essays

Apr 1, 1979

Conscription: The Means of Interventionism

“We must build a nationwide movement dedicated to opposing our…global interventionism, and the threats to individual liberty which stem from [it.]”

It could happen any day now.

At any moment the President of the United States could reinstate the draft registration process by Executive Order. And certainly Jimmy Carter’s proposal to spend $5-million in an effort to beef up the moribund Selective Service System is an indication of where his real sympathies lie.

There are currently five different bills in Congress which would either revive draft registration, or create a national “youth corps” devoted to “community service” at home, as well as a foreign policy of global interventionism abroad. Yet in recent years, the very foundations of an interventionist foreign policy have been shaken by a tidal wave of popular revolutions directed against U.S.-supported governments, like that of the departed Shah of Iran.

The “geo-politicians” of the Pentagon are in a panic. It is no accident that Defense Secretary Harold Brown declared, in his testimony before the recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on draft registration, that the situation in Iran “could require a U.S. response,”—or that Energy Secretary James Schlesinger has uttered veiled threats of American military intervention in the Middle East, if judged “necessary” to secure American access to oil in that troubled region—or that the U.S. Army report on the status of an All-Volunteer Force (AVF) states that “the All-Volunteer system can only be effective in peacetime, and there is justifiable concern about our ability to make a rapid transition to a draft system in emergencies.” According to the Stanford Daily, “the push for reworking the draft system comes amid studies that show the present system could not turn out enough soldiers quickly in the event of a European war in which thousands of GI’s were killed.” (emphasis added) The Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Report on the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) is so matter-of-fact as to appear absolutely deadpan: “The dismal truth is that the Selective Service System, having deteriorated from an operational status in 1973 to a ‘deep-standby’ status today, means that it will be seven months after mobilization before the first draftee can be made ready for shipment overseas.”

And just where are these hapless souls to be shipped off to? To Europe and NATO, which account for nearly half of our astronomical military budget, and to Asia and the Middle East. And why? To protect our “interests” in Asia and the Pacific, such as propping up the dictatorships in the Philippines and Korea, and to secure access to oil in the Middle East.

In the name of “world stability” we have rushed to assist every clique of “anti-communist” generals and every band of hoodlums desperate enough to accept CIA support, from Angola and Iran to South Vietnam and South Korea. And new links in the ring we have been building around the Soviet Union have recently been re-forged: in the Far East, we are now constructing a new alliance with the People’s Republic of China, and in Turkey we are presently negotiating for the reopening of missile bases and intelligence-gathering installations right on the Soviet border.

In the five years since Vietnam, the rulers of the American Empire have discovered that the all-volunteer force is inherently a peacetimedefense-oriented army. While perfectly adequate todefend the U.S., it is not suited to quick mobilization for foreign wars, and was never designed to maintain the troop level required by dreams of empire.

We are fast approaching a fundamental, historically crucial crossroads. The American Empire is in a state of crisis; after the failure of Vietnam, Iran, Angola, Nicaragua, and elsewhere, the interventionist foreign policy of the past forty years needs desperately to be re-examined and completely discarded.

Nearly thirty years ago, one of the last great figures of the anti-imperialist “Old Right,” Rep. Howard Buffett, one of Sen Robert A. Taft, Sr.’s strongest allies, declared on the floor of Congress, in the midst of his prescient attack on the then-emerging Turman Doctrine, that “even if were desirable, America is not strong enough to police the world by military force. If that attempt is made, the blessings of liberty will be replaced by coercion and tyranny at home.” Buffet, like other members of the Old Right, knew that militarism and an aggressively interventionist foreign policy were anathema to individual liberty at home and abroad, and would only lead to the evils of conscription and the socialization of the American economy, promoting upheavals in the very countries whose “stability” we intended to promote. We have yet to learn that lesson.

Draft resistance in the sixties: opposition to interventionism

The clear intention of the American people when they forced Presidents Nixon and Ford to either end the draft or else face serious political consequences was to put an end not only to the draft but to all intervention in the affairs of other countries. After almost ten years of futile slaughter, the American people could not help but see the crucial connection between conscription and an interventionist foreign policy: it was written in blood across the ravaged face of Vietnam, and indelibly etched into the American conscience, undeniable and unforgettable.

Wars overseas have always meant a concomitant war on the “home front”: a war against individual liberty, a war against economic freedom, a war against taxpayers and consumers, and a war on dissent. Authoritarians of both the left and the right have always united on this single issue, each singing different versions of the same old song. On the Right, we have Senator John Stennis and the old warhawk faction, who are trying to convince the American public that the incompetent, top-heavy, ponderous despotism known as the USSR is a threat to U.S. national security. On the Left, we have corporate state “liberals” like Jerry Brown and Pete McCloskey draping their own version of militarism and slavery in the rhetoric of “community service” and do-goodism. The McCloskey proposal, already introduced in the House, would require that:

… each American will enter government service at the age of 18. Each person would be able to choose either a year of military service, followed by four years of college at the government’s expense; or choose two years of government labor in hospitals, the forestry service, or agriculture. Each 18-year-old would list a preferred choice, but a lottery system similar to one used in the past drafts would be used to fill the military if necessary, (cited by the Stanford Daily, 1/4/79)

As has been noted, this totalitarian boondoggle has been endorsed by none other than the sinister opportunist Jerry Brown, whose unprincipled ride on the anti-government bandwagon ended abruptly when he stated to the press: “The concept of service—not to the ‘me’ generation or to the ‘now’ generation—but service to the country and the future is essential. Now we serve the country not just by marching around with a rifle, but by bringing hope back to the cities, by comforting the sick, by renewing the forests and the rivers and by bringing friendships to other countries.” (L.A. Times, 2/28/79)

The sanctimonoius drivel spouted by Jerry Brown and McCloskey is matched only by the ugly reality of racist fear and cultural Neanderthalism exhibited in a pro-draft article by Congressman Robin Beard in a recent issue of The National Guardsman. If the draft isn’t resumed, Beard wrote, “readiness will continue to decline, and then stabilize at a dangerously low level in Reserve forces. Costs will continue to dictate all major decisions. Force composition will include more women, more blacks and a continuing growth of lower mental category personnel.” (8/23/78)

This is the real nightmare that haunts the Statist’s dreams: the spectre of an army which could not be trusted to enact the interventionist scenario. When Pete McCloskey cites a 44 percent minority group casualty rate in Vietnam as a justification for the draft, he is simply projecting his own racism onto the other side. What possible objection is there to a primarily non-white Army—except the fact that such an army would be less willing to fight needless wars in Africa or Asia? Racism and fear hang over the new advocates of conscription like a thick fog—what else but a “national youth service corps” will control and contain the 40 percent of black teenagers who are currently unemployed?

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“The clear intention of the American people when they forced Presidents Nixon and Ford to end the draft was to put an end to all intervention in the affairs of other countries.”

The “liberal” dream of domestic socialism and the right-wing dream of an international American Empire have met and merged. With Jerry Brown on the left, and people like Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA) on the “anti-communist” Right, it is only a question of time before the draft comes back.

The draft reappears on Capitol Hill

In fact, this attempt to militarize American youth into a kind of Hitler Youth Corps run by and for the Welfare/Warfare State has already been introduced into both houses of Congress (S-1240 in the Senate, HR-6128 in the House, both supported by President Carter). According to the National Interreligious Service Board for Conscientious Objectors:

The major provisions of these two bills (identical as introduced) are 1) the creation of a National Young Adult Conservation Corps to hire [sic] youth aged 16-24 for year-round work on conservation projects; 2) authorization for Youth Community Conservation and Improvement Projects for youth 16-19 which involve jobs in urban and rural areas, improving neighborhoods, and restoring natural resources on publicly-owned land; and 3) comprehensive youth employment and training programs to provide jobs for disadvantaged and low-income youth aged 16-19 under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA)… .

But the military motives behind all the ritualistic invocations of “neighborhood improvement” and “jobs for the disadvantaged” cannot be denied. According to an article in the Army Times,

The armed services will take a more active role in the management of Youth Conservation Corps and similar programs, according to the Secretary of Defense. The YCC and the proposed new National YCC are modelled on the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps that was managed by the Army… . Defense Secretary Harold Brown has notified the service secretaries that there have been more suggestions within the administration that Defense take “a more active role in the management of the program.” (5/9/77)

Thus, we find old “anti-war” liberals like Pete McCloskey—who actually ran in the 1972 primaries against Nixon and the Vietnam War—serving as a left-wing cover for today’s militarists. The liberal “doves” of yesteryear—whose opposition to interventionism never extended to the sphere of economics, always being artificially limited to the sphere of foreign policy—have come full circle. They have nothing left to betray. To advocate conscription in the name of “anti-communism” at least has a kind of paranoic logic to it; to advocate universal slavery in order to eliminate unemployment, in the name of the “disadvantaged,” is blatant evil. To make everyone equally disadvantaged—instead of eliminating the disadvantages—is like “solving” the problem of an epidemic by infecting everyone with the disease. This is egalitarianism revealed as bankrupt.

This coalition of “liberal” statists and right-wing militarists has already started the drive to reinstitute draft registration. The full weight of all government agencies and institututions, the full power of the huge bureaucracy spawned by the parasitic growth of the “public sector” from welfare agencies to the educational establishment, will be brought to bear in a national campaign to identify and classify all individuals between the ages of 18 and 26, if Democratic Senator Robert Morgan of North Carolina has his way. His bill (S-226) introduced in late January, provides “for access by the Selective Service System to age and address information in the records of any school, any agency of the United States, or any agency or political subdivision of any State, for the purposes of conducting registration… .” SB-226 simply clarifies what has always been true: that the State is in full control of its own institutions. They have your name and your number. In fact, they have had access to whatever information is required for their purposes for a very long time. Of course school authorities will cooperate fully with a newly-revived Selective Service System.

The fact that this legislation has a good chance of passing is a tragic commentary on the state of basic civil liberties in this country. We are living in frightening times, an era of fundamental choices between polar opposites. The choice is between the free market, a civilian economy, basic civil liberties, and a noninterventionist foreign policy versus a socialized economy of conscripted labor and military contracts, a government that registers, classifies and spies on its citizens, and a foreign policy of international militarism which harkens back to mercantilism.

If we choose the first option, we must reverse the entire direction and spirit of authority run amok and roll back the State on every level, realizing consciously and fully that only the existence of the leviathan State made S-226 possible—and that only a new spirit of libertarianism can make such things impossible.

Libertarians across the nation should work together to build a national resistance movement before the nature and style of the new draft is finalized. We must build a nationwide movement dedicated to opposing our foreign policy of global interventionism, and the threats to individual liberty which stem from that foreign policy. We must resist the draft totally, without compromise and without hesitation. And if liberals and conservatives alike join hands in this quest for a new despotism fastened upon the youth of America, we must take the lead in opposing both them and their bastard offspring. We must stand firm, and state resolutely: This shall not pass.

Justin Raimondo is a San Francisco-based field representative of Students for a Libertarian Society. He is editor of the bimonthly tabloid, Libertarian Vanguard.