Monday, November 01, 2004

Intellectual Activism: Drafts--Real and Imagined

Here's the week's Broadside column.

If you are John Kerry, how do you strike fear in the hearts of twenty-somethings—a demographic that typically leans left but is notoriously unlikely to show up at the polls on Election Day? One way is to hint that your opponent plans to draft them into the military. Fanned by Internet speculation and MTV’s “Rock the Vote” campaign, draft rumors have a lot more legs on them then they should.

Truth be told, neither side is seriously considering a draft to meet the manpower needs of the armed forces. In 2003, two bills to reinstate the draft were introduced by Senator Ernest F. Hollings (D-SC), and Rep. Charlie Rangal (D-NY) on the grounds that the armed forces should have a “more equitable representation of people making sacrifices," but these bills were resoundingly defeated in the Congress when Pro-Kerry partisan activists tried to link them to the Bush administration.

Even more tellingly, the military itself does not want a draft. The switch in the 1970’s to an all-volunteer force in the crown jewel of today’s modern military. There’s an old saying in the Marine Corps that one volunteer is worth ten impressed men—a righteous cause and effective leadership does more to compel men to act in defense of their freedom then a draft board. Military commanders know this, and they understand that a military draft will lessen standards, destroy moral and make it harder to defend America, not easier.

That said, we still need to be concerned about press gangs: there are those on both the right and left who still pine for a draft, not to serve a military need, but a spiritual one.

In 1997, proponents from both sides of the aisle, including all of the then-living ex-presidents, joined Colin Powell in his call for “mandatory volunteerism” for high school students. This summer, Kerry included a “volunteerism” plank in his presidential platform, only to remove it when rumor of a military draft began to circulate. A military draft may be unpopular, but “volunteerism” isn’t.

The idea behind the “volunteerism” movement is that young people today are too self-involved and that in order to have better communities, we need to teach our young the value of service to others—not by choice, but by compulsion. Service requirements would be added to all high school curriculums and students would be held to them in order to graduate. By this thinking, the teenager who chooses to use his spare time for work so he can pay for his college would be better served by having his time allocated for him by the government in the name of those in need.

Why? Because many people today consider selflessness and not selfish interest to be the moral ideal. Even though we are a nation dedicated to protecting the life, liberty and happiness of the individual, too many Americans are nagged by the problem of the “greater good” and how best to sacrifice to it.

Yet an individualist sacrifices for no one. He rightfully lives for himself, and to appeal to him, you must appeal to his values. To convince men and women to serve in the military, for example, you need to impress upon them of the gravity of the threat today and the manner in which it impacts them. You need to convince them of the benefits of the martial lifestyle, and pay them enough so that the cost of their service is not the derailment of every other aspect of their lives. And lastly, you must keep the promise that if they are wounded or fall in battle, they and their loved ones will be cared for by a grateful nation.

No values are appealed to by the proponents of either the draft or “volunteerism”; instead a different message is delivered: your life is ours and you’ll do with it what we tell you. The idea of the draft or “volunteerism” should be anathema to any person dedicated to human freedom.

Yes, we have a host of threats and challenges arrayed against us. We do not answer them by betraying our core values, or sacrificing our freedom. It will take men and women of substance to successfully build our communities and defend our nation. Such men and women will not be found by a draft board.

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