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.

86 thoughts on “Stop Suggesting Conscription As the Fix for American Militarism”

  1. Thanks for this spot-on post, Ms. Steigerwald. I get so sick of hearing certain "antiwar" people propose military slavery as some sort of peace-producing panacea. Could these misguided peaceniks be totally oblivious to the fact that history's battlefields are littered with dead conscripts? And have they also failed to notice that ruling elites and their offspring always manage to weasel out of obligatory cannon fodder duty?

  2. Former AIPAC lobbyist David Sirota doesn’t care about preventing pointless wars or “empire.” He cares about having thousands more white gentiles (whom he despises) to use as cannon fodder for Israel. Speaking of Israel, what has conscription done to prevent it from engaging in military acts of aggression, such as the recent bombings in Syria? Either Sirota learned nothing from the country he lobbied for, or he’s a duplicitous cretin.

  3. My father was among those press-ganged into fighting in Vietnam and it hurts my family to this day. Thanks for writing this.

    Obviously there will always be outs from service for the rich and there will always be the will to fight to the last poor kid.

  4. Jeepers Lucy, you certainly are dismissive. That's bullsh*t. War is never going away. Seems rather "coy" of you to think so. Bringing back a draft would certainly get 'generation entitled' up off their bottoms and facing the harsh reality of Empire Amerikana.
    How do you consider yourself NOT an Amerikan slave already? You must surely pay taxes and that's slavery. If you use any Amerikan infrastructure then you are enslaved. Do you participate in Amerikan mercantilism? You're a slave. You slavishly support the Amerikan Empire each and every day.
    One can certainly be antiwar and support the notion of bringing back the draft. Which I support HOWEVER, not for any reasons connected to Rangel, McChrystal, Admiral Rickety Ricks, or Sirota. Probably just a generational thing. With my generation being the last in Amerika to have suffered the draft. Conscription changes one's perspective entirely. Yeah, I was drafted and didn't like it a bit.
    Conscription is not a "fix" and will never be. Conscription becomes one damn harsh reality check and a reality check is absolutely necessary for clueless Amerika.
    That's just me and I'd like to think that we can agree to disagree on this point anyway. Without the condescension.

    1. War never going away? Then lets see a "war" to end "war" or didn't they already try that twice to the tune of tens of millions of dead. This nation doesn't deserve to be defended if it requires you to die for it's foregin designs.

  5. Your argument against conscription is flawed, one reason being that it is different from slavery in many ways. Granted there are many models of conscription to choose from (I personally favor South Korea's), and many do have aspects in common with slavery; there exists insufficient conditions with which to draw an analogy. Also. Dick Nixon ended the draft as a way to undermine the anti-war movement. His reasoning being that once the existential threat to those protesting was removed they would stop caring. Furthermore, during the Civil War, conscription resulted in riot's in both the United States and the Confederacy. In the Union, only 2% of active soldiers were conscripts, (Chambers, ed. The Oxford Companion to American Military History, 181.) In WWI not many people were opposed to conscription because it effected mainly southern whites, and due to a massive government suppression campaign against anti-war news outlets (Howard Zinn, People's History of the United States). Conscription was viewed very favorable during WWII and Korea with about 70% of all Americans in support of the draft ("What the U. S. A. Thinks". Life. 1940-07-29. p. 20.), the population was very pro-war at that time. Eventually the Vietnam war was ended because of the draft, and television. During all these wars there was never a universal conscription of the type that we see in Israel and Taiwan only selective service through the usage of draft boards. I personally am against selective drafting, I think that a universal draft would glue together American society, and give everyone a vested interest in the outcomes of foreign policy.

    1. Conscription is better than slavery, slavery is perferable. I'd way rather 'till hot fields of cotton for master, even interspersed with regular beatings, than see a theater of war and learn to kill my fellow man who have done me no harm whatsoever (killing a slave master on the other hand is a different story).

      1. You would rather live a stunted life of bondage and die early, than serve for 24 months?

    2. When a man has no "choice" in the matter and has a gun put to his head how is that NOT slavery? If you're not left alone for wishing not to be press-ganged into "service" to the empire then again I ask you how is that not slavery? Any country that uses conscription is not worthy of being defended in the first place because a country worthy of defense doesn't have to ask for people to defend it… they simply do it.

      1. Conscription is different from slavery for several reasons I'm going to list some things mentioned in a debate I have read recently.

        1. Conscripted soldiers are paid.

        2. Conscripted soldiers are reasonably autonomous (when not on duty — compare against employed persons).

        3.Being placed into life-threatening situations notwithstanding, conscripted soldiers are not mistreated.

        4.Persons who object morally or religiously to military service can (and often do) receive exemptions (read: conscientious objectors).

        5.Conscription is not permanent (assuming one survives deployment), but contract-based.

        6.Conscription is [ostensibly] applied equally to all [male (and female depending on country)] citizens [meeting certain physical requirements].

        7.Conscripted soldiers can vote (including voting to end conscription).

        8.Conscripted soldiers are not treated appreciably differently than volunteer soldiers.

        9.Conscripted soldiers can opt instead to volunteer, and in so doing can enjoy some of the flexibility offered to volunteer soldiers (read: choosing one's MOS).

        Historically conscription was considered a service to the country in exchange for expanded rights. In that sense conscription becomes a duty to the health of the nation, similar to taxes. Also When I propose universal conscription I mean to include women as well. Using the Korean model mixed with Israeli multi-gender rules there are no exceptions. If you dodge conscription in Korea you go to Jail. No matter who you are. All of their celebrities have served as well as every member of the government. There is no getting out of it.

        "because a country worthy of defense doesn't have to ask for people to defend it… they simply do it." This is why Switzerland got steam rolled in WW2, and the same reason they currently have a conscript military.

        1. 1) Slave masters said that the food and lodging and clothing slaves received was "pay."

          2) Be sure and tell Bradley Manning that he's "reasonably autonomous," or anyone who lost a leg recently on a patrol they'd rather not have been on.

          3) Currently soldiers are used for medical and other experimentation, are routinely lied to, placed in harm's way often without knowledge of how or why, raped or sexually assaulted with shocking regularity etc etc. Why is it exactly that this stops with a draft?

          4) We currently have a comprehensive system of conscientious objection; it's called not joining the military.

          5) "Conscription is not permanent" – haven't been to the Vietnam wall in DC, have you..? Or to the psych portion of a VA facility..?

          6) "Conscription is [ostensibly] applied equally to all" Really? Because my father's Vietnam record and George W, Bush's vary some. Why do you imagine that is..?

          7) "Conscripted soldiers can vote (including voting to end conscription)" Just to be clear, you're in favor of reinstating the draft because, in theory, people suffering from it could vote to end it? Is that supposed to pass for logic?

          8) "Conscripted soldiers are not treated appreciably differently than volunteer soldiers." In other news, steak cows are not treated much different than cheeseburger cows.

          9) "Conscripted soldiers can opt instead to volunteer"

          Funny take on the word 'volunteer' you've got there!

          "and in so doing can enjoy some of the flexibility offered to volunteer soldiers"

          You wrote your #9 apparently without reading your own #8. Which is it?

          "(read: choosing one's MOS)"

          Actually a common complaint of volunteers is that recruiters lie to them with regularity about exactly this issue.

          Thanks for making the oppositions' points for us.

    3. Bullcrap. Putting "everyone" in the yoke is not a cure for the war disease. I admit that ending the draft didn't end the wars either — the war state just increased the compensation for volunteers. When American "heroes" are the Bushes, Clintons, Obamas, RIces, Cheneys, McCains and Feinsteins the wars will go on.

    4. Paul, I'm willing to share a continent with you but I sure as hell don't want to be glued to you, and I don't want my sons glued to you, either. That's just icky.

  6. The usual argument: making everyone serve will reduce warmongering, with the complete and total but seldom spoken knowledge, because no one sane can deny it, that not everyone will serve. That the elite, precisely those *most* responsible and who benefit most from wars, will always find a way for their sons and daughters not to be drafted. They don't play by the same rules the ordinary person does, even with much less stakes than life and death. The elite don't pay taxes when they dont' want to (how many obama appointees? how much money in offshore accounts?), they do insider trading when they want to (congress does), they basically don't obey the law when they don't want to. Laws are for little people. How could anyone deny this would be the same?

    If the goal was having people have a stake in the wars, taxes to pay for them alone (rather than debt financing) would be enough, not the blood of the youth. Besides the fact that the people often poll much less interventionist than U.S. policy anyway. Why have things descended so far in the first place in terms of criminality and corruption of our government and what can be done? That would take real analysis, not fantasizing about protest movements that will somehow *MAGICALLY* appear (if only there were a draft), by people who have probably never protested anything in their life (yea I mean David Sirota). If protests will so magically appear why haven't they for things people clearly have a stake in like this aweful economy. Riddle me that Sirota? Because see if anyone had any real thoughts about what to do, that was not just giving even more power to the war machine in order to somehow paradoxically stop it, I'd be all ears. What if giving more power to the war machine just gives more power to the war machine.

    1. Because you don’t end mass-murder by enslaving enough people to maybe, eventually, piss off the masses.more

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  8. Unfortunately the American voter is not going to do anything about stopping unnecessary wars until they affect him personally. Since the powers that be benefit from the wars, the wars will not be stopped without a large popular opposition to these wars they will never end.

    Conscription would make the people pay attention and stop war. I don't see any other way to get the herd riled up enough to force Washington to end the endless war

    1. Why not a massive tax revolt instead, Chris? That goes to the root of the problem.

  9. Personally I think it's just as well that military service is voluntary in the US and other Western societies(including the UK)-the days of mass mobilization a la WWII are as outdated as the bustle or clipper ship!

  10. It's similar to the idea that President Romney's warmongering would be opposed by the left who keep quiet about Obama's. It's a strategy that sometimes works.

    1. Maybe, but I wouldn't want to watch my 19-year-old son dragooned to the Middle Eastern killing fields.

    2. Well the actual "Left" – what's left of it – has been riding Obama since before he was elected. Please tell me you don't think loyal Democrats are "the Left," or that neo-con Bible-thumping warmongers are "conservative."

  11. Who gives a damn if it stops war. It will be worth it just to get the bastards who've always skipped out. And Sirota has it nailed: ending the draft ended any link people had, not only with the military, but with the whole decision making process leading up to war. No one gives a shit because they don't have to, and no amount of "participation", "opposition", etc., and other nice sounding democracy buzz-words will get the supporters of war to stop making war; only when their sons and daughters are on the line wil this happen.

    1. Right because there was ever a time the powerful let their children be drafted to die in stupid wars unwillingly. How ridiculous.

    2. The "bastards who have always skipped out" unfairly maligns those who have refused to participate in wars on matters of principle or morality. Surely while these have always been in the minority, their purposes and motives deserve better than rote dismissiveness. Well over half the gov't officials over the past 40 years who served in office w/o any other "service" to their country were no such beasts. These are the sort of people who would rather see "someone else do it":- not the resisters who paid the price for their "skipping out" with "blame" for "losing the war"- these would rather that nobody at all "had to" do it. It also remains to be seen if military "service" serves any true purpose for society at all other than training up a bunch of killers with no place to go except into PTSD-driven psychoses. Threatening the population with their progeny taking on the "inevitable" burdens of war is nothing else if not a tyranny.

  12. Bullcrap. Putting "everyone" in the yoke is not a cure for the war disease. I admit that ending the draft didn't end the wars either — the war state just increased the compensation for volunteers. When American "heroes" are the Bushes, Clintons, Obamas, RIces, Cheneys, McCains and Feinsteins the wars will go on.

    1. 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, instagram followers

  13. That the draft is not popular with the government and military just proves that it is exactly what is needed.

    Why is it not popular with those who start wars? One major reason is that a draft will put the deliberations over a decision to go to war under the immediate scrutiny of a vastly wider portion of the population than is involved now. These people will, with the aid of today's new media, pick up on any scrap of evidence contrary to the official story of why war is needed, thereby raising the bar that must be hurdled in order to send troops in harms way to the highest possible level.

    Why doesn't the military brass want draftees? Generals and civilian military "experts" will tell you it is because the training requirements for today's force are so much more time-consuming, demanding and expensive than in the pre-computerized era, so that it is inefficient and wasteful to train people who will be gone in two years. But this is only true in so far as it applies to the more tech-dependent jobs. There are still plenty of slots to be filled doing old fashioned things like carry a rifle, load a cannon, guard the base, drive a truck, food prep, M.P., etc., jobs that a draftee would have no problem learning in 90 days. It is alleged that draftees are less obedient, more prone to asking bothersome questions, more likely to have nosy and vigilant family members looking over officers' shoulders. Now we are approaching closer to the nub of it, but these objections aren't enough either to disqualify draftees from service or seriously reduce combat effectiveness. The military's real objection to conscription is that having soldiers who still have close connections to civilians and civilian life makes it harder to hide mistakes; and it is harder to fool or bully such men into illegal and immoral acts. It also may be a little harder to separate these troops from their civilian ties and to replace their more civilian mindset with a warlike one should a rapid deployment be needed, but that is not necessarily a bad thing, and in any case there will remain enough of the professional career soldier cadre to fill any temporary gaps.

    Conscription won't work, as others have noted, unless it is inescapable. If I learned one thing that is germane to this discussion from my voluntary service with the United States Marine Corps in the years 1967, 1968, and 1969, which included a combat tour in Viet Nam, in the course of which I became intimately familiar with the iniquity of that era's conscription laws, it is this: It must be that no one, but no one, gets out of it. Drag them out of the classrooms, off the streets, off the golf course, out of their parent's homes – yea, out of their soft beds in the dead of night, while dreaming dreams of their bright futures. Revoke the citizenship and seize the assets of the parents of any who flee to other countries. In effect, you – we – for I have sons who will eventually arrive at draft-able age, must be willing to bet the lives of our children against the lives of the children of the warmongers – to say to them: "Take my children if you dare; just remember we are coming for yours, too."

    The question arises that if Americans won't even take meaningful political action to stop more immediate domestic problems such as out of control spending and open borders, where will the will come from to impose something like this? I have no answer to that, but I am certain no other course of action will bear the fruit we pine for. If you are not willing to instill this level of fear in the warmongers, you are not serious about stopping unnecessary wars.

    1. You make some good points about the elites' reasons for not having a draft. I won't dispute them.

      But the elite would never let a draft that inescapable happen. Second of all, how many people are going to die before the masses get mad enough to stop wars? Your plan — assuming the rich and powerful or their kids are also drafted, somehow — might work. But how many people are we sacrificing? You seem to have a dream of tyranny as the way to stop wars. How could you possibly have that and not turn into a worse police state? Or how can you say any of us not willing to kill off a few thousand kids for this goal is "not serious"? What's the point of stopping war if you're going to have pure totalitarianism. How well has short-term totalitarianism for a loftier long-term goal worked out in other nations?

      I am glad, by the way, that we seem to lack a "will" to stop open borders.

  14. Lucy, we obviously need a draft to end the war. Didn't you see how quickly it ended the Vietnam war? Barely 20 years!

    1. And drafts stopped all those other wars in history, too! All bajillion gazillion of them!






  16. 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?Putney loft conversion

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  18. 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 Addison, TX

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