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The con of conscription

By George F. Smith
web posted December 3, 2001

No organization has done more for the federal government than al-Qaida. What other group could free it of so much restraint?

Our elected officials swear to support and defend the U. S. Constitution as part of their oath of office. We, the people, through the Constitution, delegated to Congress the power "To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal . . . [and] to raise and support Armies." Nowhere does the Constitution say how it should raise and support the military, but it does provide clear guidelines.

One of the cracks in the foundation of our early nation was the abomination of slavery, "a system based on using the enforced labor of other people," according to the Encarta dictionary. Government eventually abolished it outright with the thirteenth amendment, though the Bill of Rights had made it legally groundless all along. The amendment doesn't just outlaw slavery in the antebellum sense -- it prohibits any form of compulsory servitude, except as punishment for a crime.

Thus, the Constitution says to Congress, "Raise an army, but do it with volunteers."

So how is it we've had a military draft?

Mostly, by means of the same justification given for other intrusions on our liberty: crisis.

Wars threaten the existence of the state. They must be won at all costs. Until fairly recently in human history, one of the requirements for winning was a large number of ground troops. If those troops can't be acquired voluntarily, the state forces young men into the armed services at the point of a gun.

Of course, it's never presented in such raw terms. We usually hear talk about the privilege young men have to serve their country. If they should happen to miss that message, it's Uncle Sam's job to convince them with a letter of greetings. There is no ugliness if we don't use ugly words.

Serving one's country is also regarded as patriotic. But it all depends on what the country's doing. If it's fighting an aggressor to preserve our freedom, then the cause is just and will attract volunteers. Serving when the cause is obscure or unjust amounts to blind nationalism.

In a country that values freedom, politicians carry the burden of ensuring we don't get involved in armed conflicts that aren't a threat to our national security. Acting as the world's cop has hardly kept us out of trouble.

It's been argued that even in "just" wars, enlistments wouldn't always meet manpower needs, and therefore a draft is the only solution. Why not boost the pay for volunteers? When private firms need additional manpower, they don't resort to hiring at gunpoint. Are we appalled at being defended by mercenaries? We deal with mercenaries everyday -- career military personnel are mercenaries, as is anyone in the business community who works for money. But such people are usually called professionals. Would you rather be defended by professionals or low-wage draftees? If anyone deserves top pay, it's a soldier willing to kill and risk his or her life to defend our freedom.

Congressman Ron Paul has been an outspoken opponent of the draft and has advocated ditching the selective service and giving the funds instead to the Veterans Administration, which is typically underfunded. "Even the military agrees that the Selective Service System is an ineffective hold-over from a different age," Rep. Paul said earlier this year.

And yet the Selective Service System web site states: "By having the names and addresses of men 18 through 25 years old on file with the SSS, America remains ready to face any threat."

Though we've had no draft since 1973, many are calling for conscription now -- and not just for the military. Statists want to force every youth in this country to serve in some capacity and are clamoring to join in the power grab of the current crisis. Those unfit for the military or who qualify as conscientious objectors would be sent grazing somewhere in the homeland. It shouldn't be surprising -- altruists have been singing the servitude song for all eternity. Getting the government involved adds legalized force to their refrain.

"[T]he most fundamental objection to draft registration is moral," President Reagan once said. "[A] draft or draft registration destroys the very values that our society is committed to defending."

Anyone who champions freedom will oppose the initiation of physical force in all forms. Conscription promotes the indignity of slavery and makes a mockery of our Constitution. "Not only is the notion of involuntary servitude at odds with our system of law and tradition of liberty, " Rep. Paul said, "but it is not in keeping with the needs and demands of a 21st Century defense program."


George Smith is full-time freelance writer with a special interest in liberty issues and screenwriting. His articles have appeared on Ether Zone, and in the Gwinnett Daily Post, Writer's Yearbook, Creative Loafing, and Goal Magazine. He has a web site for screenwriters and other writers at

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  • They fought for freedom, not service by Steven Martinovich (September 13, 1999)
    Hackworth didn't fight for military service, responds Steve Martinovich, but for freedom
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