Military Draft Violates Rights (2007 Jan)

by Barry A. Liebling

While there has not been a military draft in the United States for many years, the depraved yearning for forced conscription has currency. Charles Rangel, Democratic Congressman from New York, has announced that he intends to introduce legislation to bring back the draft. He argues that if all young people – not just those who volunteer – were automatically conscripted, Americans would be less likely to go to war “especially if members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids…would be placed in harm’s way.”

In December 2006 Jim Nicholson, Secretary for Veterans’ Affairs said that “our society would benefit” if the US were to bring back the draft. He recanted one day later because the Bush administration – that appointed him – officially endorses an all-volunteer military.

On the talk show circuit a number of communitarian pundits and entertainment celebrities have said they are sympathetic to a reinstatement of the draft. Their theme is that conscription will ensure that all Americans “share the sacrifice” and will be a step toward legislating “true equality and universal participation.” They regard mandatory service – whether military or social work – as an ennobling experience that would counterbalance Americans’ tendency to be “too selfish.”

The good news is that the prospects for reinstating the draft in the immediate future is remote. The bad news is that conscription fans are making a case that can gain momentum and trick an unreflective electorate into bringing back an odious policy.

The sentiments calling for a military draft are in direct opposition to the Enlightenment philosophy that recognizes individual rights. A draft, whether or not it is for military purposes, is involuntary servitude. The root assumption of conscription advocates is that everyone is the property of Society or of the State – which may use the individual anyway it sees fit.

By contrast, the Enlightenment orientation holds that each individual owns and has a natural right to his or her own life. The proper purpose of government is to protect individual rights – not to regard men and women as chattel to support the schemes of government officials.

Of course government’s mandate to protect individual rights implies that a military is proper and essential. And in a free society each person has the authority to decide exactly what type of productive work to pursue. Military service, like all other jobs, is an option not a requirement.

The most common arguments against a military draft are typically conceptually weak because they fail to dismiss the fallacy that citizens belong to the state. Consider three rejoinders to draft partisans.

First, bringing back military conscription is unwise because draftees would protest. Remember the anti-draft demonstrations and civil unrest that occurred during the Viet Nam War, and consider how horrific a recurrence would be. Undoubtedly, many draftees would resist being forcibly recruited.

But this misses the main point that draftees would have the natural rights to their lives violated. Suppose young people could be indoctrinated through “progressive education” to become docile and to see sacrificing themselves to the state as their moral duty – would that make conscription acceptable?

Second, military experts say that volunteer armies are more effective than conscripted armies. An all-volunteer military attracts more motivated, more competent men and women. Furthermore, because no one is forced to join, malcontents and misfits are less likely to get into the armed forces.

There is no question that an all-volunteer military, as well as an all-volunteer workforce of any kind, is more effective. But what if government planners proclaim that effectiveness is only one of several objectives. Also important to collectivist ideologues is the “value” of having everyone share the same fate. They might argue that solidarity, having all young people serve is so important that sacrificing some effectiveness is acceptable. How does the military expert reply to that? Without a moral foundation for insisting that no citizen may be victimized he is stumped.

Third, some economists have argued that it is more cost-effective to have an all-volunteer military. They are probably right in that doing anything by mutual consent – instead of by coercion – is the better way to go.

But calculating the total cost of maintaining a conscripted armed services is tricky, and economists are likely to disagree on what the true number is. If young men and women are conscripted the cost of rounding them up and paying them is only part of the picture. Somehow you have to factor in the net loss, or net gain, of removing them from the jobs they would have had if they were not abducted. Economists will line up on both sides of the issue – similar to how they fight over the effects of raising the minimum wage – and endlessly debate the true cost of conscription.

The best way to defeat a preposterous notion is to expose its corrupt foundation. An appreciation of individual rights reveals the military draft is an atrocity.

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