suspect most people reading this believe that some kind of conscription
will grace these shores come the new year. I know I do.
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.
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.
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.
propose, and we are disposed.
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:
money in the budget next year. More men and women to get the job
done. More. More. More. Always more.
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."
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!)
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.)
any objection would likely be utilitarian: what do we do with all
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
there is an alternative.
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.
more likely to do what they’re told. And not ask any questions.
only as long as a God-fearing Republican occupies the White House…)
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.
an assurance, some kind of guarantee, would be nice. Just in case.
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
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.
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
will make it — and us — work.
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.