A Response to William Hauser and Jerome Slater

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William L. Hauser, a retired U.S. Army colonel and Jerome Slater, a U.S. Navy veteran, just published a heartfelt yet humorous essay in Foreign Policy entitled "Bring Back the Draft: Why a return to mass conscription is the only way to win the war on terror."

The construct of this modest proposal is surprisingly defensive, given that the authors claim that mass conscription will win the war on terror. I mean, who doesn’t want to win the "War on Terror"? After describing an "ongoing struggle between radical Islam and Western Democracy" and the lousy state of the American volunteer military (over-extended, over-vaccinated, overweight, and overpaid), Hauser and Slater put forth mandatory American national service as the cure — more Americans to man-up and prepare to die for the government overseas, with the remainder fearfully indoctrinated on the necessities of eternal service and submission to the state.

They immediately list several means to control this massively "enlarged military," and new ways to control this necessary expansion of executive power. They agree with libertarians, traditional conservatives, constitutionalists, democrats, the Green Party and communists that we should have "legal safeguards to prevent presidential unilateralism."

Beyond the constitution, that is. Many anti-Federalists feared that the constitution had been drawn up to facilitate that very unilateralism. Twenty-first century Americans only know that the constitution we are taught to worship but never read has consistently and abjectly failed to prevent the growth and the glory of presidential unilateralism.

Thus the essay trips into comedy with its suggestions on the matter of containment and restraint. It is true, had Bob Higgs been able to explain the nature of the "ratchet effect" to these two military-minded men, their faces would have paled, hands trembling and chests heaving. Hauser and Slater propose that — and I quote in its entirety:

First, Congress should use its constitutionally mandated role in decisions to go to war. Second, Congress should employ its appropriations powers — "the power of the purse" — to prohibit, limit, or end U.S. participation in unwise wars or military interventions by refusing to fund them. Third, to reduce political opposition to a revived draft as well as to provide another constraint against presidential unilateralism, a law establishing conscription should include a provision that draftees cannot be sent into combat without specific congressional authorization.

Now, isn’t that special! Sounds almost like the existing Constitution, if it had spirit and an appetite. What a hilarious concept! Henny Youngman couldn’t have done better! Take my Constitution…. Please!

To regain the attention of the sure-to-be-chuckling reader, the authors proceed to identify the natural opponents of their simple solution to the conflict of a millennium between radical Islam and American democracy (both sides comic on their own merit, in the way a fisherman’s catch grows with each retelling). These natural opponents to the draft are just four: civil libertarians (rights-obsessed pacifists), classical libertarians (the founding fathers), neoconservatives (who fear a draft would somehow constrain the unilateral executive), and the military leadership itself.

There is a bit of a mystery here — in part due to the fact that the greatest sector of society is missing from the draft debate. As the "War on Terror" has made abundantly clear — neither civil rights activists nor neoconservatives will be caught dead in uniform, draft or no draft, albeit for completely opposite reasons. The Founders are history, and in the 21st century we find a majority of their descendents only tentatively discovering their predilections for liberty, or else largely closeted for conformity’s sake. The military leadership is by definition dedicated to government service, and moot. If government policy changes, they will support it or simply no longer be "military leadership."

Spectacularly focusing on the minutia while ignoring the elephant in the room is a common comedic technique. In this case, Hauser and Slater have contrived a wonderful bit of literary slapstick. We watch the fun with bated breath as the two authors focus and fret on the Lilliputian opposition of three old men and a tired dog — anticipating the moment when they look up and see the giant body of unstoppable resistance — the draftees, their communities and employers, and the waves of taxpayers who will pay for the young and energetic to become temporarily enslaved to do the will of a government that lives, and even thrills, to spend other people’s money as fast as it can rip it from their paychecks, projected tips and expected earnings.

But the guttural and gigantic American resistance to universal national service by those it will impact most is ignored — and I suspect on purpose. The capstone of this incredibly funny proposal is in the purported benefits of this new draft. Briefly and incredibly, they are: 1) the military will become a more flavorful, if not fascistic, pure of American race, religion and class; 2) politicians will instantly become more responsible, more statesman-like, more accountable, more moral (please, stop me before I write more.…); and 3) We can’t accomplish the mission in Afghanistan if we don’t have a draft.

The humor here is parody. The military must be all of us (how silly, even the Spartans didn’t go as far)! Might we hold the children and grandchildren of all politicians hostage in the face of their various votes for war, intervention and exportation of death? Certainly, we may quickly and cheaply implement this fine idea without a universal draft, and should do so post haste! Lastly — as we have no national consensus about what we are doing or hoping to do in Afghanistan, why would sending more Americans there be any part of a solution?

In conclusion, the authors proclaim that their own modest proposal will soon be welcomed with open arms by all Americans. They write, "Indeed, the reinstatement of the draft is not an invitation for more war; it may be the best chance for peace."

If I suspected that the well-crafted and delicately composed Hauser and Slater piece in Foreign Policy magazine was satire of the exceptional sort rarely seen in American media, I knew it was when I read that last sentence. Upon digesting this proposal, most Americans will respond, much as did the contemporary readers of Jonathan Swift’s classic, with "He’s got to be kidding!" or "How utterly cruel!" And some of us will nod to each other and whisper, "What rare subversive genius have we found here!"

LRC columnist Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D. [send her mail], a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, has written on defense issues with a libertarian perspective for MilitaryWeek.com, hosted the call-in radio show American Forum, and blogs occasionally for Huffingtonpost.com and Liberty and Power. To receive automatic announcements of new articles, click here.

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