Tuesday, 31 December 2002

The Draft as a Preventer of War

Charles Rangel thinks reinstituting the draft would be a peachy idea; today, Glenn Reynolds briefly mentions the Rangel op-ed and links to commentary by John Stryker; Tacitus (as mentioned earlier) has a different take.

I don't see how any reading of the 13th Amendment can be squared with a military draft. The draft is, by definition, involuntary servitude, and the only differences between it and slavery are (a) you get paid and (b) the government's the slaveowner, neither of which meet the exception for punishment for a crime. (I suppose the government could constitutionally draft felons, but I don't think criminals would make very good soldiers, “Dirty Dozen” films notwithstanding.)

Aside from that, though, there are more practical issues. Draftees in general don't make very good soldiers (all other things being equal), except in situations where the draft is a response to a clear and present danger to one's own country (the Israeli draft is probably the only current one that fits this definition; the World War II drafts in Britain, her colonies, and America fit as well).

In the absence of a clear and present danger that draftees care about, drafts tend to have pernicious effects; citizens flee to foreign states and burn draft cards in protest, for example. Peacetime drafts, more often than not, paper over deficiencies in militaries by giving the impression of a “large, capable standing army” when much of that army is just going through the motions for a year or two before finding something productive to do; at best, it's a way to keep unskilled youth occupied rather than unemployed, while at worst it creates the illusion to domestic politicians of having an effective military that, in fact, is largely useless. (Ask the Russians, whose draft-dominated forces were routed in Afghanistan and can't even control their own territory in Chechnya.)

Rangel's argument for a draft, though, largely centers on its effects on domestic politics; leaders will be reluctant to order the armed forces into war, his theory goes, since (some of) their children will be on the front lines. Assuming that this is not Vietnam Redux (where it is clear that the children of the elite weren't spending a lot of time in the Mekong Delta or the Hanoi Hilton), the implication is that self-interest will stop some number of politicians from waging war that they would be willing to wage with someone else's children. I'm not convinced that this is the case at all; it might actually lead to a more gung ho attitude among some members (“little Johnny might make colonel if he gets some combat sorties”), for example.

I can see an argument for a citizenry more informed about the military — in my first year as an undergraduate, I had to take two basic ROTC courses, and I did have the experience of being an Air Force Brat for the first 15 years of my life — but a draft isn't the way to do it.