Conscription = Communism

The theme of Woodrow Wilson's 1916 re-election campaign was: "He kept us out of the war." Numerous historians, both partisans and detractors of the wretched Wilson, have documented that the slogan was a cynical lie. The same was true of Wilson's repeated public statements in opposition to the restoration of the draft, which had been discontinued at the end of the War Between the States.

In his April 2, 1917 address to Congress seeking a declaration of war against Germany, Wilson approached the subject of conscription from an oblique angle, stating that the war would "involve the immediate addition to the armed forces of the United States … at least 500,000 men, who should, in my opinion, be chosen upon the principle of universal liability to service…" (Emphasis added.)

Observes Thomas Fleming in his invaluable book Illusion of Victory: "These words were an uplifting way of saying conscription, a draft." Significantly, Wilson's words were also a close paraphrase of a line from the eighth plank of the Communist Manifesto dictating an "equal liability of all to labor" in tasks ordained by the state. This implicit kinship was made more overt in Wilson's May 28 proclamation implementing the conscription law that had been passed by Congress ten days earlier.

"The nation needs all men," decreed Wilson, "but it needs each man not in the field that will most pleasure him, but in the endeavor that will best serve the common good…. To this end, Congress has provided that the nation shall be organized for war by selection; that each man shall be classified for service in the place to which it shall best serve the general good to call him."

"The significance of this cannot be overstated," continued Wilson. "It is a new thing in our history and a landmark in our progress." Although Wilson's conscription measure did represent a landmark in America's descent into militarist collectivism, it was hardly the "new thing" he claimed it to be. While the Constitution did not provide for federal conscription, both the Union and Confederacy implemented the draft during the War Between the States. And in both cases, the draft was the keystone in a system described by historian Jeffrey Rogers Hummel as "war socialism."

Der Staat ber Alles

The fundamental premise of the draft is that people exist to serve and protect the State, and can be used as seen fit by those who control it. This was expressed with astonishing bluntness in a July 13, 1863 New York Times house editorial entitled "The Conscription a Great National Benefit."

"It is a national blessing that the Conscription has been imposed," declared this hymn to the almighty State. "It is a matter of prime concern that it should now be settled, once for all, whether this Government is or is not strong enough to compel military service in its defense." Up until then, continued the Times, "the popular mind had scarcely bethought itself for a moment that the power of an unlimited Conscription was … one of the living powers of the government in time of war. The general notion was that Conscription was a feature that belonged exclusively to despotic Governments…."

But such notions must now be suppressed, insisted the editorial, since "not only the property, but the personal military service of every ablebodied citizen is at the command of the national authorities, constitutionally exercised…. The Government is the people's Government…. When it is once understood that our national authority has the right under the Constitution, to every dollar and every right arm in the country for its protection, and that the great people recognize and stand by that right, thenceforward, for all time to come, this Republic will command a respect, both at home and abroad, far beyond any ever accorded to it before." (Emphasis added.)

The Times published those words as New York City succumbed to four days of violent anti-draft riots – the worst civic disturbance in U.S. history to that point. In the aftermath, the London Times ran a house editorial about the draft riots in which that British periodical expressed a sounder grasp of American constitutional tradition than had our own "paper of record": "It would have been strange, indeed, if the American people had submitted to a measure which is a distinctive mark of the most despotic governments of the Continent."

In order to enforce the conscription law, the Lincoln regime emulated – and built upon – precedents set by despotic European governments. As documented by Mark Neely in The Fate of Liberty, his Pulitzer-winning 1991 account of civil liberties under Lincoln, the period following enactment of conscription in 1863 was "the lowest point for civil liberties in U.S. history to that time, and one of the lowest for civil liberties in all of American history." Enforcement of conscription led to nation-wide suspension of the writ of Habeas Corpus, and East German-style efforts to seal the border to keep draft-age men from fleeing the country. Hundreds were imprisoned for either seeking to avoid the draft, or even for publicly condemning it.

While the draft was abolished at war's end, the notion that the federal government had the right "to every dollar and every right arm in the country for its protection" was not. Journalist Joel Tyler Headley, in his 1873 account The Great Riots of New York 1712–1873, prefaced his treatment of the draft riots with a brief theodicy defending the almighty State's use of the draft.

"[W]e do not believe there is a sounder principle, or one that every unbiased mind does not concede with readiness that it does an axiom, that, if necessary to protect and save itself, a government may not only order a draft, but call out every able-bodied man in the nation," lectured Headley. "If this right does not inhere in our government, it is built on a foundation of sand, and the sooner it is abandoned the better."

Unlike orthodox Communists, Headley defended the division of labor, at least as applied to the Civil War draft, in which wealthy draft-age men could hire a substitute.

"The objection that a rich man, if drafted, can buy a substitute, while the poor man, with a large family depending upon him, must go, if of any weight at all, lies against the whole structure of society, which gives the rich man at every step immunities over the poor man," wrote Headley. "When society gets in that happy state, that the rich man has no advantages over the poor, there will be no need either of drafting or volunteering. Yet, after all, it is not so unequal as it at first sight appears. War must have money as well as men, and the former the rich have to furnish; and if they do this, it is but fair that they should be allowed to furnish with it also the men to do their fighting. Besides, there must be some rule that would exempt the men that carry on the business of the country."

Headley's perspective was warmly embraced roughly a century later by late-blooming war hawks like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and scores of others who avoided Vietnam in order to pursue (in Cheney's words) "other priorities." In this, as in so much else, neo-con "chickenhawks" are guided by Lincoln's example. Notes Michael Lind in his new book, What Lincoln Believed: "Lincoln, while sending the sons of other men to their deaths, ensured that his own adult son Robert would avoid combat, first as a student at Harvard College and then as a member of the staff of General Ulysses S. Grant."

Another notable figure of the era who avoided conscription – albeit in his native Prussia – was Simon Baruch, who enlisted in the Confederate military after settling in South Carolina. His son Bernard would become an immensely powerful financier and – more importantly – head of the War Industries Board under Wilson, which would implement the Wilson regime's system of War Communism.

Wilson's War Communism

When Wilson re-instated conscription in his May 28, 1917 decree, he described it as "a new manner of accepting and vitalizing our duty to give ourselves without thoughtful devotion to the common purpose of all. It is in no sense a conscription of the unwilling; it is, rather, selection from a nation which has volunteered in mass. It is no more a choosing of those who shall march with the colors than it is a selection of those who shall serve an equally necessary and devoted purpose in the industries that lie behind the battle line."

All men between the ages of 21 and 30 were ordered to muster at local registration sites on June 5, a date Wilson described as "a great day of patriotic devotion and obligation" on which "the name of every male person of the designated ages is written on these lists of honor."

Despite Wilson's resounding claim that the nation had "volunteered in mass" for the war, the public wasn't noticeably eager to take the yoke of the warfare state. In a note to "Colonel" Edward Mandell House, Wilson's intimate confidant, Wilson's secretary Joe Tumulty fretted that "the people's ‘righteous wrath' seems not to have been aroused."

To arouse the public, the administration turned to propagandist George Creel, head of the quasi-governmental Committee for Public Information. Creel deployed an army of orators called the "Four Minute Men," who bullied their way into local theaters, civic clubs, churches, chambers of commerce, and other public settings to deliver "patriotic" speeches extolling the administration's war aims.

The purpose of this pestilential horde of herd-poisoners, Creel explained, was to build a "war will" in the American public. Between May 12 and 21, Creel's cadres harangued the public on the subject, "Universal Service by Selective Draft." Writes Fleming: "As often as possible, the word ‘service' was substituted for the harsher ‘conscription.' It was a word that blended nicely with the ideals of progressive reform that had swept the nation in the decade before the war."

But the public still refused to embrace the war. "There is evidence that in many localities the people have only entered the war with reluctance and with a feeling of inevitability rather than with any enthusiasm," reported the British government's American Press Resume on May 23. Thus the administration unsheathed what Fleming calls "the mailed fist" – targeted arrests of draft resisters and critics. Amid claims of a widespread conspiracy to "resist the draft by force," federal officials jailed anti-draft protesters and pamphleteers in Texas, California, Ohio, and New York. The dragnet against "violent" and "lawless" draft opponents snagged two Missouri men who sought a court order to prevent enforcement of the draft decree.

As counter-point to the crackdown, a May 25 Los Angeles Times headline warned: "Death for Treason Awaits Anti-Draft Plotters." A week later, the paper reported that the nation's ports were being kept under surveillance to prevent draft-age men from fleeing the country. This "mixture of exhortation and intimidation" turned the tide in the PR battle, Fleming writes: "In most towns and cities, almost 10 million men registered without a murmur of protest." Many Americans embraced the idea that Universal Service would be a healthy thing for undisciplined youth and unruly elements. "I'd rather have my son go to heaven in France than to hell in America!" exclaimed one dutiful Texas father. The New York Times opined that "The Selective Service Draft gives a long and sorely needed means of disciplining a certain rather insolent foreign element in this nation."

Once it was widely accepted that the State could force men to take up arms in its defense (as opposed to volunteering to defend their homes and communities), it was relatively easy for the Wilson regime to regiment the industrial economy. That task was assigned to Bernard Baruch – the son, once again, of a man who had dodged the draft in Germany.

The concept of the "Nation in Arms," Baruch wrote in a post-war report, meant that "in war, her entire resources of men, money and things should suddenly become a compact instrument of destruction…. [T]he entire population must suddenly cease to be a congeries of individuals, each following a self-appointed course, and become a vast unitary mechanism."

Nor is it enough that government conscript industry and transmute the productive sector into an engine of mass destruction; it must also claim the power to set all prices by fiat – in order to "support the troops," of course. Baruch theatrically lamented the destruction of "domestic morale through a just and bitter resentment by soldiers, their families, and indeed all persons of fixed income, at the spectacle of grotesquely exaggerated profits and income to those engaged in trade or in services for sale in competitive markets and the constantly increasing burden of bare existence to all those who are not so engaged."

The "just and bitter resentment" of conscripts, Baruch continued, can be assuaged "by simple proclamation to decree that every price in the whole national pattern as of that determined date shall be the maximum that may thenceforth be charged for anything…. In modern war, administrative control must replace the law of supply and demand."

"Administrative control" of necessity meant State control over the labor market, as well as goods and services. This was accomplished, in part, through the "Work or Fight" directive, through which men qualifying for a draft deferment were required to labor at State-approved jobs or face military conscription. Explained Baruch: "The Work or Fight order merely said to these men: ‘No matter what the grounds for your deferment may be, unless you are faithfully, continuously and usefully employed in a capacity and for an enterprise determined by the Government to be essential to the prosecution of the war, your deferment will be cancelled and you will immediately be called for service with the colors.'"

And why wouldn't this be the case, given that the draft is based on the assumption that the State has a right "to every dollar and every right arm in the country for its protection"?

Interestingly, while Baruch he stoutly defended the military draft, he opposed conscription of labor as a violation of the 13th Amendment's prohibition on "involuntary servitude." Baruch, in a fashion typical of Communists of all varieties, believed the private sector alone could be guilty of that offense. From the Communist perspective, the earth is the State's, and everything in it – so when the State imposes involuntary servitude on its subjects, it's merely exercising its sovereign right.

"A soldier serves the nation directly," Baruch wrote, dishonestly treating the "nation" and the "State" as the same entity. "There is but one master in the case and that master is America. He serves to profit no one but the country as a whole…. His entry is not contractural. He is clothed, fed, housed, and attended." However, insisted Baruch, "Enforced and involuntary service for a private master is and has been clearly and repeatedly defined by our Supreme Court as slavery inhibited [actually, prohibited] by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States…. All this does not say, however, that men not under military discipline are free agents in war. The Government cannot say, ‘Work here. Work there,' or ‘Work for Mr. A.' But it can say – as it did say in 1918: ‘Work or Fight!'" (Emphasis added.)

All Good Things…

Writing in 1941, shortly after the FDR regime had re-instated conscription in preparation for U.S. entry into the Second World War, Baruch fondly remembered the success of the Wilson regime's efforts to collectivize the country.

"As if by common consent," Baruch recalled, "every war administration adopted the policy of decentralization, reliance on unofficial civilian co-operation, public education as to necessity, and – to put it frankly – universal and highly organized propaganda. Thus the draft – instead of being enforced by soldiers carrying bayonets as in the Civil War – was turned over to small boards of local civilians who were given almost unlimited and final authority. Largely they served without compensation and at great sacrifice. Much was made of the service of these men and conscription took on the aspect of a great spontaneous levee en masse. But there was a provision in the Selective Service Act under which, if any member of these draft boards had refused that duty, he could have been sent to jail."

Among Baruch's few regrets was the fact that the war had ended before the nation had been transformed into a collectivist utopia: "Had the war gone on another year, our whole civil population would have gradually emerged (as wardrobes and inventories became exhausted) in cheap but serviceable uniform. Types of shoes were to be reduced to two or three. The manufacture of pleasure automobiles was to cease. Flaps from pockets and unnecessary trim in clothing would have disappeared. Steel had already been taken out of women's corsets."

Ah, well – other opportunities for remaking American through war would come, as even more ruthless ruling elites – such as those arising after WWI in Germany and Russia – seized on the Wilson regime's example. Of Germany's National Socialist regime, Baruch proudly observed in 1941: "German military experts have said, ‘Except for a few minor changes, the German economic mobilization system was conscientiously built in imitation of the similar American system." Which is to say that the Wilson/Baruch model for war mobilization was the first draft of Hitler's warfare State.

General Hugh S. Johnson, who had commanded the Blue Eagle storm troopers during the early years of the New Deal, also took pride in the tribute paid to Wilson's regime by German rulers. In mobilizing for the coming war, wrote Johnson in 1941, "we should merit for industrial America something of what Field Marshal von Hindenburg in his retrospect of the World War had to say of its efforts in 1918: ‘Her brilliant, if pitiless, war industry had entered the service of patriotism and had not failed it. Under the compulsion of military necessity a ruthless autocracy was at work and rightly, even in this land at the portals of which the Statue of Liberty flashes its blinding light across the seas. They understood war.'"

Those of us who love liberty and peace should also understand war: It is the State reduced to its essential functions – destruction, regimentation, pitiless violence. Similarly, we must understand that conscription indisputably rests on the assumption that each individual is the State's property, to be sacrificed when those controlling the State deem it necessary for their protection.

The inimitable William Lind pointed to the recent spectacle of panic-crazed politicians and bureaucrats fleeing the Capitol when a Cessna strayed into "secure airspace" as an example of "the crisis of legitimacy of the State." "When the same people who have sent our kids to die in Iraq and left our borders wide open run in panic because of a Cessna, the American people get the message: Washington is ‘them,' not ‘us,'" he pointed out.

Thousands of Americans, both young and not-so-young, have been left dead, limbless, sightless, or mindless because of the actions of soft-handed, softbellied servants of the State. That same ruling elite is quietly preparing to re-instate the draft, now that the pool of willing enlistees is drying up. Just as it happened almost a century ago, the drive to re-institute conscription – which is to say, War Communism – is shielded by a curtain of blasé assurances from the political class, and pseudo-populist rhetoric from George Creel's contemporary disciples.

May 31, 2005