Stop Suggesting Conscription As the Fix for American Militarism

Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY), Gen. Stanley A. McChrystalThomas E. Ricks, meet David Sirota. Sirota, meet the other three people in the United States who regret the 40 years of conscription-free living Americans have enjoyed.

Over at Salon, Sirota, a liberal author and blogger (who took some flak last month for his less-terrible “Let’s Hope the Boston Bomber is a White American”) has asked, as is fashionable every 6-12 months, “Was ending the draft a mistake?” The subhede elaborates: “Without conscription war has become an abstraction, enabling a new “era of persistent conflict”. Drones didn’t do that, warmongering politicians didn’t do that, weak Congresses that gave the power to make war to the executive branch didn’t do that. Nope. It was ending the draft.

This column contains the same sentiments about the draft advocated by Gen. McChrystal, Ricks, and (incessantly) Congressman Rangel. Namely, if everyone, black white rich poor (now) men women, suffered the effects of war together, people would stop fighting them so damned often. (Sirota even uses Dwight Elliott Stone, the last man forced into Vietnam, to cement his case that the draft should menace everyone. Poor Stone apparently grew to embrace this idea years after trying desperately to evade conscription.)

The idea that the draft would stop perpetual war  is tempting to consider for a minute. After all, wasn’t it that sword of Damocles hanging over every middle class kid that finally made Americans say enough was enough during Vietnam? Isn’t it worth a try?

No. Because you don’t end mass-murder by enslaving enough people to maybe, eventually, piss off the masses.

War drones, for all their horrors, are at least not hundreds of thousands of enslaved men forced to fight. Piloting drones requires training. Most aspects of warfare now require much more training than in Vietnam days. This is one reason the draft is no longer popular among government. Nor is it popular among respondents to Gallup polls.

Sirota’s short piece is not as obviously offensive as Rangel’s alarming February comments about going into the military  screaming and coming out saluting the flag. But it’s nasty and sneaky and scary all the same. He’s too timid to say “Let’s Draft Our Kids” as Ricks did in The New York Times last year. Some want a draft — or “national service” — because they believe that 18-year-olds belong to the country, not themselves. Those national greatness morons — or just people who think terrorists are that powerful —  are more similar to Sirota than he might think, and they’re more honest. Sirota ends his piece with:

Well-meaning people can certainly disagree about whether a modern-day draft is a good idea or not (and it may not be). But 40 years into the all-volunteer experiment, it is clear that ending conscription was as much about giving citizens the liberty to abstain from as about quashing popular opposition to martial decisions. By design, it weakened our democratic connection to the armed forces, a connection that is the only proven safeguard against unbridled militarism.

Experiment. The implication that not enslaving men aged 19-26 is a fluke, tried, and now to be discarded. Never mind Richard Nixon, or the military, or anyone else’s motives in lifting the threat of military service off of the general population in order to make war “an abstraction.” Consider the definition of the draft — the mandate that you serve the government in the most servile fashion. You are more directly the hand of the state than in any other job.

And you may die. In Vietnam, 30 percent of the men killed were drafted (around 17,000 people). Countless men also signed up knowing they were going to be forced into the armed forces, in order to pick the least loathsome choice of branch. To say nothing of 2 million Vietnamese killed during the war, look how many American men were sacrificed  and how many — men and women, if Rangel had his way — would it take next time in order to stop the next war?

Ostensibly Sirota’s motivations for wanting a draft are good; the end of the worst thing in the world. But they’re twisted. Instead of starving the beast of militarism he wants to shove a few thousand people down its throat until it (hopefully) chokes.

Would it work? It’s possible. But it didn’t work during the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, or Vietnam. Or, it didn’t work in time for scores upon scores of thousand of men. What about them? Isn’t preventing their enslavement and slaughter also a part of opposing war?

If people suggesting a return to conscription are serious about ending war and all its miseries, they will stop spinning their wheels on bullshit columns like Sirota’s; stop coyly suggesting unpopular plans that make them sound grave and determined; and they will start opposing war, period.