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How About the State Conscripting Only Those Who Call for Conscription?

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

Lawrence Korb feels that a military draft would “have forced the American people to ask questions about the necessity for, or potential costs of, the wars, and likely would have prevented the killings of which Sergeant Bales is accused” – or, as the title of his essay reads: “A Draft Would Force Us to Face Reality” (March 21).

Not so fast.  Overlook the depravity of forcing young people to die in battle as a means of pressuring their elders to avoid dubious wars.  The draft – by staffing the military with conscripts paid less than the wages they’d earn in a volunteer force – in fact relieves most taxpayers of much of the costs of war by foisting a disproportionate share of those costs onto underpaid draftees.  With much of the costs of war thus hidden from politicians and taxpayers, the likely result is more frequent war and greater casualties.

For evidence look no further than America’s war in Vietnam.  Conscription then didn’t prevent Uncle Sam from spending many years fighting for a ’cause’ that few back home understood.  Nor did it prevent massacres such as that at Mai Lai.  And that fighting was far more lethal to U.S. soldiers than is today’s ‘war on terror.’  In Vietnam, an average of 26 Americans died daily; in today’s war in the Middle East, that number is 1.7 – meaning that soldiering for the Pentagon during draft-era Vietnam was 15 times more likely to be fatal than is soldiering for the Pentagon today.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030


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