Thoughts on the Draft

The Moose is joining Phil Carter and Paul Glastris in calling for mandatory public service for all young Americans on national security grounds. I'm a bit conflicted on this -- I see the appeal of the plan, and I'm certainly not adverse to the idea of national service, in some ways, I think it'd be good for me and my peers. But seeing it proposed by folks who will never have to undergo it strikes a false note with me. Were we in some sort of perpetual national crisis that mandated an everlasting draft, as, say, Israel is, that'd be one thing. But this is being proposed simply as a way to make the American army bigger, more powerful, and more able to pursue expansionist policies (no matter what Andrew Sullivan says, Islamo-fascists aren't going to land on our shores and attempt to take South Beach). Considering my generation's weak support for our foreign policy expeditions, I think it's a pretty hard sell to force us into service in order to fuel more of them. Moreover, the modern operations our military carries out require a much more specialized force than will be found in a mass of two-year conscripts. Our real deficiencies are in the numbers of troops trained in languages, in peace-keeping, in nation-building, in communications technology. And sure, the influx of young grunts would allow for voluntary sign-ups to receive great training in those areas, but it seems like a massively inefficient way to achieve the goals.

More important than concerns over efficiency are concerns over fairness. First, there's no small portion of young Americans who would escape to and remain in foreign countries, particularly Europe, when faced with the option of conscription under a warlike Republican president. Were I coming of age in a draft system with Bush in power, I'd hightail it out of the country -- I can't imagine that serving this man's whims would be safe, moral, or smart. And while I realize that the civil options exist, I assume that universal conscription of this sort would have an override built-in, making it trivial to end the civil option in times of warfare or perceived threat.

Beyond that, the series of incentives in place to convince youth to enter the military, rather than the civil service areas, will not only continue the class stratification of America, but, I fear, actually make it worse. Considering the national security rationale of the proposal, the civil options are only being included so the whole plan isn't scuttled by middle-to-upper class kids and parents unwilling to enter harms way. But that secondary bit won't fool anybody, it'll simply be the option of choice for those who can justify passing up the increased economic benefits. The result, at least potentially, is that middle and upper-middle class kids will have one set of shared experiences, while those from lower socioeconomic rungs will share a wholly different memory. To some extent, that happens now. Increasing its prevalence strikes me as pretty problematic.

Lastly, I wouldn't want to be the politician who touches this. Whichever end of the spectrum decides to tell this generation that their post-high school freedom is effectively over will lose young voters for the foreseeable future. Worse, I can't shake the ugly images of future conservatives barnstorming the country and easily fitting the terrible, no-good, very bad draft into their critique of the nanny state. I'd much prefer if the right did not use this to achieve a lock on the young.

As I said at the beginning, I'm sure of nothing when it comes to proposals like this. Indeed, I'd probably be inclined to support one that focused solely on national service. But a plan whose sole purpose is to increase our ability for military projection by sucking all kids into a draft that'll only force the economically disadvantaged to fight strikes me as a troublesome plan. Perilous in the way it'll shape future class resentment and stratification, dangerous in the effect it might have on Democratic voting blocs, and scary in the implications a huge and ready force has for the foreign policy of trigger-happy leaders. Frankly, I'm glad that our military's size has constrained Bush. With a few more hundred thousand ready to deploy, I fear we'd be in Iran by now.

In any case, I'm very open to argument on this. So read the article -- it's a great piece -- and report back with your thoughts. I'm anxious to hear them.