Apr 1, 1979
Editorials: Bringing Back the Draft & Liberty or Empire?
Roy Childs and Earl Ravenal address the state of America’s post-Vietnam military and what libertarians could do about it.
Bringing back the draft
IN JUNE OF 1978, THE always-prescient Libertarian Review editorialized, in “Volunteer Army Under Attack,” that
It is no secret to anyone who follows public discussions that there is today a significant and powerful lobby that would like to junk the volunteer army and bring back that hated American institution, the Draft. Every few months, some leftist will croon about his private dream of universal national service—military and nonmilitary alike—thus trying to cash in on a gushy, collectivistic “patriotism.” Singing a brooding harmony to accompany the liberals’ melody, the conservatives then bring out the old refrain—sung to the tune of a funeral march—about the decline of our military prowess. Well, now the crooners are out in full force. Jerry Brown has chosen to play the role of the leftist gushing forth his private dream of universal national service, saying recently in Washington that he did indeed endorse the notion of compulsory service: “We ought to seriously consider some form of service to the country that would allow alternatives—whether it be Peace Corps, a civilian conservation corps [shades of F.D.R.!] or urban corps—as well as the traditional service in the military. We really do have an obligation to the country.”
The brooding harmony has been sung by the nearly senile Senator John Stennis, Democrat of Mississippi, who trots out the spectre of the Red Menace, claiming that the all-volunteer force “is weakening our defenses.” If handled correctly, he fantasies, “young people will understand. But it is true that when you mention the draft to them, they have visions of another Vietnam. We must impress upon them that we’re talking about a service to the country: the front line of our defense, our security.”
Who said we don’t have a host of divergent views presented to us in national politics?
In any case, the hidden agenda here has by now come to light, as pointed out by Earl Ravenal, Murray Rothbard, David Henderson and Justin Raimondo in this issue. With the concept of “vital interests” and “national security” now extended from China and Korea to Angola and Zaire, and from the Middle East to Western Europe, there is scarcely a conflict today anywhere on the globe that today’s interventionists don’t lust to enter. During the recent war between Vietnam and China, you could hear the weeping from those who felt left out of things: their hearts were breaking. When he was in China not too long ago, National Security Advisor Brzezinski, always one for the Big Picture and Global Responsibility, joked: “Last one to the Great Wall gets to confront the Russians in Ethiopia!”
It was, sadly, not to be. And finding himself left out of the new Vietnam war as well, Brzezinski and his partners in crime began to twitch. They are getting desperate: not a war in months!
They may be down, but they’re not out. Bringing back the draft is the first step in their latest attempt to meet our “global commitments.” Libertarians should resolve not to let them have it. Under the leadership of Students for a Libertarian Society, which has already leaped into action, they have that chance, and should not let it pass.
Liberty or empire?
THE LIABILITIES OF THE volunteer army that some foresaw six or seven years ago have now become apparent to all. There is the high cost of volunteer manpower; the declining pool of available people because of population trends; competition from the private sector because the economy is reviving and some of that (literal) “reserve army of the unemployed” are getting real jobs; and the fear of “racial imbalance” (we might end up with a black mercenary force). Worst of all, Europe, up to now the Army’s playland, is getting expensive, our encampments there are a slum in the midst of affluence, and recruiting posters can no longer honestly look like airline ads.
This is a real problem—even though it is one that we have, to some extent, invented. For it is America’s current foreign policy and national strategy that require at least the two-million-man armed force it has now. The question is: How are you going to keep that two-million-man force when they want to stay down on the farm, or in the inner city? Where are you going to get the missile-fodder and the anti-tank-fodder that even the most capital-intensive, technological military organization still needs?
The most fashionable solution is worse than the problem. The proposal favored in both conservative and liberal circles seems to be compulsory universal national service for all young people, perhaps encompassing both civilian and military tasks—and at non-competitive wages, of course. In other words, bring back the draft. If you can’t attract people, you force them. If they won’t go, you arrest them. If they try to flee to Canada or Sweden, you blight the rest of their lives with jail records and dishonorable discharges. Call it what you will or put a democratic face on it: It is still involuntary servitude.
It is instructive to see even liberal opinion leaders reach for authoritarian remedies, as if it were just a matter of recruitment quotas and defense budgets. What is really at stake is the nature of our state and society and the role of our country in the world. The social limits we are experiencing on the size of our armed force, along with the zooming cost of major weapons systems (particularly naval ships), are the most important constraints on our military strategy and foreign policy. These two factors are finally driving the possiblity of global empire—or global defense, if you will—out of sight, and out of reach.
But the answer is not to institute intolerable social controls and deprive a whole age group of income and freedom. Arrogant bureaucrats, statist politicians and establishment propagandists have no right to think that our country can live indefinitely beyond the resources that citizens willingly yield to their government.
Something will have to give; but those who are proselytizing for the peacetime draft are confusing the constraint with the variable. They would turn the United States into a Sparta—and blame the Russians for it, no doubt. It is a measure of how far they have travelled from the original American conception that the state exists for the people, not the people for the state. This country needs a better corporate memory (insofar as it needs anything corporate at all).
It is even predictively uncertain that the American people wold sustain compulsory universal service. A society enthralled by Proposition 13 and tax resistance is undergoing a far-reaching and indescribable revolution against the state. It is not going to submit easily to conscription (which is, among other things, a concealed tax) to support an overdeveloped military apparatus or even the putative “national interests” that lie beyond.
There is another answer—one that grows more naturally out of the shape of the problem. We could cut our military organization and change our strategies accordingly. A total defense structure about 40 percent smaller—say 1¼-million men—would be sustainable on a voluntary basis. It is also a structure that would meet our core national security needs, through admittedly not guarantee all our worldwide interests. (The latter proposition, of course, is far from self evident. A case can be made, and documented by regional strategic analysis, but it is part of another debate—one that we should have some day, and may be forced to have.)
If our establishment succeeds in its design to enlist another generation to feed America’s military machine and salvage America’s control over the conduct of other nations, that will indeed be a travesty of the principles that were at the base of our constitutional system almost 200 years ago. By the time that bicentennial comes around in 1989, there will be little left to celebrate.
—Earl C. Ravenal