and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Today's Topic: Compulsory national service

The Boston Sunday Herald
June 28, 1992

'The Draft' is a misguided program in a free society
by Chip Ford

Imagine, you're 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, and fear.

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?

You cling 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.

While others, 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.

Mercifully, this abomination on an allegedly free people -- "The Draft"-- was terminated in the mid-70s.

But again it raises it's 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.

If this direction is to be again pursued, let's at least be honest about our motives.

It's not 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.

If it's 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.

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude ... shall exist within the United States..." the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution pledges.

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.

As with 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.

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