theme of Woodrow Wilson's 1916 re-election campaign was: "He
kept us out of the war." Numerous historians, both partisans
and detractors of the wretched Wilson, have documented that the
slogan was a cynical lie. The same was true of Wilson's repeated
public statements in opposition to the restoration of the draft,
which had been discontinued at the end of the War Between the
2, 1917 address to Congress seeking a declaration of war against
Germany, Wilson approached the subject of conscription from
an oblique angle, stating that the war would "involve the
immediate addition to the armed forces of the United States …
at least 500,000 men, who should, in my opinion, be chosen upon
the principle of universal liability to service…"
Observes Thomas Fleming in his invaluable book Illusion
of Victory: "These words were an uplifting way of
saying conscription, a draft." Significantly, Wilson's words
were also a close paraphrase of a line from the eighth
plank of the Communist Manifesto dictating an "equal
liability of all to labor" in tasks ordained by the state.
This implicit kinship was made more overt in Wilson's May 28 proclamation
implementing the conscription law that had been passed by Congress
ten days earlier.
nation needs all men," decreed Wilson, "but it needs
each man not in the field that will most pleasure him, but in
the endeavor that will best serve the common good…. To this end,
Congress has provided that the nation shall be organized for war
by selection; that each man shall be classified for service in
the place to which it shall best serve the general good to call
significance of this cannot be overstated," continued Wilson.
"It is a new thing in our history and a landmark in our progress."
Although Wilson's conscription measure did represent a landmark
in America's descent into militarist collectivism, it was hardly
the "new thing" he claimed it to be. While the Constitution
did not provide for federal conscription, both the Union and Confederacy
implemented the draft during the War Between the States. And in
both cases, the draft was the keystone in a system described by
historian Jeffrey Rogers Hummel as "war socialism."
Staat ber Alles
fundamental premise of the draft is that people exist to serve
and protect the State, and can be used as seen fit by those who
control it. This was expressed with astonishing bluntness in a
July 13, 1863 New York Times house editorial entitled "The
Conscription a Great National Benefit."
is a national blessing that the Conscription has been imposed,"
declared this hymn to the almighty State. "It is a matter
of prime concern that it should now be settled, once for all,
whether this Government is or is not strong enough to compel military
service in its defense." Up until then, continued the Times,
"the popular mind had scarcely bethought itself for a moment
that the power of an unlimited Conscription was … one of the living
powers of the government in time of war. The general notion was
that Conscription was a feature that belonged exclusively to despotic
such notions must now be suppressed, insisted the editorial, since
"not only the property, but the personal military service
of every ablebodied citizen is at the command of the national
authorities, constitutionally exercised…. The Government is the
people's Government…. When it is once understood that our national
authority has the right under the Constitution, to every dollar
and every right arm in the country for its protection,
and that the great people recognize and stand by that right, thenceforward,
for all time to come, this Republic will command a respect, both
at home and abroad, far beyond any ever accorded to it before."
Times published those words as New York City succumbed
to four days of violent anti-draft riots — the worst civic disturbance
in U.S. history to that point. In the aftermath, the London
Times ran a house editorial about the draft riots in which
that British periodical expressed a sounder grasp of American
constitutional tradition than had our own "paper of record":
"It would have been strange, indeed, if the American people
had submitted to a measure which is a distinctive mark of the
most despotic governments of the Continent."
order to enforce the conscription law, the Lincoln regime emulated
— and built upon — precedents set by despotic European governments.
As documented by Mark Neely in The
Fate of Liberty, his Pulitzer-winning 1991 account of
civil liberties under Lincoln, the period following enactment
of conscription in 1863 was "the lowest point for civil liberties
in U.S. history to that time, and one of the lowest for civil
liberties in all of American history." Enforcement of conscription
led to nation-wide suspension of the writ of Habeas Corpus, and
East German-style efforts to seal the border to keep draft-age
men from fleeing the country. Hundreds were imprisoned for either
seeking to avoid the draft, or even for publicly condemning it.
the draft was abolished at war's end, the notion that the federal
government had the right "to every dollar and every right
arm in the country for its protection" was not. Journalist
Joel Tyler Headley, in his 1873 account The
Great Riots of New York 1712–1873, prefaced his treatment
of the draft riots with a brief theodicy defending the almighty
State's use of the draft.
do not believe there is a sounder principle, or one that every
unbiased mind does not concede with readiness that it does an
axiom, that, if necessary to protect and save itself, a
government may not only order a draft, but call out every
able-bodied man in the nation," lectured Headley. "If
this right does not inhere in our government, it is built on a
foundation of sand, and the sooner it is abandoned the better."
orthodox Communists, Headley defended the division of labor, at
least as applied to the Civil War draft, in which wealthy draft-age
men could hire a substitute.
objection that a rich man, if drafted, can buy a substitute, while
the poor man, with a large family depending upon him, must go,
if of any weight at all, lies against the whole structure of society,
which gives the rich man at every step immunities over the poor
man," wrote Headley. "When society gets in that happy
state, that the rich man has no advantages over the poor, there
will be no need either of drafting or volunteering. Yet, after
all, it is not so unequal as it at first sight appears. War must
have money as well as men, and the former the rich have to furnish;
and if they do this, it is but fair that they should be allowed
to furnish with it also the men to do their fighting. Besides,
there must be some rule that would exempt the men that carry on
the business of the country."
perspective was warmly embraced roughly a century later by late-blooming
war hawks like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and scores of
others who avoided Vietnam in order to pursue (in Cheney's words)
In this, as in so much else, neo-con "chickenhawks"
are guided by Lincoln's example. Notes Michael Lind in his new
Lincoln Believed: "Lincoln, while sending the sons
of other men to their deaths, ensured that his own adult son Robert
would avoid combat, first as a student at Harvard College and
then as a member of the staff of General Ulysses S. Grant."
notable figure of the era who avoided conscription — albeit in
his native Prussia — was Simon
Baruch, who enlisted in the Confederate military after settling
in South Carolina. His son Bernard would become an immensely powerful
financier and — more importantly — head of the War Industries
Board under Wilson, which would implement the Wilson regime's
system of War Communism.
Wilson re-instated conscription in his May 28, 1917 decree, he
described it as "a new manner of accepting and vitalizing
our duty to give ourselves without thoughtful devotion to the
common purpose of all. It is in no sense a conscription of the
unwilling; it is, rather, selection from a nation which has volunteered
in mass. It is no more a choosing of those who shall march with
the colors than it is a selection of those who shall serve an
equally necessary and devoted purpose in the industries that lie
behind the battle line."
men between the ages of 21 and 30 were ordered to muster at local
registration sites on June 5, a date Wilson described as "a
great day of patriotic devotion and obligation" on which
"the name of every male person of the designated ages is
written on these lists of honor."
Wilson's resounding claim that the nation had "volunteered
in mass" for the war, the
public wasn't noticeably eager to take the yoke of the warfare
state. In a note to "Colonel" Edward Mandell House,
Wilson's intimate confidant, Wilson's secretary Joe Tumulty fretted
that "the people's ‘righteous wrath' seems not to have
arouse the public, the administration turned to propagandist George
Creel, head of the quasi-governmental Committee for Public Information.
Creel deployed an army of orators called the "Four Minute
Men," who bullied their way into local theaters, civic clubs,
churches, chambers of commerce, and other public settings to deliver
"patriotic" speeches extolling the administration's
purpose of this pestilential horde of herd-poisoners, Creel explained,
was to build a "war will" in the American public. Between
May 12 and 21, Creel's cadres harangued the public on the subject,
"Universal Service by Selective Draft." Writes Fleming:
"As often as possible, the word ‘service' was substituted
for the harsher ‘conscription.' It was a word that blended nicely
with the ideals of progressive reform that had swept the nation
in the decade before the war."
the public still refused to embrace the war. "There is evidence
that in many localities the people have only entered the war with
reluctance and with a feeling of inevitability rather than with
any enthusiasm," reported the British government's American
Press Resume on May 23. Thus the administration unsheathed
what Fleming calls "the mailed fist" — targeted arrests
of draft resisters and critics. Amid claims of a widespread conspiracy
to "resist the draft by force," federal officials jailed
anti-draft protesters and pamphleteers in Texas, California, Ohio,
and New York. The dragnet against "violent" and "lawless"
draft opponents snagged two Missouri men who sought a court order
to prevent enforcement of the draft decree.
counter-point to the crackdown, a May 25 Los Angeles Times
headline warned: "Death for Treason Awaits Anti-Draft Plotters."
A week later, the paper reported that the nation's ports were
being kept under surveillance to prevent draft-age men from fleeing
the country. This "mixture of exhortation and intimidation"
turned the tide in the PR battle, Fleming writes: "In most
towns and cities, almost 10 million men registered without a murmur
of protest." Many Americans embraced the idea that Universal
Service would be a healthy thing for undisciplined youth and unruly
elements. "I'd rather have my son go to heaven in France
than to hell in America!" exclaimed one dutiful Texas father.
The New York Times opined that "The Selective Service
Draft gives a long and sorely needed means of disciplining a certain
rather insolent foreign element in this nation."
it was widely accepted that the State could force men to take
up arms in its defense (as opposed to volunteering to defend their
homes and communities), it was relatively easy for the Wilson
regime to regiment the industrial economy. That task was assigned
to Bernard Baruch — the son, once again, of a man who had dodged
the draft in Germany.
concept of the "Nation in Arms," Baruch wrote in a post-war
report, meant that "in war, her entire resources of men,
money and things should suddenly become a compact instrument of
destruction…. [T]he entire population must suddenly cease to be
a congeries of individuals, each following a self-appointed course,
and become a vast unitary mechanism."
is it enough that government conscript industry and transmute
the productive sector into an engine of mass destruction; it must
also claim the power to set all prices by fiat — in order to "support
the troops," of course. Baruch theatrically lamented the
destruction of "domestic morale through a just and bitter
resentment by soldiers, their families, and indeed all persons
of fixed income, at the spectacle of grotesquely exaggerated profits
and income to those engaged in trade or in services for sale in
competitive markets and the constantly increasing burden of bare
existence to all those who are not so engaged."
"just and bitter resentment" of conscripts, Baruch continued,
can be assuaged "by simple proclamation to decree that every
price in the whole national pattern as of that determined date
shall be the maximum that may thenceforth be charged for anything….
In modern war, administrative control must replace the
law of supply and demand."
control" of necessity meant State control over the labor
market, as well as goods and services. This was accomplished,
in part, through the "Work or Fight" directive, through
which men qualifying for a draft deferment were required to labor
at State-approved jobs or face military conscription. Explained
Baruch: "The Work or Fight order merely said to these men:
‘No matter what the grounds for your deferment may be, unless
you are faithfully, continuously and usefully employed in a capacity
and for an enterprise determined by the Government to be essential
to the prosecution of the war, your deferment will be cancelled
and you will immediately be called for service with the colors.'"
why wouldn't this be the case, given that the draft is based on
the assumption that the State has a right "to every dollar
and every right arm in the country for its protection"?
while Baruch he stoutly defended the military draft, he opposed
conscription of labor as a violation of the 13th Amendment's
prohibition on "involuntary servitude." Baruch, in a
fashion typical of Communists of all varieties, believed the private
sector alone could be guilty of that offense. From the Communist
perspective, the earth is the State's, and everything in it —
so when the State imposes involuntary servitude on its subjects,
it's merely exercising its sovereign right.
soldier serves the nation directly," Baruch wrote, dishonestly
treating the "nation" and the "State" as the
same entity. "There is but one master in the case and that
master is America. He serves to profit no one but the country
as a whole…. His entry is not contractural. He is clothed, fed,
housed, and attended." However, insisted Baruch, "Enforced
and involuntary service for a private master is and has
been clearly and repeatedly defined by our Supreme Court as slavery
inhibited [actually, prohibited] by the Thirteenth Amendment to
the Constitution of the United States…. All this does not say,
however, that men not under military discipline are free agents
in war. The Government cannot say, ‘Work here. Work there,' or
‘Work for Mr. A.' But it can say — as it did say in 1918: ‘Work
or Fight!'" (Emphasis added.)
in 1941, shortly after the FDR regime had re-instated conscription
in preparation for U.S. entry into the Second World War, Baruch
fondly remembered the success of the Wilson regime's efforts to
collectivize the country.
if by common consent," Baruch recalled, "every war administration
adopted the policy of decentralization, reliance on unofficial
civilian co-operation, public education as to necessity, and —
to put it frankly — universal and highly organized propaganda.
Thus the draft — instead of being enforced by soldiers carrying
bayonets as in the Civil War — was turned over to small boards
of local civilians who were given almost unlimited and final authority.
Largely they served without compensation and at great sacrifice.
Much was made of the service of these men and conscription took
on the aspect of a great spontaneous levee en masse. But
there was a provision in the Selective Service Act under which,
if any member of these draft boards had refused that duty, he
could have been sent to jail."
Baruch's few regrets was the fact that the war had ended before
the nation had been transformed into a collectivist utopia: "Had
the war gone on another year, our whole civil population would
have gradually emerged (as wardrobes and inventories became exhausted)
in cheap but serviceable uniform. Types of shoes were to be reduced
to two or three. The manufacture of pleasure automobiles was to
cease. Flaps from pockets and unnecessary trim in clothing would
have disappeared. Steel had already been taken out of women's
well — other opportunities for remaking American through war would
come, as even more ruthless ruling elites — such as those arising
after WWI in Germany and Russia — seized on the Wilson regime's
example. Of Germany's National Socialist regime, Baruch proudly
observed in 1941: "German military experts have said, ‘Except
for a few minor changes, the German economic mobilization system
was conscientiously built in imitation of the similar American
system." Which is to say that the Wilson/Baruch model for
war mobilization was the first draft of Hitler's warfare State.
Hugh S. Johnson, who had commanded the Blue
Eagle storm troopers during the early years of the New Deal,
also took pride in the tribute paid to Wilson's regime by German
rulers. In mobilizing for the coming war, wrote Johnson in 1941,
"we should merit for industrial America something of what
Field Marshal von Hindenburg in his retrospect of the World War
had to say of its efforts in 1918: ‘Her brilliant, if pitiless,
war industry had entered the service of patriotism and had not
failed it. Under the compulsion of military necessity a ruthless
autocracy was at work and rightly, even in this land at the portals
of which the Statue of Liberty flashes its blinding light across
the seas. They understood war.'"
of us who love liberty and peace should also understand war: It
is the State reduced to its essential functions — destruction,
regimentation, pitiless violence. Similarly, we must understand
that conscription indisputably rests on the assumption that each
individual is the State's property, to be sacrificed when those
controlling the State deem it necessary for their protection.
inimitable William Lind pointed to the recent spectacle of
panic-crazed politicians and bureaucrats fleeing the Capitol when
a Cessna strayed into "secure airspace" as an example
of "the crisis of legitimacy of the State." "When
the same people who have sent our kids to die in Iraq and left
our borders wide open run in panic because of a Cessna, the American
people get the message: Washington is ‘them,' not ‘us,'"
he pointed out.
of Americans, both young and not-so-young, have been left dead,
limbless, sightless, or mindless because of the actions of soft-handed,
servants of the State. That same ruling elite is quietly preparing
to re-instate the draft, now that the pool
of willing enlistees is drying up. Just as it happened almost
a century ago, the drive to re-institute conscription — which
is to say, War Communism — is shielded by a curtain of blasé
assurances from the political class, and pseudo-populist
rhetoric from George Creel's contemporary