reason to be prepared to fight and win wars…it’s not a jobs program.” What proponents of compulsory military service fail to realize: that the armed forces of the United States would be morphed into little more than a public works project for societal rejects. And this author has too much respect for the institution of the military for it to be bamboozled into an AmeriCorps with nukes. In turn, the morale of the professional volunteers would suffer, and the United States could soon find itself with a military more preoccupied with delivering food to the hungry than it would be with national security.
But the fundamental case against compulsory military service is because it is simply bad in practice, but because it is immoral on principle. Or, to quote the philosopher Ayn Rand in her Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal,
“Of all the statist violations of individual rights in a mixed economy, the military draft is the worst. It is an abrogation of rights. It negates man’s fundamental right–the right to life–and establishes the fundamental principle of statism: that a man’s life belongs to the state, and the state may claim it by compelling him to sacrifice it in battle. If the state may force a man to risk death or hideous maiming and crippling, in a war declared at the state’s discretion, for a cause he may neither approve of nor even understand, if his consent is not required to send him into unspeakable martyrdom–then, in principle, all rights are negated in that state, and its government is not man’s protector any longer. What is there left to protect?”