Will the Draft Rise from the Dead?

Nothing works as well as a crisis, real or perceived, for bringing discredited, seemingly moribund ideas back to life. A case in point is Charles Moskos and Paul Glastris’s plea (Washington Post, Nov. 4, 2001) for reinstatement of the draft. Not the old draft, of course, but one tailored to our current “new kind of war.”

Moskos and Glastris assert that the draft should be revived because during the war on terrorism more people will be needed to perform dull, security-related jobs, and not enough people will volunteer for such employment. How do Moskos and Glastris know that ordinary incentives, such as improved pay and benefits, would fail to bring forth the requisite workers? Well, they don’t know, of course; but they have no interest in finding out, either.

Their not-so-hidden agenda becomes clear enough in their remarks about the virtues of the draft in “unifying the country,” about participation in “our shared national fate,” and about bringing Ivy Leaguers shoulder to shoulder with less privileged youths. Social leveling, it would appear, ranks so high that it trumps mere human liberty.

In a backhanded recognition of the desire of contemporary Americans for “choice,” Moskos and Glastris propose to satisfy that desire by recommending a three-part draft in which the young men conscripted would choose between the military, homeland-security jobs, and a civilian national-service program. Some choice.

Moskos and Glastris’s proposal raises several important questions, none of which they see fit to consider. Perhaps in a followup article they will tell us: Whatever happened to the idea that every person, even a young man, has inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Whatever happened to the idea that a just government is instituted to secure these rights, not to crush them underfoot upon the earliest pretext? What exactly do we gain if we can defend ourselves only by destroying the very heart and soul of what it is about this country that deserves defending?

November 15, 2001