After years of war and occupation in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, with the sacrifices of battle borne by less than one percent of the American people, and with no real indication that President Obama has a legitimate plan or a sincere intention to end combat operations anytime soon, increasing numbers of people from both sides of the political spectrum are calling for reinstatement of the draft. The focus of this article is not to respond to those whose argument for the draft is the inadequacy of the all-volunteer army to fulfill our current military responsibilities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan while maintaining the capability to respond effectively were our nation confronted with another crisis, perhaps from North Korea or Iran.
My response to this argument is simple. What is needed is not more warriors, but less war. Not a buildup of the military through conscription – reinstating the draft – but rather a return to diplomacy and the hard work of negotiating alternative resolutions of conflicts and differences so as to end our reliance upon militarism and war.
Nor is the focus of this article to respond to those who argue for reinstatement of the draft in order to wage war and occupation more effectively and to provide for a more equitable sharing of the sacrifices necessary to achieve victory. My response to this argument is simple as well. What is required is not more effective ways to prosecute aggression, or achieve victory, or even a more equitable distribution of sacrifices. Instead, illegal and immoral war and occupation must be ended immediately, the troops withdrawn, the victims of our aggression compensated, and our transgressions and culpability acknowledged.
Rather, my intent in this article is to respond to those on the left, to antiwar and peace activists who, disappointed by an obdurate and unresponsive political leadership and frustrated by the apathy and indifference of the vast majority of American citizens to the death and destruction prosecuted in all our names, advocate reinstating the draft to make war more inclusive – personal and relevant to a greater number of people.
Rep. Charles Rangel from New York argues from such a perspective. “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.”
The hope, of course, is that, threatened with the possibility of a family member being conscripted into military service and possibly having to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan, legislators would be less likely to support unnecessary wars – vote for supplemental funding, etc. – and more citizens would become active, take to the streets and raise their voices in opposition, thereby giving rise to a Vietnam era-like movement to end war and occupation.
I share the disappointment with a president and a Congress that not only ignore demands for peace, but continue to escalate the war and occupation. I lament as well the apathy and indifference of perhaps the vast majority of our fellow citizens. But the appropriate response to such behavior is not to reinstate the draft, not to place our children in the precarious moral situation of having either to kill or die in an immoral and illegal war, the very war we are striving to end, or suffer sanctions for refusing induction into military service. Reinstating the draft to end war is illegal, immoral and illogical.
The Constitution, the oft-forgotten law of the land, does not empower the government to draft its citizens to fight their wars. Daniel Webster, during the War of 1812, made this point very clear.
“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?”
According to the Constitution and to religious and moral principles as well, life is sacred and inviolable. As such, human beings possess an inalienable right to life, to liberty, to the pursuit of happiness, etc. Conscription, to force human beings to become members of the military, to fight and to die for the State against their will, and in violation of the dictates of their conscience, under threat of severe punishment, is a violation of these inalienable human rights and of the Constitution’s Thirteenth Amendment, which prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude.
Ayn Rand in her “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal,” writes, “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?”
Correlative to this inalienable right to life is the legal and moral obligation not to kill another human being, i.e., not to violate this right in others. For the Pacifist, this right is absolute and the immunity afforded by these rights can never be overridden or forfeited. Consequently, war is never a moral option. For Just War Theorists (henceforth “Just Warists”), however, rights are not absolute, but prima facie. That is, under some conditions, such as posing a real, immediate, serious, and unjustifiable threat against the life of another human being, rights and immunity may be forfeited, rendering the aggressor liable to be justifiably injured and/or killed, all things being equal, in self and/or national defense. Hence, for the Just Warist, war is not absolutely prohibited and as long as certain criteria are satisfied, i.e., just cause, last resort, discriminating and affording of immunity to innocents, etc., some wars, wars of national defense for example, may be morally justifiable and as such provoke no objection of conscience. Victims of aggression – freedom fighters, though oftentimes referred to as “insurgents” by the aggressors – are and remain innocent despite their use of violence and deadly force in the assertion of their rights. Victims do not forfeit the very rights they are justified in asserting. All combatants, therefore, are not moral equals.
What Pacifists and Just Warists have in common, however, is the conviction that should an individual be threatened with conscription and required to participate in an illegal and immoral war – to commit aggression – he or she has a moral and a legal obligation to refuse induction, that is, an obligation to become a Conscientious Objector (CO). In granting CO status, the government acknowledges and accepts the validity of these values, of inalienable human rights, and recognizes and respects the religious and/or moral imperative to act in accordance with the dictates of conscience, i.e., to refuse to participate in an illegal and immoral war and to kill innocent human beings.
According to current government policy, however, Conscientious Objector status, may be granted only to Pacifists, individuals who are able to demonstrate a “firm, fixed and sincere objection to participation in war in any form or the bearing of arms,” based upon “religious training and belief,” to include strong moral and ethical conviction – General Conscientious Objectors (GCO). Paradoxically, Just Warists, individuals whose religious training and belief, to include strong moral and ethical conviction, dictate a sincere objection to participate in immoral, illegal wars – Selective Conscientious Objectors (SCO) – are not eligible for CO status.
Discriminating between the Pacifist and the Just Warist in granting CO status is incoherent and makes no legal or moral sense. Whether the individual accepts rights and immunity as absolute – killing is always immoral – or as prima facie – killing is sometimes permissible – while, perhaps, of interest to ethicists and philosophers, should have no relevance to determinations of CO status, since in either case it is clearly religious and moral conviction that requires an individual to respect the rights and immunity of innocent human beings and to refuse induction. Forcing individuals to kill against their will – to violate the dictates of conscience – is equally as wrong and morally abhorrent whether it is in the case of the Pacifist or the Just Warist – the General or the Selective Conscientious Objector.
Reinstating the draft would place inductees in the same morally and legally precarious situation as soldiers whose religious and/or moral convictions against fighting a particular war have “crystallized” since enlisting in the military. That is, both have to choose either to participate – to kill and possibly die – in a war that violates their religious and/or moral convictions – the dictates of conscience – or face prosecution and the possibility of serious sanctions for refusing induction or disobeying orders.
Besides the legal and moral arguments, there is a point of logic that needs mentioning. Supporting the reinstatement of the draft with the hope and the expectation that as more children become victims of forced servitude and war, people will become outraged and demand that something be done about the crime of war is like supporting rape with the hope and the expectation that when more women become rape victims, people will become outraged and demand that something be done about the crime of violence against women. Supporting increasing pain and suffering in order to end pain and suffering, supporting injustice to end injustice, is pragmatically and morally incoherent. Even were it the case, and I am not at all certain that it is, that reinstituting the draft would create such a groundswell of opposition so as to force an end to the wars and occupation, the draft is still wrong. A moral end does not justify immoral means.
Reinstituting the draft is a means whereby the government may enslave our children and provides the cannon fodder with which to continue the atrocity of illegal and immoral war and occupation. Even Ronald Reagan agreed: “… conscription is a form of slavery, a horrible and costly exception to America’s founding principle. It is morally repugnant to the ideals of a free society. Without a draft, unpopular wars are very difficult to fight. The ability to use conscription actually encourages politicians to wage even more wars – the massive resources are a temptation that is hard for the war-lover to resist.”
Law, morality and reason demand, therefore, not that we contribute to the slaughter and increase the human cost in physical and moral pain by reinstating the draft, but rather, that we continue to actively oppose war and militarism. To end apathy and indifference, we must educate the public about the realities of war and make clear its detrimental impact upon our economy, our culture, and our moral character as a people and as a nation. We must counter recruitment lies and propaganda, find viable employment alternatives to military service so as to end the poverty draft, and ensure that conscription never becomes a reality. We must join together once again, take to the streets, raise our voices in unison, and send a message to our political leaders in no uncertain terms, “No more war, not in our name, not with our children. Hell no, we won’t go … again!”