• Only Draft the One You Love

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    I
    suspect most people reading this believe that some kind of conscription
    will grace these shores come the new year. I know I do.

    The
    reason for a new draft is fairly straightforward. The policy elite,
    those inside the White House as well as out of it (and not just
    the "world leaders pretend" of the American Enterprise
    Institute, but ostensibly "sensible" people like those
    at Brookings, Heritage, and the Center for Strategic and International
    Studies), no longer really understand what things cost and certainly
    do not have to bear the consequences of their policy decisions.

    As
    Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote in Gulag
    Archipelago
    , "Paper will take anything." And America’s
    think tanks, public policy research institutes and government agencies
    produce thousands of position papers every year, advocating this
    program or that initiative or endorsing such-and-such deployment.
    It’s easy on paper, it costs nothing, to order an army to patrol
    and rebuild a strife-ridden zone. It’s especially easy if the person
    writing the paper has never "humped a ruck" and pays no
    attention to the real live people he or she is asking to sacrifice
    and condemning to death.

    And
    not only does this elite not really understand costs and consequences,
    they possess a nearly bottomless sense of entitlement — to our time,
    our labor, and even our very lives.

    They
    propose, and we are disposed.

    So
    when pressed with having to choose scaled-back ambitions — ambitions
    to remake the world in our image, to impose peace on warring lands,
    to enrich the poor, to educate the ignorant, to heal all of the
    world’s sick and clean up all of its wasteland — and demanding even
    more resources to make those ambitions reality, the choice is clear:
    more resources.

    More
    money in the budget next year. More men and women to get the job
    done. More. More. More. Always more.

    So
    it hardly matters whether we are "blessed" with a Kerry
    administration or a second Bush regime. The wheels of Selective
    Service will be greased and the country’s young men and women will
    be asked — politely, of course — to "serve their country."

    (Okay,
    so it may matter a little. A Kerry imperatorship would likely give
    us some kind of "national service" draft that not only
    put soldiers in uniform but will also swell the ranks of AmeriCorps,
    giving the country’s more alternatively inclined 20-somethings the
    opportunity to deliver dinners to shut-in little old ladies, scrub
    graffiti off of walls, teach poor children their A-B-C’s and landscape
    national parks across the country. A Bush regency, on the other
    hand, would likely only have token patience for such "Girlie
    Man" activities — there’s a world to be won!)

    If
    there are any potential objections to conscription, I expect it
    will probably come from the Pentagon itself. Not because there are
    great champions of liberty wandering the wings and the wedges of
    that fine building, though there are probably still some. (There
    may be a few NCO’s and officers out there who believe the country’s
    young people could damn well do with a little discipline, but I
    suspect there aren’t very many of them in uniform anymore either.)

    No,
    any objection would likely be utilitarian: what do we do with all
    these people?

    Simply
    put, I suspect the uniformed services are in no position to induct
    and train the many hundreds of thousands of young men and young
    women who would be culled into the armed forces in a universal draft.
    Where do you house them, where do you train them, and where do you
    station them when they are trained? The Defense Department has spent
    the better part of the last decade abandoning many state-side Cold
    War bases — including large numbers of training bases. It would
    be costly and take far too much time to revitalize more than a few.

    I’m
    no expert on the matter, but I suspect the military as it is currently
    organized probably cannot absorb more a few hundred thousand draftees
    each year anyway, and that likely assumes draftees would be paid
    less and not serve as long as volunteers. Even if you replace all
    the overpriced Halliburton and Fluor contractors (and their subcontinental
    and Filipino slave labor) with soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines,
    a draft is still going to drag in far too many people. Many hands
    may make light the work, but even given Dick Cheney’s palpitating
    global ambitions, there simply will not be enough work for several
    million men and women in uniform.

    There’s
    no need for a mass Army of millions of soldiers in long gray coats.
    Not in an era of capital-intensive warfare. Not when soldiers are
    vulnerable to roadside bombs. Not when death and destruction can
    be more effectively and remotely dealt from 30,000 feet.

    More
    importantly, however, a universal draft — one that drafts evenly
    and equally — would quickly put too many people in uniform whose
    political reliability simply could not be guaranteed. Think about
    it. A universal draft would fill the armed forces with rednecks,
    farm kids, suburban punks and aspiring peaceniks alike (although
    I suspect there would be a marked increase in the number of young
    men — and young women — from the country’s more liberal ZIP codes
    who suddenly "realized" they were gay, and would eagerly
    tell even if not asked). Now, maybe training and discipline would
    pound everyone into shape (it didn’t for me in 1985, and I volunteered),
    but I have a sneaking suspicion it won’t. There would be too many
    people stuck in the military without wanting to be there who would
    be thoroughly suspicious of the institution, of working in hierarchies
    and of doing what they’re told. Too many people willing or at least
    inclined to act on conscience and not obey orders.

    And
    even if all the data we have on how people react to authority tells
    us that even the "best" of us will likely follow orders
    to hurt others when we believe in the authority giving the commands,
    it doesn’t take many to say "no" to cause problems, to
    rally others to the call of conscience. There mere threat that such
    a problem could exist — and it will if millions of young men and
    women are inducted — could likely be a deterrence. It costs money
    to deal with or even weed out troublemakers. It’s better never to
    have to deal with them to begin with.

    However,
    there is an alternative.

    Just
    because we’re going to have a universal draft doesn’t mean that
    it will really be universal. How difficult would it be for the Selective
    Service Administration to mine census data, match it against election
    return information, and draft people more likely to say "yes
    sir, no sir, three bags full, sir!" People more likely to support
    the leader, the regime, and the policy of the day.

    People
    more likely to do what they’re told. And not ask any questions.

    (Okay,
    only as long as a God-fearing Republican occupies the White House…)

    And
    there’s a likely fringe benefit, too, because if the people of Massachusetts
    — or Berkeley, or Seattle, or Northwest D.C., or even Omaha — get
    uppity, think they can challenge the leader or the regime, well,
    the government has an Army of young men and women who are much less
    likely to view the people on the business ends of their riot control
    batons or rifles as fellow citizens. Not that any level of government
    would ever need to worry about the loyalty and savagery of the police
    when it comes to dealing with assumed threats to public order. And
    not that the U.S. Army has had showed much reluctance throughout
    history to shoot Americans when ordered to.

    But
    an assurance, some kind of guarantee, would be nice. Just in case.

    (Even
    when it comes to much-needed "special skills" – like
    reading and writing Arabic — the draftors would have to pick carefully,
    because too many of us who went to university to get those skills
    did so because we like Arabs or found something appealing
    about Islam. We are even less likely, I think, to be politically
    reliable.)

    Now,
    I have no special insight, and don’t know if anyone thinking about
    conscription is actually considering this kind of limited draft.
    It is entirely possible that enough people in positions of "authority"
    will conclude — regrettably, from their standpoints — that it simply
    is not doable. I rather doubt it.

    So
    it only makes sense that if a draft is being considered, if the
    nets are being unwound and mended, that those who consider our treasure
    and our lives forfeit in pursuit of their dreams and ideals would
    only consider the most efficient way to use us in fulfillment of
    their ends.

    They
    will make it — and us — work.

    September
    29, 2004

    Charles
    H. Featherstone [send
    him mail
    ] is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist specializing
    in energy, the Middle East, and Islam. He lives with his wife Jennifer
    in Alexandria, Virginia.

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