Blogs > Liberty and Power > Feeling a Draft

Jul 7, 2004 9:49 am

Feeling a Draft

No argument for conscription, no matter how weak, should go unchallenged. Even temporary enslavement is barbaric.

E.J. Dionne, in Monday's Washington Post, criticizes the Bush administration for extending the enlistment period of U.S. soldiers; Dionne says that this practice is conscription.

I don't know the details of the contracts between Uncle Sam and his soldiers. If the contracts reasonably are read to allow the Pentagon to extend enlistment periods, then no conscription is taking place. This question is one of fact: what are the terms of the contracts?

Let's assume, for argument's sake, that the contracts do not permit Uncle Sam to extend enlistment periods -- that he's extending enlistment periods unilaterally. If this is so, then this practice is indeed a species of conscription and Dionne is right to condemn it as unfair and unjust.

But Dionne goes astray by suggesting that fairness would be achieved with full-fledged conscription. If it’s unfair to conscript one subset of people, it's equally unfair to conscript any other subset.

Amazingly, advocates of the draft hoodwink themselves into believing that full-fledged conscription would affect everyone more or less equally. In fact, only able-bodied young people would be drafted. Everyone over the age of, say, 35 would be exempt. And although many such people have children who would be drafted, not all do.

The actual effect of conscription is to relieve taxpayers of the need to pay wages sufficient to attract enough people into the military. Far from spreading the burdens of war, conscription concentrates them cruelly on those who are forced to serve.

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Roderick T. Long - 7/7/2004

Actually, a good case can be made that requiring soldiers to stay in Iraq counts as involuntary servitude whether or not their contracts allow such extensions. Enforcing specific performance (as opposed to money damages) in *service* contracts (as opposed to contracts transferring alienable property) runs afoul of the principle of inalienable rights -- see Randy Barnett's excellent article on this, "Contract Remedies and Inalienable Rights," here:

Military contracts are an anomaly under American law, which generally disallows requiring specific perfomance in service contracts as a violation of the 13th Amendment. (But since the courts don't even recognise *conscription* as a form of involuntary servitude, it's only to be expected that they would a fortiori not recognise military contracts as such.)

Grant Gould - 7/7/2004

Conscription, like nationalism, is just another trick to allow governments to buy war at below market rates. The pro-draft folks are in essence telling us that we need price controls on war -- the conservatives want them in order to keep war at a cheap "fair price", the liberals want them to guarantee equal distribution of war across the economic spectrum. Those ideas are just as wrong about war as they are about widgets: Price controls will distort the market, lead to overconsumption of the good in question (human beings' lives) and create and magnify misery.

Let the governments of the world pay market rates for war, just as we make private individuals pay market rates for labor by prohibiting slavery. The world will be better and more peaceful, and all our lives will be more valuable.