Obama says some Americans are paranoid, fretting about an imagined tyranny lurking behind the corner. Progressives cheer as he mocks his lowly subjects. Yet some among them embrace one of the most despotic state powers imaginable: the draft.
The draft is military slavery. It cannot be justified on any basis. Ever. It is wrong in and of itself, just like aggressive war. It is true that the Vietnam war did end partly because of the draft—but only after the draft had allowed for a much larger war in the first place, entailing the death of millions of Southeast Asians and tens of thousands of Americans.
Progressives always seek to cure evils caused by the state by running to the state and asking it to resemble fascism even more than it already does. If you hate war, hate the state. If you can’t bring yourself to turn against modern corporate liberal imperialism, then just back off. If you vote for people like Lyndon Johnson and Barack Obama, who promise more war and deliver more war, a program 100% consistent with their agenda at home, then you have no business forcing millions of Americans to die and commit murder on behalf of your beloved government in some twisted, too-clever-by-half scheme to stem the predicable evils that are not peripheral but intrinsic to the type of government you favor. You want a government that manages the economy, takes care of us all, stands up to every real and perceived evil of social power? Then you get mass murder. You don’t get to relieve your guilt by forcing young Americans, under threat of imprisonment, into the horrors of war that inexorably follow from your own agenda. Slash and smash the state. It is the problem. Giving it the power of military enslavement is not just self-defeating; it makes you a party to atrocity on a mass scale.
Now, short of abolishing the state or military, we could conceive of a reform that at least moves things toward freedom. Despite the pro-draft propaganda, we don’t have an “all-volunteer” military. People in any other sector have a right to quit their jobs at will. They might be in violation of contract to do so, but they are not thrown in cages for quitting.
The military is the only institution, or at least the major one, that still utilizes indentured servitude. This is inconsistent with freedom and human rights. Soldiers should be free to quit. If they were, these wars would be much harder to sustain. During the Iraq war, many soldiers are marines were forced to return to combat two, three, or six times under Stop Loss Orders. They should have been free simply to say, “No.”
If you want to stop wars by tweaking with military personnel policies, establishing a truly volunteer military, where people can quit at will, would be the single best reform. It would also reduce the many problems of military recruitment, which uses dishonest and shady methods to ensnare young Americans into the Armed Forces. There would still be a lot of awfulness, including the military’s tendency to draw on the poor who have few other options, but there is simply no way to make the intrinsically hierarchical and regressive military into an egalitarian institution. A draft too will always hit the poor much harder than the politically connected.
Calling for military conscription to stop wars is wrongheaded in many ways. More important, the draft is a form of slavery, and simply evil from top to bottom. If you want to reform the system and strike a blow against perpetual war, fight for the right of soldiers to quit their jobs at will. It is consistent with human rights and peace, and shrinks the power of the military state rather than doing the opposite. If your true interest is in ratcheting back imperialism and discouraging particularly disastrous wars, rather than in glorifying the state, work for greater recognition of the dignity and liberty of those who find themselves stuck in the Armed Forces, not less.
This article first appeared at the Center for a Stateless Society.