Moral Health Tip to America: Stay Out of the Draft
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) celebrated the Democratic election victory by proposing to renew the military draft. His oft-repeated argument is that the draft would produce an army with social and racial equity. White, college-educated young men and women would have to serve as target practice for Shiites, Sunnis and other murderous tribes in Iraq when they take time out from killing one another.
Others jumped on the bandwagon. If President Bush had college men and women wading into the Big Muddy, young people would have rioted, wealthy parents would have complained, the war would have stopped.
Just like the Vietnam War stopped in 1968, right?
The war will stop because people voted against it and against the president. (Eighty percent would vote against him if he could run again.)
Rangel's argument is patently sick. It assumes that Bush would be cowed by riots in the street. Moreover, there is no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet in this country, from elections to street demonstrations (except maybe in Florida, where ballots don't count anymore). To create social unrest through a draft is to shortcut the electoral process.
Moreover, if there had not been a draft to provide unlimited young bodies for the jungles of Vietnam, that war would never have started -- nor, for that matter, would the Korean War. As the world should have learned in 1914 and 1939, the availability of conscript armies is an open invitation to leaders to make war. If Bush could have mustered conscript armies of men and women, he might have taken on Iran and Korea, too -- whatever was required for victory.
The suggestion of "National Service" brought a lot of authoritarian liberals out of the woodwork. All young Americans, they argued, should be obliged to do two years of service either in the military or in some other form of indentured servitude to the government. They owe the duty of such service to their country.
To which the only valid reply is, "Who says?" Isn't this the United States of America, not ancient Sparta? The government has no claim on the time and life of anyone, except the people who volunteer for military service (often, alas, because they have not many other choices in life) and convicted criminals. Conscription is just barely tolerable in times of great national emergency, if then. The government doesn't own Americans simply because they are young. The late economist Milton Friedman argued that the draft was an inequitable tax levied against the young and in favor of the middle-aged and the old.
The editorial writers of the New York Times, who have often had a soft spot in their hearts for national service, lament that Rangel's proposal will fail. Like most authoritarian liberals, they think it right and proper and orderly that young men and women be pushed into adulthood by government pressure to do good. It will teach young people, they imply, maturity and responsibility and self-control (and get them away from video games and beer bashes!).
In fact, volunteer service rates among young Americans are the highest in the world. The generosity and the merit of volunteering is diminished if it becomes compulsory and is destroyed altogether when the young people are forced to work for an inept and incompetent government.
Moreover, volunteering as a requirement for graduation is a perversion. Humans grow in virtue not by being forced to repeat virtuous actions but by freely choosing such actions.
Veterans of military service usually weigh in on this issue by announcing that the military "made a man out of me." What kind of man, I wonder, has to brag that military brutality was essential to his manhood? Will it make a woman out of his daughter?
One should ask Rangel if the draft created such racial and social equity in the 1960s, how the president and vice president managed to avoid combat. How could such draft dodgers be elected to high office? And don't tell me that the president served in the Texas Air National Guard. That's like serving in the Nebraska Navy.
© 2006 Andrew Greeley