More Rangeling With the Draft

by Don Boudreaux on November 29, 2006

in Current Affairs

My friend Garin Hovannisian, a student at UCLA, has a wonderful op-ed in today’s Christian Science Monitor.  In it, Garin exposes many of the faults — indeed, the deep immorality — of Charles Rangel’s call to reinstate conscription.  Here’s a clip, with emphasis added:

"[Had] members of Congress and the administration
thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in
harm’s way," they would have rejected the war, Rangel says. But in the
same breath, ostensibly to make the idea more palatable, he admits that
draftees could opt out of the bloody streets and register at "our
seaports, our airports, in schools, [and] in hospitals" instead.

So, had Bush’s daughters been forced to read Dr. Seuss
to kindergartners, maybe their father wouldn’t have been so quick to
the trigger. That logic seems suddenly less glamorous – indeed, almost
tragic – considering that both women are already meeting the draft’s
standards; Jenna Bush is an intern at UNICEF and Barbara Bush
volunteers with African AIDS patients.

But even if the draft forced old Washington’s young
aristocrats to share symbolically in a national burden, it would
relieve their warmongering parents of an even heavier burden: the job
to prove and advocate a case for war. If wars are manufactured by rich
white men, then an all-volunteer force at least gives poor black men
the choice not to buy in.

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ilsm November 29, 2006 at 8:45 am

A non sequitor and rather racist in my view.

It is more than an all volunteer force.

It is a total force, the national guard and reserve, also volunteers, have become a big part of these "adventures".

But let's cast the race card some!

spencer November 29, 2006 at 11:48 am

Milton Freedom did a great service when he showed that a voluntary military was a good peace time alternative. But even Freedom agreed that a draft was necessary in war time.

Gooner November 29, 2006 at 2:25 pm

The problem is what exactly is "war time"? Give politicians the power to enslave us during "war time" and they'll be saying we're always at war.

tarran November 29, 2006 at 3:15 pm

The solution to the problem of people being sent to fight and die in unnecesary wars is simple;

Allow servicemen to exercise a basic human right and quit their jobs.

People will fight when their homes are genuinely threatened, but will not think overthrowing one dictator to enthrone another is not worth the danger.

Conscription is always, and in everycase a bad idea. If people are unwilling to risk their lives in a cause, who are we to force them to do it? The only life I have a moral right to risk is my own.

Michael Sullivan November 29, 2006 at 4:58 pm

I disagree with Friedman's position in _Capitalism and Freedom_ that war is an excuse for conscription. For starters, I'm pretty sure he meant war that threatens our own country, i.e. invaders at our shores, something we haven't seen since 1815 (I suppoose you could argue 1899, but we were fighting over territory that was considered "theirs" before 1840 or so).

But in any case, his argument stands no matter the threat or cause. If a cause can possibly justify conscription (slavery), surely it justifies levying whatever tax is necessary to build the necessary army? If we can't possibly raise enough money, doesn't that pretty much represent the entire populace vetoing the war?

If the cause is just and very popular, then lots of able-bodied people should be for the war enough to sign up for generic peacetime military pay in order to fight it. If that isn't the case (as it would almost certainly be if we were being invaded, and was during WWI and WWII), shouldn't that already call the war into serious question?

And if there is not either a willingness among the populace to pay the tax necessary to support the war effort given the rate necessary to staff an appropriate volunteer army, then it is *clear* that the populace does not support the war, and it should not be fought. The market has spoken.

I believe that the military should abandon the remnants of conscription that still exist. Enlistment contracts should be shorter, enlistees and officers should retain all normal civil liberties when not deployed in a battle theatre, and there should be no such thing as stop-loss. The armed forces have had *severe* recruitment problems since we starting having problems in Iraq, and they've kept up ranks by stop-lossing people who would have quit.

I have an acquaintance who got stop-lossed and was forced to do two full extra tours in iraq after his enlistment would have ended, while he was bitterly opposed to the war and would absolutely have left if it didn't mean desertion.

How is that not still in some sense conscription? I suppose the enlistment contract had some kind of fine-print about the service's ability to do this, but it looks like at *best* a morallly dubious bait-and-switch.

In any event, the case against conscription is clear. If we aren't willing to pay the market rate for soldiering we shouldn't be off fighting a war. Period. Even if we're being invaded, if the market rate isn't raisable, what that *means* is that we've judged the invaders to be liberators, or at least not enough worse than our current oppressors to be worth fighting.

IMO, if we had *less* conscription, we would have been out of Iraq already.

McKenzie Bryan November 29, 2006 at 9:33 pm

Although you raise several good points, tarran, I think this isn't entirely a market problem. Using mercenaries for our wars would make this a market problem. By judging the community's willingness to volunteer for war as a means of determining the country's feeling about said war is a bad idea. A non-response to a question does not mean no. I am sure that personal responsibility plays a role; In wartime, I would believe that thousands of other Americans would enlist, thus it wouldn't be as important if I did. Perhaps the military should enlist every able citizen of the American population, but allow anyone to opt out freely. This strategy has worked in other fields.

Michael Sullivan November 29, 2006 at 9:55 pm

It's true that a non-response to a question does not always mean "no", but a bias against starting wars doesn't seem like a bad bias.

If a war is really a good idea, then the extra oomph it takes to make people actually get off their ass and do something they consider positive rather than just muse about it maybe being a good idea ought to happen in there somewhere. If failing to fight a war represented a clear and present immediate threat to my way of life, I don't think it would take me long to decide to arm and fight.

It's hard to imagine that position because most of us in the US have *never* faced that kind of threat. In spite of the fact that we've been at war with somebody somewhere for about 1/2 of the last 56 years — The closest we've gotten in 100 years to an existential threat are the two world wars and the cold war.

But the cold war with it's potential for nuclear annhilation wasn't the same kind of threat — it's not something that can be held off by traditional military means. The Soviets were never going to invade us, except perhaps as the denouement to a nuclear battle where we'd already lost most of what we care about before they showed up.

Xmas November 30, 2006 at 1:22 pm

I don't think the commentary was racist. It was dead-on. If a draft was reinstated, those most likely to go would be the poor and uneducated that were unable to finagle their way out of military service.

At least, with an all-volunteer military, the poor and uneducated have a choice not to go to war. Well, actually, the UNeducated cannot go to war at all. The military has minimum standards, a high-school diploma or GED, plus some standard skills testing is required when you try to enlist.

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