The difference between a drafted soldier and a slave doesn’t amount to a frosty mug o’ spit. Congress, apparently longing for the good old days of Viet Nam, Korea, and WWII, is proposing to enslave not just healthy young men, but pretty much all of us.
Most of the crooks and liars who form the political class today aren’t old enough to remember them, but there must be some institutional nostalgia for the days when America fielded vast armies of conscripts in a global struggle against tyranny. Congress must feel like fighting terrorism with a mere handful of volunteers is for military pikers. Iraq isn’t the kind of war that molds politicians into “great men.” And naturally, all politicians view themselves as great men.
What you need for real war, for firebombing cities, human wave attacks, and concentration camps—is to enslave pretty much everyone. You just can’t find enough volunteers for that kind of work.
Enter HR 5741. This law will require all Americans between 18 and 42 to provide the state with 2 years of their lives “in the furtherance of national defense or homeland security.”
I’ve always been leery of the notion of “Homeland Security.” It implies that there is an “Outland” that we also must secure. It has that semi-creepy, quasi-fascist sound I associate with dueling scars, saddle caps and jodhpurs, eager attack dogs, and nasty little Luger pistols. But “homeland security” is now one of the purposes of a law that will require all of us to dedicate two years of our lives to patrolling barbed wire compounds.
I can work up no enthusiasm for the good old days of military conscription, or for civilian conscription of any kind. Neither can the rest of the American public as far as I can see.
Although a majority of Americans supposedly still buys the much altered and ever evolving propaganda that we are fighting a monolithic terrorist threat in Iraq, that majority would vanish faster than a politician’s promise in the face of a military draft.
Americans have never been interested in foreign conquest. We’ve always been much more reluctant conquerors than our leaders. Since Woodrow Wilson’s war to make the world safe for democracy, the U.S. has never fielded an army in which the volunteers outnumbered the conscripted. In WWI over three quarters of those who served were draftees. In WWII, even after the Pearl Harbor attack, over 60% of those who joined the military did so at gunpoint. We fought foreign wars in Korea and Viet Nam with mostly drafted soldiers. At the height of the Viet Nam war draftees were suffering 65% of the casualties.
The difference between a drafted soldier and a slave relates only to the length of service, not the nature of the service. What could be more ironic than an army of slaves sallying forth to fight for someone else’s freedom.
It’s true that America’s founders believed adamantly in the “citizen soldier,” but only because citizen soldiers were our best defense against invasion and domestic tyranny.
The Founders to a man loathed the idea of a standing army. As they saw it, a well regulated militia, eager to serve in defense of their land and their freedom, would be the only army America would ever need. The Founders and early Americans both would have recognized conscription for the tyranny it is.
It is only the imperial armies of the twentieth century that have had to force Americans to fight at gunpoint. The first draft, during the Civil War, and ironically on the heels of the Emancipation Proclamation, was met with near universal contempt by those subject to it. The worst riots in the nation’s history followed the first draft in New York City in 1863.
Federal troops fresh from the fight at Gettysburg marched into the city to restore order after five days of lynching, looting, and arson. People in those days understood what freedom was. Despite appalling casualty rates, the Civil War was fought almost entirely by volunteers. Fewer than 6% of U.S. soldiers were drafted.
Before America began “making the world safe for democracy” and “spreading freedom throughout the world,” we had no foreign enemies.
Today, after 100 years of ever increasing meddling in the affairs of foreigners, America is hard pressed to find a foreign friend. Wars of conquest do not earn friends or spread freedom. Dropping bombs and bossing people around makes people hate us, manufactures terrorists, and forces us to trade freedom at home for imaginary safety.
America’s best defense lies not in drafting a huge conquering army, but in removing our soldiers from the 100 or more countries throughout the world where we are pestering the locals and earning enemies.
Safety and prosperity lie not in foreign invasion and constant domestic surveillance, but in the principles of peaceful commerce, strict neutrality, and the safety of an armed and informed citizenry. Americans have no enemies capable of invading our shores; we should reject the idea that we need to conscript an army of slaves to defend them.