For political activists, the issues go on and on, and sometimes
'round and 'round as they return from battles past:
Civil rights, which seemed to be settled when the country
elected a black president, now are front and center once again;
Teddy-care, later Hillary-care, which was defeated, and now
we have Obamacare before the Supreme Court;
Welfare reform was addressed in a bipartisan manner in 1996,
though we still have the problem of children raised without fathers;
Tax reform, with rates up, down, graduated and flatter;
The annual budget debate, lately called the Ryan budget as
House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan valiantly battles the
national debt dragon.
But one issue I did not
expect to see again in my lifetime was the military draft.
Then two weeks ago, I
heard WTKK talk host Michael Smerconish interviewing libertarian
Charles Murray on his new book, "Coming Apart: The State of White
America, 1960-2010," which deplores the movement of white America
into two classes — one elite, one working-class. This is a
fascinating issue on its own, but what caught my interest was
Smerconish's agreement, after Murray left, with a review by David
The New York Times
columnist wrote, "I doubt Murray would agree, but we need a National
Service Program. We need a program that would force members of the
upper tribe and the lower tribe to live together, if only for a few
I'm sure Murray would
not agree; we libertarians have a problem with involuntary
servitude, not to mention the word "force."
the discussion in support of the draft, arguing that once a broad
sample of America's youths are involved in an undeclared war, it
will quickly be over as the draftees are killed or disabled. He used
the Vietnam War as an example!
Not how I remember it,
Michael. Though the model wasn't one of merging classes — college
students could get deferments — Vietnam did divide generations. It
took many of the fathers and grandfathers of the draftees a few
years to see the difference between their service in World War II
and what was happening with an undeclared war, without a clear
mission, based on deception by our political class, in Southeast
Thinking about this, I
dismissed the discussion. Many of the parents and grandparents of
new potential draftees are those who finally did end the Vietnam War
with their protests and refusals to "serve"; my generation would be
at the barricades to protest legislation restoring the draft.
Combine us with the potential draftees themselves; the entire,
sometimes-wacky, anti-war movement; and professional military
personnel who don't want to hang out with unwilling buddies, and we
can defeat any draft bill or politician who advocates one.
But then last week I
heard political commentator Dick Morris talking about the executive
order President Obama signed on March 16 "giving him vast powers to
control every aspect of the U.S. economy in the event of war or even
during a peacetime 'emergency.'"
Morris cited Edwin
Black, writing for the liberal-oriented Huffington Post, warning
that the National Defense Resources Preparedness Order "may have
quietly placed the United States on a war preparedness footing,"
giving the president the power "to take control of all civil energy
supplies, including oil and natural gas, control and restrict all
civil transportation," even allowing a draft "in order to achieve
both the military and non-military demands of the country."
What war are we
preparing for? Will draftees be better than a professional military
if missiles start flying around the Middle East? Is someone invading
China? Whom do voters call to protest an executive order?
overreacting to the threat involving an issue that first got me
involved in political activism. I volunteered for Barry Goldwater,
who wanted to repeal the draft, in 1964's presidential campaign.
Though Goldwater lost, President Nixon finally signed that repeal in
1973, which is why I remain fond of Republicans.
So, really, what are
the chances today that the draft will return? Some liberal opponents
could be won over by calling the draft "national service," placing
draftees in human service roles. Some conservatives think it would
be "good for young people to get some discipline." David Brooks
argues the value of mixing the classes; because of late-Vietnam-era
reforms, there would be few excuses for not serving.
We know that our
present volunteer military is badly overextended and in need of
reinforcement. Some leaders don't want to solve this by getting out
of Afghanistan; some want to go into other countries, as well. And a
draft to cover "both the military and non-military demands of the
country" would certainly improve the unemployment rate.
Never fear. Fiscal
conservatives will object to the unaffordable cost of putting all of
Generation Y on the public payroll. The War Resistors League, which
considers "all war is a crime against humanity," will peacefully
protest at least the military demands. Libertarians, some of us with
walkers, fighting with canes, will man the barricades. I'm not
Wait! I am hearing Col.
David Hunt, filling in for Howie Carr on WRKO, recommending
"universal service" for young people. Where is this coming from?
Make it go away!
activists, the issues go on and on, and sometimes 'round and 'round
as they return from battles past."
— A Blast From The Past
Twenty Years Ago
The Boston Sunday
June 28, 1992
Today's Point/Counterpoint Topic:
Compulsory national service
'The Draft' is a
misguided program in a free society
By Chip Ford
19-years old and violently awakened hundreds of miles from
the comfortable bed you were forced to abandon only
yesterday. The familiar has been stripped away and only the
unknown lies beyond the fog of immediate confusion, outrage,
You've heard of
this, know it's possible, but it only happens to others.
Doesn't it? You can't be swooped down upon, snatched
against your will, and sentenced without charge or trial,
pressed into involuntary service. Can you?
desperately to wisps of a recently shattered and fading
dream, hoping you really aren't awake, that this is just an
ongoing nightmare soon to end. Then you realize in dazed
horror that this is Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, today is
the first day of your two-year sentence, and you have been
conscripted into the U.S. Army!
With that 1969
dawning, the promise of freedom with which I'd been raised
took on the first tarnish of reality. I snapped conscious to
the cold realization that one is only as free as government
permits, despite all the rhetoric to the contrary.
more affluent and obviously more creative, were off pursuing
their futures and their fortunes, many less fortunate were
forced to put ours aside, for the good of God and Country.
We had an inescapable "duty to serve," and indeed, it was a
very selective service system which separated the duty-bound
from those spared the sacrifice.
this abomination on an allegedly free people
— "The Draft"
— was terminated in the
But again it
raises its ugly head in a new incarnation. "National
service" has a more palatable ring than did military
conscription. But, if mandated, it's no less repugnant to a
society which prides itself as being free.
direction is to be again pursued, let's at least be honest
about our motives.
patriotism or duty if the goal is behavior modification,
it's a discipline program.
If it's to get
the idle off the streets, it's a make-work jobs program.
If it's to
break up gangs, it's a crime-reduction attempt.
demonstrably in the country's interest to require a period
of national service, a necessary duty performed for the
survival of the Republic, it's a critical civic
responsibility. As such, administer it equally across all
races, classes and genders -- without exception or exemption
-- until the emergency has passed.
A period of
national service in exchange for government funding of
continued education or some similar incentive has merit and
might be explored. If entered into voluntarily, it benefits
both parties, creates more productive citizens, and enhances
freedom. But in a free society, it must be voluntary.
slavery nor involuntary servitude ... shall exist within the
United States..." the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S.
We looked the
other way for some thirty years during which our shores were
unthreatened. Ignorance, apathy, or zeal permitted family
members and neighbors to be snatched from our midst for some
vaguely defined higher purpose. This limitless pool of
cheap, expendable labor afforded government the unchecked
means to pursue wasteful policies.
slavery, we were wise to end it even if belatedly. Let's not
be so foolish or hypocritical as to allow its resurrection,
even for a well-intentioned but misguided purpose.
Chip Ford is
the founder of Freedom First and was its chairman until
1990. He served in the U.S. Army in 1969-71.