“To many politicians,” once explained Rep. Ron Paul, the Republican Texan libertarian congressional loner, "the American government is America," thus explaining why every war or national "emergency" creates a national fervor for a draft. "Conscription is wrongly associated with patriotism," said Paul after Rep. Charles Rangel tried recently to reintroduce a draft, "when really it represents collectivism and involuntary servitude." For whatever reasons, including opposition to the Iraq death trap, most Americans have for now turned against a draft and its illegitimate child, compulsory national service for all eighteen year olds (girls and gays too?) which Gold correctly described in a 2004 article in Washington Law & Politics as a "kind of allegedly desirable work done via the creation of a monstrous new teenager-herding bureaucracy."
When Jimmy Carter, intimidated by neoconservatives for being soft on Communism, foolishly reintroduced draft registration to "send a signal" to the Russians after their invasion of Afghanistan it had no effect on Moscow. Within ten years the Soviet Union would collapse of its own incompetence and corruption, none of which had anything to do with draft registration (which because of bureaucratic lethargy and governmental stupidity, still continues wasting taxpayer money). To those in out of Washington still promoting a draft in the hope of deterring other "axis of evil" nations, the suggestion, Gold believes, is highly debatable.
No draft is fair. Nor will many want to serve in Iraq, Iran, North Korea or anywhere else without knowing why. Philip Gold is no dove. A onetime Marine officer (and "disaffected conservative") who earned a Ph.D. in history from Georgetown and writes about national security issues, he recognizes the serious problems created whenever America has resorted to conscription. In The Coming Draft: The Crisis in Our Military & Why Selective Service is Wrong for America" (Ballantine, 2006), Gold makes a persuasive case against reviving conscription.
Four million Americans turn eighteen every year. Should the current lottery system ever be utilized, how could a draft of say, 50,000 annually, be justified when all the rest are free to go about their civilian lives? No congressional son was drafted during Vietnam and virtually none of their kids -- as well as in the executive branch--are in the active military today. The same favoritism and deference to influence and wealth will certainly prevail in any future draft. Anyone with political contacts and family connections will always be able to avoid active military duty, or if not, receive plum jobs. What a draft does is simply encourage Washington's homebound hawks.
For too many conservatives another draft means recapturing the mythical ethos of WWII and the pre-sixties. In that imaginary Eden, there was no racial or religious discrimination, women knew their place, support for tyrants abroad was justified in the name of fighting Communism and young men called to the colors went willingly and patriotically (I went when drafted, but neither willingly nor patriotically, nor did any draftee with whom I served). People, Gold acutely comments, need a "good enough reason" to go to serve in the military.
In his 2004 article, he argued against a draft "save in extremis," though that phrase is too vague. The way to avoid conscription is to avoid unnecessary wars and think twice about sending our men and women into battle in the name of "freedom and democracy" or another "war to end all wars." Interventionists falsely call this "isolationism" -- it's really non-intervention because most recognize the need for worldwide trade and contacts -- but is it not as well a willingness to adopt a sane foreign policy that encourages peaceful, live and let live relations, while courting and finding common ground culturally, economically and diplomatically with potential rivals? It may not always work but it can't be worse than America's historic addiction to war and intervention. Another draft is a mindless idea in a very troubled time which will only lead to ever more wars.
Murray Polner co-authored Disarmed and Dangerous: The Radical Life and Times of Daniel and Philip Berrigan and wrote No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran.
Other Articles by Murray Polner