November 22, 2006

Uncle Sam Doesn't Want You

The loudmouthed but interesting Charlie Rangel has revived his proposal to restore the draft. His concept, I think, is that a draft will make overseas intervention less politically palatable; and perhaps he partakes of what turned out to be a myth, the disproportionate participation of black in the services. Marc Cooper likes the idea, I think not so seriously and for the same reasons.

Aside from being a political non-starter, it's a bad idea.

Although I sympathize with the notion of shared sacrifice and a shared experience for youth that might impose some discipline and some commonality of culture, it’s a bad idea. Conscription is basically a form of slavery, justified only by an extraordinary national emergency that actually requires mass mobilization. Left and liberal libertarianism, of course, is largely limited to sexual matters (a notion worthy of a post of its own); perhaps that’s the reason for the tone-deafeness on the profoundly oppressive nature of conscription.

The old draft was for two years, when a few months’ training readied a soldier for service. Training for technologically complex warfare takes longer. Hence, the draft would be an inefficient way of getting more soliders/sailors/airmen.

Conscripton these days wouldn't universal service, unless we drafted most into street-sweeping and social work. Even if we increased the armed services by 500,000, only a small percentage of each age cohort would be conscripted. Whatever selective mechanism was chosen would be arbitrary.

It’s also a myth that the poor are serving in the military. The military uses both H.S. graduation, and tests that are basically IQ tests to select its troops. The poor are generally uneducated, perform too poorly on tests, and many have criminal records. You don't want semi-literate dropouts running million-dollar electronic equipment.

Where the draft proponents are right is that the rich and Ivy League types aren’t serving, duty and noblesse oblige being moribund concepts. The corruption of our élite universities being virtually limitless (matched only by the purveyors of mass culture), that’s hardly surprising. Try to conscript these folks and they will develop exotic diseases quicker than Dan Rather can say “Air National Guard.”

It's also an interesting thought experiment to draft men between 45 and 60, who are in better shape than they used to be. Old men used to send young men into war; what if we tried the opposite?

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