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Fairness through Compulsion?

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Perhaps the most-prevalent myth motivating many of the recent calls for a return to the draft is the notion that the current volunteer military doesn’t spread the burden of warfare equally or fairly. Conscription, it is supposed, is more fair.

The idea is that the sons and daughters of the American elite will be forced to sacrifice and risk death along with the sons and daughters of middle- and working-class America.

I do not doubt that the men and women who voluntarily enlist in the military are drawn largely from middle- and (perhaps especially) working-class families. Nevertheless, the notion of conscription-created fairness is untenable.

Most obviously, it’s impossible (for me, at any rate) to see how forcing people against their will to serve in the military (or in the Peace Corp, or as pastry chefs, or as whatever) advances fairness. If persons A, B, and C voluntarily agree to perform task X, while persons D, E, and F voluntarily agree to perform task Y, where is the unfairness? Or, looked at another way: What is fair about compelling D, E, and F – or even A, B, and C – to perform task X? And what difference does it make if task X is more dangerous than task Y? Is it unfair that some of us voluntarily work (dangerous) night-shifts at convenience stores while others of us voluntarily work in the very safe groves of academe?

Would fairness be greater if the government forced me, my George Mason University colleagues, my wife, and other academic types to work several nights each year at the local Seven-Eleven? As cab drivers? As high-rise construction workers? As farmers [2]?

What is so @%#$*$(^% fair about relieving those citizens who are not subject to being drafted, and who have no draft-age children or grandchildren, of the need to pay wages sufficient to entice people voluntarily to enlist in the military?

Far from spreading the burden of waging war, conscription would concentrate it brutally on the young people who are coerced into “serving.”