While most of us are preoccupied with the latest tales of mayhem and destruction emanating from Iraq, the Bush administration is quietly paving the way for the re-imposition of the ultimate form of slavery: a military draft to provide additional fodder for the so-called War on Terror. Without much fanfare, $28 million has been added to the 2004 Selective Service System (SSS) budget to prepare for a military draft that could start as early as June 15, 2005. SSS is charged with reporting back to Bush by March 31, 2005 (conveniently after the election), that the selective service system, which has lain dormant for decades, is ready for activation. If libertarians and traditional conservatives, who continue to regard Bush as the lesser of the major party evils, needed a convincing argument that it is long past time to get rid of this latter-day emperor in the making, this should be it. Libertarians can disagree on many issues, but on this one there is no room for equivocation; anyone who believes that the state has the right to compel its citizens to don battle gear and die for their country is no friend of liberty.
Bush has succeeded in positioning himself as the enemy of everything libertarians esteem the most: free markets, peace, fiscal responsibility, and true liberty rooted in the principles outlined in the Bill of Rights. Even as our fundamental rights were being stripped away inexorably by this and past administrations, it seemed unthinkable that the most basic right of all — the right to life itself — would once again be jeopardized by a compulsory draft system that had seemingly been permanently interred more than thirty years ago. If Bush has taught us one lesson, it is that Barry Goldwater and Robert Taft-style Republicanism, with its classical liberal bent, bears as much resemblance to Bush's Republican Party as Aristotle did to Plato.
If Bush is reelected in November and succeeds in his quest for a new military draft, it will surely be even more odious in its implementation than the one that existed before 1970. For one thing, the loopholes that allowed Bush to escape service in Vietnam during his own youth will be tightened nearly to extinction. Canada will no longer be a safe haven for Americans seeking refuge from this latest incarnation of American slavery as it was in the late 1960s, thanks to the "Smart Border Declaration," the Orwellian name given to a treaty signed by Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs John Manley, and U.S. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge. This insidious document calls for a “pre-clearance agreement” of people entering and departing each country and, in an effort to make the draft more "equitable" along gender and class lines, also eliminates higher education as a shelter. It's as though Bush examined the escape hatches that were available when he was threatened with enforced military duty and is determined to make sure they are no longer an option for the latest generation of draft-age Americans.
Unfortunately, the Democrats are not likely to offer much in the way of opposition to a new draft. New York City Congressman Charles Rangel only half-facetiously floated the idea himself a year ago in an effort to throw a monkey wrench into the Bush war machinery. John Kerry, who has been on so many sides of each issue that he is simultaneously right and wrong on all of them, doesn't appear to have any ideological backbone whatsoever to prop him up. As Chris Matthews of "Hard Ball" asked of Don Imus during the Primary season, "Does anyone know where Kerry stands on any issue?" Kerry has positioned himself as Bush-lite on the subject of Iraq and is far from likely to take a firm stand, one way or another, on an issue as explosive as the military draft. That leaves Nader and the LP candidate, neither of whom is going to be our next president.
So it appears we are destined to suffer through the same old pro-draft/anti-draft arguments my generation was besieged with for the better part of three decades, roughly from the beginning of Word War II through the first year of the Nixon presidency. On one side a new generation of kids in their teens and twenties, along with their sympathizers, lined up against hordes of brainless self-styled "patriots" waving their American flags, denouncing the kids as "traitors" while they pledge their allegiance to God and Country. What a mindless and emotionally charged spectacle it was! How tedious and mind-numbing. And if Bush has his way, we will be able to thank the beady-eyed neo-conservative from Texas for visiting it on us all over again.
April 22, 2004