TCS Daily

Feeling a Draft?

By C. C. Kraemer - April 23, 2004 12:00 AM

There's a generation of Americans who know nothing of conscription, nothing about anti-military protests, nothing about fleeing to Canada, nothing about burning draft cards. Could that very generation be the next one to face forced service?

In its nearly 228 years of history, the United States has drafted young men into the military service only a few times. The first was during the Civil War, the last during the Vietnam conflict. Not surprisingly, the draft has never been real popular. There were riots in New York in the 1860s and demonstrations, some of them violent, during the Vietnam era. A republic that was organized around the principles of freedom and "Framed in the spirit of liberty, and in the love of peace," as Daniel Webster said in the House in 1814 in opposition to the prospects of a draft for the War of 1812, unfortunately has some blemishes on its defense of personal autonomy.

Webster was not alone in recognizing that to take a young man forcibly from his life and compel him to give up his right to himself says one thing: The government supercedes the sovereignty of the individual. Others who have opposed conscription include current Secretary of State and former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, Henry David Thoreau, Barry Goldwater, Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Alan Greenspan, economist Milton Friedman and Ronald Reagan. The last man in that list, the most freedom-loving president of the 20th century, not so famously wrote in 1979 that the draft "rests on the assumption that your kids belong to the state. If we buy that assumption then it is for the state -- not for parents, the community, the religious institutions or teachers -- to decide who shall have what values and who shall do what work, when, where and how in our society."

That assumption explained by Reagan is the sort of notion that undergirds any collectivist system, from fascism to communism. Individuals are expendable; it's the whole, the collective, that matters. Each person is subservient to the good of the tribe and each person can be sacrificed to that end. No person has a choice because decisions are made on a communal level. (Though in practice, they are made by dictators and oligarchies that purportedly make decisions in the interest of "the people.")

Is that what we want here, in a nation that won its freedom with a volunteer army?

It's what Democrats Sen. Fritz Hollings of South Carolina and Rep. Charles Rangel of New York want. Both have introduced legislation that would bring back armed services conscription. Their bills would make military service or some alternative national service required for both men and women between 18 to 26. What constitutes "service" would be determined by the president and it must promote national or homeland security if it is not a military term. The tour of duty for both would be two years.

Exemptions would be granted, but only for physical disabilities and conscientious objectors. There would be no education deferments except for high school, but that doesn't last beyond a conscript's 20th birthday. There's also a clause about "and for other purposes" that is sufficiently vague enough to throw a bolt of fear into anyone who has thought even casually about government's habit of overreaching.

Welcome, young people, to the People's Republic of America, where life is not one's own but instead property of the state.

Some on Capitol Hill are saying the legislation has no chance to become law. The fact that Rangel's bill has recently been sent to the House Armed Services Committee indicates otherwise. And don't forget: The Selective Service System, the agency that would organize a draft, still exists and has, according the Seattle Post-Intelligencer "begun the process of creating the procedures and policies to conduct" a draft targeting "Americans with special skills" in computers and foreign languages "in case military officials ask Congress to authorize it and the lawmakers agree to such a request."

Mandatory registration for the draft, reinstated by President Carter in 1980, also still exists.

That's not to say that any of this ensures that a draft is looming. But the idea is gaining momentum. Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska joined Hollings and Rangel this week in calling for a reinstatement of conscription.

"Why shouldn't we ask all of our citizens to bear some responsibility and pay some price?" Hagel asked during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

Unlike Hollings and Rangel, Hagel has not introduced legislation. However, that's not the point. The point is that Washington is hungrily looking at America's young people -- though not necessarily to adequately man the armed services, because the volunteer military has sufficiently filled the ranks deeply enough to win three wars, overwhelming its opponents on each occasion.

What Hagel, Hollings and Rangel want is to be sure that the people they think should be volunteering but aren't will be forced into service. They want to wage class warfare over who's going to participate in armed warfare.

"We can't continue to call upon the same people, and the same segment of society, to make all of the sacrifices while other folks continue on with their lives as if nobody is dying out there," Hollings and Rangel explained last October in an opinion piece in the Dallas Morning News.

There, that should make it better. It's not about the state owning people's lives. It's about the state organizing society according to the preferences of some lawmakers, constitutional liberties be hanged.


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