After numerous failed attempts, New York Congressman Charles Rangel has again introduced legislation to reinstate the draft, or more specifically, to require “all persons in the United States between the ages of 18 and 25 to perform national service either as a member of the uniformed services or civilian service.”
Interestingly, support for the draft has come from both sides of the political spectrum, from such diverse individuals as former US commander in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, and the Daily Show’s host Jon Stewart. Liberal commentator Thom Hartmann has argued that military service will provide American youth with much needed discipline, structure, and responsibility in their lives, as well as an opportunity for young Americans to recommit to their country. Further, Hartmann theorizes, coerced national service would create jobs, rebuild this nation’s infrastructure and provide an important rite of passage, a clear transition from youth to adulthood.
Congressman Rangel’s Intent
Since the economic crisis of 2008, due to what may be termed “economic conscription,” that is, the military being the only viable means of employment to stave off foreclosure and obtain access to health care, higher education, etc, there has been no shortage of recruits into the All Volunteer Force (AVF). Consequently, Congressman Rangel’s motivation in introducing The National Universal Service Act” (H.R. 747), is clearly not national security concerns. Rather, Congressman Rangel has made clear on numerous occasions, as illustrated in the title of Hartmann’s recent article, “The Draft: A War Killer,” the motivation for reinstating and supporting the draft is first and foremost antiwar. That is, by ensuring that every American “has some skin in the game,” the intention is to end the apathy of the American public toward our political leaders’ propensity for perpetual war and to incite the sort of self-interested opposition and protest that some believe contributed significantly to ending the Vietnam War. According to Congressman Rangel, “A renewed draft will help bring a greater appreciation of the consequences of decisions to go to war.” Also motivating the Congressman is his concern for fairness in the distribution of sacrifice; the fact that less than one percent of America’s population serves in the military and, as such, unfairly shoulders the burden of war.
Who Serves in the Military?
Despite the deep recession, not all segments of American society are suffering equally. Banking and corporate executives, for example, continue to enjoy lucrative salaries and bonuses. Under the war economy, Main Street struggles, Wall Street thrives, and America suffers the largest income gap between its richest and poorest citizens in recorded history. Consequently, the children of the privileged and the wealthy, uncoerced by economic need, feel no compunction to enlist in the military, with the burden of fighting and dying in America’s seemingly endless wars falling upon the poor and the working class.
According to The Heritage Foundation’s Study, Who Serves in the Military? The Demographics of Enlisted Troops and Officers, more than three-quarters (75.03 percent) of recruits into the AVF come from neighborhoods with incomes of less than $65,000, and only 6.15 percent come from neighborhoods with an income of over $90,000, with not one individual from a household with an income exceeding $246,333.
What is problematic about the AVF, therefore, is not the oft-cited statistic that less than one percent of the American public shares the sacrifice of military service or that too few poor and middle-class Americans enlist. That is after all, an inevitable consequence of an All Volunteer Force. What is deplorable about the current arrangement is that the AVF smacks of classism and is unrepresentative of American society.
One final point, given war’s extreme profitability for the privileged and the wealthy (the corporatists, bankers, politicians – the military-industrial-Congressional complex) and the fact that with the AVF, they and/or their children will never step onto the battlefield and suffer war’s deleterious effects, it is not surprising, therefore, that our nation is embroiled in perpetual foreign military misadventures, wars and entanglements.
The Illusion of Alternative Service
Since the primary intent of Congressman Rangel, Hartmann and others in reinstating or supporting the draft is antiwar, portraying this legislation as a national service program offering a choice of a nonmilitary alternative -conscription into the civil service – is disingenuous and a distraction from its true purpose and goal. What possible relevancy does forced service in the Peace Corps, for example, have to ending unnecessary war and American apathy? Further, should Congressman Rangel’s Bills become law, as endless and futile wars for profit, greed and power continue and escalate, is it realistic to assume that draftees will choose military service in adequate numbers to restore the ranks of injured and killed combatants? Or, as is more likely, wouldn’t “national security” considerations require an abrogation of choice and individuals to be conscripted into the military regardless of their preference? In reality, then, these bills are not about creating jobs and rebuilding this nation’s infrastructure. Nor is their purpose to provide American youth with much needed discipline, structure, responsibility and an opportunity to recommit to their country. Nor will they accomplish these goals should they be enacted. Though misleadingly titled a National Service Bill, what is being proposed here is clear and simply nothing other than the reinstatement of a military draft.
The Moral and Legal Argument against Conscription
While I share Congressman Rangel’s and Thom Hartmann’s goal of ending illegal and immoral war and their disappointment with the American public’s apathy about these wars and fairness in distribution of sacrifice, I remain opposed to the draft for a number of reasons. First, it is clear that any form of involuntary conscription by the state is a violation of human rights, forced servitude, and as such, immoral and illegal. Though I don’t often find myself in agreement with Ayn Rand, I think her analysis of the effects of the military draft on human rights in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal is correct.
“It is an abrogation of rights. It negates man’s (and now woman’s since the draft is no longer restricted to men) 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?” (Italics mine)
Besides the moral objections, there are the pragmatic concerns that reinstating the draft will do more harm than good; that it will worsen rather than assuage the injustices Congressman Rangel hoped it would resolve.
The Pragmatic Argument
Since there is no reason to believe that things will be different in this incarnation of the draft, the privileged and the wealthy will, as has always been the case, escape unscathed by exempting themselves and their children from military service and sacrifice in war.
Wealth and privilege does have its advantages after all. Consequently, reinstating the draft will fail to remedy the problem of classism in the AFV.
Further, it will increase the victim pool of the children of the poor and middle class, the cannon fodder, who will inevitably be the ones conscripted and have no effect upon the cost benefit analysis for those who make war. The privileged and the rich will continue to profit from war’s occurrence at no personal cost to themselves or their families. Consequently, reinstating the draft will augment – not lessen – the likelihood of war.
Finally, while I also find the American public’s apathy disappointing, even frustrating, I do not believe that nonactivism, a lack of concern and interest in speaking out against unjust war, to be a capital offense, punishable by death or hideous maiming and crippling that is inevitable during military service in war.
Reinstating the draft is unnecessary, unproductive and ineffective in resolving the issues that plague the AFV and this country, that is, unless and until legislation is introduced establishing what I have termed elsewhere as a “Fairness Draft,” a mandatory conscription only of young men and women from households earning more than $250,000 in annual income. While I realize that any conscription contradicts my moral and legal argument, I offer the Fairness Draft as a drastic temporary remedial measure that will address the critical concerns expressed in this discussion. First, it will eliminate classism in the AVF and satisfy the principle of distributive justice by ensuring that the burden of military service is shared equally by all segments of the population regardless of economic status. Secondly, and perhaps, most important, should the lives and well-being of the children of the privileged and the wealthy – the progeny of bankers, corporate executives, politicians, etc. – be placed at risk, the antiwar goal of the draft would be achieved as the frequency and number of wars will decrease significantly.
Short-term remedial measures aside, however; if Rangel, Hartmann and others are truly interested in ending unnecessary war and with a just apportionment of privileges, duties and goods, rather than feeding the military machine with the bodies and minds of the poor and middle class by reinstating the draft, wouldn’t it make better sense to address the extreme economic inequality in this country? Wouldn’t it be more prudent to discourage anyone from enlisting into the military to participate in illegal and immoral wars? Wouldn’t it be more effective to ban recruiters from our schools preying upon our children? It is time, long past time, to stop blaming and punishing the victims for the crimes of our political leaders who care only for wealth, profit and power. It is time, long past time, to hold the war makers and their benefactors responsible and accountable for their crimes against humanity.