As many of you know, I’m solidly anti-war. I believe that nearly every U.S. war has been unjust, that most military spending is either counter-productive or a wasteful form of corporate welfare, and that our long-term goal should be to abolish military force as a mode of human engagement.
I also support reinstatement of the draft.
Under the all-volunteer military system, there are two groups that make up the bulk of the services: the poor and those who really want to be in the military. The first group, a very substantial portion of the enlisted men and women, is comprised of the economically disenfranchised who join out of economic necessity – Go Army or Go Live on the Street. The other group is composed of those who willingly enlist, either the privileged who pursue a military officer career, the adventure-seeker who finds the idea of fighting in war exciting, or the “true patriot” who sees his or her highest moral calling in military service.
It should be uncontroversial that the first should not have to fight and die in the country’s wars so that we, the relatively privileged, can avoid that service. The AVM system, for these people, is a form of poverty draft, an employer of last resort for the desperate. Whether you see the U.S. military as a corporate enforcer or as the defender of democracy, it is fundamentally unfair to expect the poor to die in pursuit of America’s goals while the rest are free to stay at home.
Those who enlist not out of need but out of desire for the excitement of battle are precisely the people it is most dangerous to have there – even those who enlist out of a sincere belief that it is the best way to serve their country lead me to worry. As I said above – though obviously can’t argue in the space I have here – the military is a deeply harmful institution, largely making us less safe by constituting the muscle behind oppression around the world. We would be safer without tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, without troops on foreign soil and without the invasions that generate hatred. Any patriotism that places military service front and center, however sincere, is misguided, and therefore not the kind of skeptical stance that we should hope for in a soldier.
People like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld essentially agree with me on this, making it clear that they prefer a “professional” military that is more compliant than a drafted one. But better-educated, more privileged, drafted soldiers are less vulnerable and hence less obedient soldiers, less willing to fight and die just because a politician told them to. Of course the hierarchy can always coerce, can punish any who disobey. But the threat – like everything else in a capitalist system – is deeply influenced by class, and the poor have far more to lose in a dishonorable discharge than the rich. Virtually all of us would fight to defend our homes. Our goal should be to make it as hard as possible for anyone to be pushed into fighting for other reasons.
A draft gives American families a concrete incentive to pay attention to military policy. To be sure, drafts are never completely fair or democratic. The rich, like Bush, find ways out of active service, and did so throughout Vietnam. But for all that, a far wider, and richer, cross section of America would be in the military under a draft than under an AVM. Those of us who lived through the Vietnam years remember families across America nervously waiting to see what lottery number their son, brother, boyfriend or buddy would draw. Parents scattered across America lost sons; every child knew they could die. In Iraq, the war is cleanly out of sight of those respectable eyes that influence policy, easy to ignore because the dead are largely from somewhere else.
In Vietnam, the draft facilitated massive resistance, most importantly among the soldiers in Vietnam who often refused orders, mutinied and subverted the imperial effort in all manner of ways. On the home front, the draft itself became a drain on military resources. Young men in increasing numbers refused to serve, or engaged in various tactics to subvert the bureaucracy that would send them to fight in a criminal enterprise. And they were right to do so. We should always demand the right to conscientious objection – either to war in general or to particularly unjust wars – and if that right is denied, we should refuse to fight in an illegal war like Vietnam or Iraq. Civilian movements should support this resistance. But we will have far more capacity to do all this if the make-up of the military reflects that of society at large.
any good people worked and organized to end the draft, believing that it was a step on the way to a demilitarization of American society. Sadly, it wasn’t. The United States is more deeply militarized now then ever before. Some of us have benefited from this organizing. I fell into that narrow birth group who were never even required to register, and no Georgetown student has a serious worry about being forced into service. I know it is hard to contemplate giving up this freedom from worry, frightening to think of the choices one might face.
But the solution is to work against war and militarism, not to outsource the danger to the most vulnerable members of society.
ark Lance is a professor in the philosophy department and a professor and program director in the Program on Justice and Peace. He can be reached at lancethehoya.com. COGNITIVE DISSIDENT appears every other Friday.