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Slavery is freedom

By Christopher Coyle
web posted August 2, 2004

For many years, the United States military has been put under tremendous burdens through deployments throughout the world which has sapped its troop strength, something which was certainly not helped by the current war in Iraq. Signs of a military being spread too thin due to its many obligations can readily be seen: the issuance of "stop loss" orders preventing soldiers in combat units from being discharged, extending the tours of duty of 20,000 soldiers beyond their contractual obligations, the tapping of 5,600 soldiers from the Individual Ready Reserve, the redeployment of 3,600 troops from North Korea to Iraq, and the recent authorization by Congress to increase Army troop levels by 20,000. This has provided fertile conditions for those who wish to revive the military draft. Indeed, some commentators have already been clamoring for a return to compulsory enlistment in the armed forces to shore up troop strength in the military.

However, whether a draft ever becomes enacted again is much in doubt. President Bush, along with the Pentagon as well as most of Congress, has avoided the issue like the plague, insisting that a return to the draft is not necessary. The Selective Service System has been so inundated with calls and e-mails from people concerned about the situation that they had to publish a written denial on their website. The lasting stigmatization of the last draft during the Vietnam War has created questions as to the political viability of a draft.

Yet, this hasn't deterred the proponents of such a system. With all the negative connotations that come with the word "draft", new calls have been made to promote instead essentially the same sinister plan by a new name: compulsory national service. Such a plan usually entails conscripting all Americans, men and women, after their high school or college graduations for a year of work in various charitable or security employments and may include some sort of military component. Promoters have sold such an idea as the moral and patriotic solution to many of our societal woes.

They are definitely at no loss for supposed justifications for the system. Some lament the unequal sacrifices made by those in our society, claiming that poor and minority Americans make up a disproportionate share of the armed forces. Their goal is a shared sacrifice, meaning forcing all children, including those of the wealthy and powerful, to serve their "required" time. Others want to re-instill the patriotism that was suddenly reawakened after the attacks on 9-11. They fear a generation of Americans lacking civic responsibility and a respect for the military. They also see universal compulsory national service as a way to help the community and foster a sense of belonging with and responsibility towards their fellow citizens.

What all of this boils down to is an attempt to "socially engineer" a generation of young Americans to forcefully instill the virtues and ideals these commentators desire. They wish to promote patriotism among seemingly apathetic youth lacking in discipline by destroying the very thing which makes this country worth loving: freedom. Freedom is a word you will not hear uttered by those promoting compulsory service as this idea is at the very antithesis of the freedom we hold so dear. What makes our country so great is the fact that its citizens can choose to pursue the goals and ends that they have freely chosen for themselves and are not subordinated by the government to be coercively forced into pursuing the ends those in power believe they should be striving for. Yet, according to the supporters of national service, such a state of affairs is to be dreaded as selfish and antisocial.

Such a belief also suggests their anti-capitalist leanings and the utter disregard which these people hold the free market economy. A person's private interests in the pursuit of his own career on the market is supposedly seen as nothing but greedy and egotistical and must be supplanted, for at least one year, with compulsory work in hospitals, food banks, and homeless centers. They are ignorant of the social benefits that a person confers upon us by providing his services on the market. In the market economy, a person makes money only in as much as he serves his fellow man by providing him with the goods and services that he desires. It is a positive sum game with both sides receiving things which they value more highly that what they gave up to attain it. It is this process which is the foundation of the prosperity which we live in today.

What is disturbing is the fact that it is not necessarily modern liberals (who can regularly be counted on to promote social engineering and vast government planning) who are actively promoting such a program but conservatives, the supposed defenders of our freedoms from the onslaught of modern liberalism. Those conservative commentators who promote such a scheme are apparently unaware of the ultimate contradiction inherent in their goals to promote freedom as well as compulsory universal national service. They only implicitly demonstrate their concurrence with modern liberals in their distaste for the free market as well as their desire to plan society to their own whims, only differing in the ultimate goals to which they aspire.

Of course, such dissention is not to suggest that charity and volunteer work is not commendable and beneficial, far from it. Yet, what makes such sacrifices so noteworthy is the very fact that it is done voluntarily by those participating. By attempting to coerce such work, they only succeed in removing the morality and all commendable aspects of the work. Morality can not be forced from the barrel of a gun; only with free choices made by free individuals can positive moral judgments by applied.

The foundation of our free society is individual liberty: the ability of people to make their own choices and live their own lives as they see fit. The draft, or compulsory universal national service, obliterates such freedom and subordinates the individual to the dictates of the state, making the individual a slave to the state. There is nothing that is more inimical to individual liberty, or to America itself, than that. 

Christopher Coyle is the president of The Liberty Coalition at the University of Virginia.

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