Don't Bring Slavery Back to America

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From Bob Wallace’s prophetic mention of it last February, to Jesse Ogden’s passionate column last week, LRC’s readers have seen enough writers discuss the draft to feel chills from head to toe.

Upon reading these articles and many others over the last year or so, exploring the possibility of conscription coming back to America, I have found myself reflexively doubting that such a catastrophe would actually occur. I simply did not want to believe it, but it’s time to acknowledge that it might happen.

When I talk with most people about it, the idea of a draft disturbs them, but they do not like to hear it described as slavery. In their minds, slavery was an evil institution that the United States suffered its bloodiest war — indeed, even drafted millions — to vanquish from its land.

Of course, we must be honest and face the truth: the draft is slavery, and probably the worst type.

As disgusting, vicious, and indefensible chattel slavery was, even worse is the compelling of young men (and possibly women) to travel to foreign lands and kill or be killed in an utterly unjust war. That so many millions of Americans have been drafted in the War Between the States, the World Wars, and the Korea and Vietnam "police actions," under the paradoxical guise of defending freedom, makes the draft that much more insidious.

Some warhawks oppose the draft being used in the War on Terrorism because they hate the former even as they revere the latter. They think war can affirm freedom, but they instinctively hate the idea of conscription. Some of them may even think the draft will have a negative impact on the war. We need to confront them with the truth that since the 1860s the draft has always been an integral part of America’s most glorified wars, and so if they dislike the draft they need to rethink their flowery conception of the wars themselves, including the one carried out today.

On the other hand, many opponents of the war will cynically advocate the draft, saying that a military conscription will discourage Americans from waging unnecessary wars. Backing a draft to oppose the war simply does not coincide with reality. Conscription has never prevented unjust wars; it has only enabled and enlarged them.

Sure, it was the draft that made so many young Americans vehemently oppose the Vietnam War — but it was also the draft that made the war possible, at least on its grand scale. Sure, Americans might find it harder to support a war if they think their children would be forced at gunpoint to participate, but the Congressmen and Senators who institute such a reprehensible policy would unlikely have to see their own offspring come back in body bags. They and their families enjoy de facto exemption from the full weight of other laws, and they will most likely be similarly exempt from the draft. So the draft will serve as no disincentive for the actual men and women who hold the reins of America’s aggressive foreign policy.

It’s a mystery why anyone, whether a hawk or a dove, would think that a draft would compromise the war effort. It’s like thinking that raising taxes would make it harder to enlarge welfare programs, or that unprotected intercourse is the most surefire way to avoid pregnancy.

Some liberals oppose military conscription but believe that mandatory civil service is a wholesome policy for a "social democracy." While it is true that being forced to clean up highways and work in recycling centers is probably preferable to being forced into enemy territory, such mandatory service is still a form of slavery, and has no place at all in a free society, or even in the partly free society into which the United States has degenerated. That "social democracies" in Europe demand impose forced labor on their youth speaks of their failure to embrace liberty, and should not be seen as a good reason to bring such oppression to America.

The idea of coupling a military draft with mandatory civil service is especially unsettling, as it could conceivably make a draft proposal easier to push through Congress. Some liberals may dislike the idea of their young constituents compelled to go to war, but will still vote for the program so as to see their socialist domestic agenda fully staffed by unwilling indentured servants. Some conservatives might find distasteful the prospect of their young constituents working in a chain-gang to help build up the domestic infrastructure, but will nevertheless vote for the program for the sake of disposing millions of sacrificial lambs in what they see as a holy War on Terrorism.

The greatest triumph in American liberty over the last several decades was the end of the draft. Such a wise decision compares to the abolition of chattel slavery in the nineteenth century, which came about after Lincoln’s war, though certainly did not depend on the war to come about.

In my last LRC article, I pointed out that the Bush administration has flaunted the principles of each article in Bill of Rights. Now many of today’s politicians seek to eviscerate the principle enshrined in the Thirteenth Amendment:

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

The Bush administration has staffed the draft boards, but has denied that it wants to impose the draft. John Kerry has taken the word "mandatory" out of his website’s call for national service after it received unwanted exposure, but I doubt he has abandoned his private affinity to compulsive service. Several national politicians have advocated bringing back the program.

Even if you still aren’t convinced that the draft should be called slavery — because of some strange technical definition of "slavery" from which the government is for some reason categorically exempt — "mandatory service" is undeniably synonymous with "involuntary servitude," which is supposed to be illegal in America.

The draft might prove necessary to instill our rulers’ program of national greatness and to widen the righteous War on Terrorism, so the Thirteenth Amendment, just like the Bill of Rights, might become just another constitutional protection ignored by the U.S. government.

We must vehemently protest any and all attempts to bring slavery back to America. The way the draftmongers see it, no sacrifice is too large to protect us from those who hate our freedoms and everything America stands for.

This contradictory opinion is no more irrational than many others embraced by millions of Americans, but it is among the most worthy of our relentless opposition.

Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history at UC Berkeley, where he was president of the Cal Libertarians. He is an intern at the Independent Institute and has written for Rational Review, Strike the Root, the Libertarian Enterprise, and Antiwar.com. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.

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