Lack of support shouldn’t justify forced participation

By Freedom Newspapers

Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel, who is poised to be quite powerful, as congressmen go, since he is slated to chair the Ways and Means Committee in January, has raised once again the idea of a military draft. While we can sympathize with some of the reasons he wants to reintroduce this idea into American life, it is a bad idea that deserves to be shot down immediately.

Speaking in CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Rep. Rangel — a decorated Korean war veteran who opposed the Iraq war from the beginning — said he thought a draft would make policymakers think twice before committing the country to war.

“There’s no question in my mind,” he said, “that this president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq, especially on the flimsy evidence that was presented to the Congress, if indeed we had a draft and members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm’s way.”

With all due respect, historically the moral hazard generally works the other way. Having a large standing army and the potential of replenishing it regularly with conscripts has served as an invitation for policymakers to rush into dubious foreign wars (Vietnam) from which — as in Korea and Europe — U.S. troops are never sent home.

Perhaps opinions and proclivities have changed drastically since those questionable commitments, but it would be unwise to assume so.

Rep. Rangel and other supporters of conscription also raise the banner of “shared sacrifice.” If the U.S. is going to get into a war, the entire society should bear the burden.

In fact, however, the burden would fall on males (and perhaps females, another complicating issue) aged 18-26 — at least those ineligible for the inevitable deferments — and their families. Those with no children or older children would share the burden only by paying taxes. And far from uniting the country behind a shared purpose, a draft would be more likely — as anybody who remembers the Vietnam era surely knows — to divide the country bitterly.

If more troops are needed in Iraq, why not look to the 118,000 stationed in Europe (as of 2003) or the 99,862 in Asia, decades after the wars there have been concluded?

The major reason to oppose conscription, however, is that it is, in stark terms, indistinguishable from slavery. This is true whether people are conscripted to fight wars or to undertake government-approved community “improvement.” Forcing someone to fight a war or change a bedpan when he or she would rather be starting a career is unworthy of a free country.

Most authorities agree that the all-volunteer military is better-trained, more motivated, and more proficient than were the draftee armies of the past. The problem is not the quality of the military, but the quality of decision-making much higher up the chain of authority.

If a government cannot attract enough volunteers to carry out a preferred foreign policy, it would do well to question those policies rather than seeking to carry them out through forced labor.