Drafting Millions, What Wouldn't it Solve? Asks New York Times Op-Ed

Ah, it's that time again: Time for a brief spasm of serious chin-clutching about bringing back the draft or at least some kind of National Service for all these layabout youths.

The most bullshit allies for anti-war folks are without a doubt those who claim that a draft would deal a great blow to U.S. imperialism, because if every 18-to-25-year-old was in peril, wars could not be as easily ignored. This notion popped up in again in yesterday's New York Times in an op-ed by Thomas E. Ricks headlined "Let's Draft Our Kids." Yes, our kids. The collective kids... who are also aged 18 or older.

But this isn't new, of course. Throughout the dark days of Bush, (mostly) Democrats, most notably Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) (who just will not stop trying to draft everybody even though his bill failed 402-2 in 2004. Not to mention, the draft wasn't terribly popular even on the brink of war with Iraq) seemed convinced that conscription would prevent more mistakes like Iraq, and — in classic lefty fashion where equality of misery is the answer — prevent the poor and members of minorities from carrying the heavy burden of American empire. 

But what if we didn't have a volunteer army! What if we just drafted everyone, men and women both? Well, writes Ricks, formerly with The Wall-Street Journal and currently with Center for a New American Security, that would be great for reasons like former commander of U.S. and Allied forces Gen. Stanley McChrystal wants to, and because it would make stuff better.

Writes Ricks:

Unlike Europeans, Americans still seem determined to maintain a serious military force, so we need to think about how to pay for it and staff it by creating a draft that is better and more equitable than the Vietnam-era conscription system.

Here are two good points buried in bizarro-world conclusions. Yes, America could lose some budget weight if it got rid of its many overseas adventures (though defense spending is of course less than what is spent on Medicare and Social Security's combined today), but the solution to that dollar problem is not institute a system that drags millions more into the armed forces. That's fiscally dubious and, even more to the point, totally unethical.

And yes, the draft during Vietnam wasn't "equitable" what with the exceptions for college obviously benefiting those who wanted to or could afford to attend college. But these problems pale in comparison to the fact that that war killed 60,000 Americans and something like 2 million Vietnamese. 

To put it another way, if a serial killer was only targeting men, would anyone start advocating that the killer target women as well, to make things fair? Yes, the draft throughout history was terrible and unfair for men, but the solution to demographically skewed evil is not to level the evil playing field and make it all fair. 

So, what about the completely reprehensible violation of individual rights that a draft — somewhere between indentured servitude and slavery — fundamentally entails? 

Well, Ricks has options for you, three of 'em.

Some could choose 18 months of military service with low pay but excellent post-service benefits, including free college tuition. These conscripts would not be deployed but could perform tasks currently outsourced at great cost to the Pentagon: paperwork, painting barracks, mowing lawns, driving generals around, and generally doing lower-skills tasks so professional soldiers don’t have to. If they want to stay, they could move into the professional force and receive weapons training, higher pay and better benefits.

Those who don’t want to serve in the army could perform civilian national service for a slightly longer period and equally low pay — teaching in low-income areas, cleaning parks, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, or aiding the elderly. After two years, they would receive similar benefits like tuition aid.

Because lord knows nobody would help old people or teach in low income areas or e speak to people who are different without the Selective Service mandating it and making it more bureaucratic. Still, Ricks isn't done, liberty-lovers get a shout-out:

And libertarians who object to a draft could opt out. Those who declined to help Uncle Sam would in return pledge to ask nothing from him — no Medicare, no subsidized college loans and no mortgage guarantees. Those who want minimal government can have it.

Props for sneaking in a strangely freedom-friendly suggestion underneath some really awful nonsense, but it's not enough. An opt-out would be great, but instead of, say, a slow rolling back of social services, making people choose between joining the army and getting any government help at all? What about roads? Can these army-hating libertarians use the roads? Or any parks? Or schools? There are a million questions and strings that would come with such an epic change in government and society that would come with this sytem so easily suggested in an op-ed.

Ricks' logic is particularly frustrating because he is occasionally half right. Yep, "America has already witnessed far less benign forms of conscription." It was called Vietnam, Korea, World War II, World War I, and the Civil War. You know, back when we had a draft and were building up the American empire of which Ricks supposedly sort of disapproves. 

Ricks is not being laughed out the media for this suggestion, though most aren't fully jumping on board. Adam Weinstein over at Mother Jones is disappointingly okay with Ricks' suggestions. He says they're "worthy of serious consideration."  Matt Yglesias at Slate scorns the suggestion, noting that raising taxes would be a lot easier way to save government money; but still thinks that a draft is sometimes acceptable. And of course, nobody — nobody — loves the idea of National Service more than perennial Reason favorite David Brooks.

No stranger to the notion that most people care more about budgets than killing or not killing folks abroad, Ricks swears this invitation for still more bureaucracy in American life would save money because:

This program would cost billions of dollars. But it also would save billions, especially if implemented broadly and imaginatively. One reason our relatively small military is hugely expensive is that all of today’s volunteer soldiers are paid well; they often have spouses and children who require housing and medical care....

Similarly, some of the civilian service programs would help save the government money: Taking food to an elderly shut-in might keep that person from having to move into a nursing home. It would be fairly cheap to house conscript soldiers on closed military bases. Housing civilian service members would be more expensive, but imaginative use of existing assets could save money. For example, V.A. hospitals might have space.

The pool of cheap labor available to the federal government would broadly lower its current personnel costs and its pension obligations — especially if the law told federal managers to use the civilian service as much as possible, and wherever plausible. The government could also make this cheap labor available to states and cities. Imagine how many local parks could be cleaned and how much could be saved if a few hundred New York City school custodians were 19, energetic and making $15,000 plus room and board, instead of 50, tired and making $106,329, the top base salary for the city’s public school custodians, before overtime.

Again, the real problem of overpaid public workers can only be solved by conscripting 19-year-olds to be janitors, with, we have to assume, some entirely new massive bureaucratic measures put in place to make the whole thing run smoothly. And on a more individual basic, if at age 19 I had been drafted to clean up New York City parks, rest assured I would not be "energetic" about my task.

Not to mention, as Richard Cohen at The Washington Post reminds us, the Andrews Sisters ain't gonna sing stirring songs about janitors. Cleaning just doesn't have the same propaganda spark as killing:

It is not possible to take (steal?) 18 months of a young person’s life so that he or she performs such menial task. No one is going to write patriotic music for such tasks, no movies will be made — “I Drove for the General,” “Top Broom,” etc. — and young people are not going to put up with it. Instead of college or vocational training or merely searching for the perfect wave, the government is going to compel janitorial duties.

Both Gen. McChrystal and Ricks, and other advocates for the draft, try to have it both ways; military might and more. Ricks wants a grand new service program that would solve domestic problems, McChrystal wants a "shared experience of service" because "It's not whether they go build roads and parks or that sort of thing. It's what you put inside them, because once you have contributed to something, you have a slightly different view of it."

Ricks wraps up his article with a ghastly appeal to authority mixed with unconvincing anti-war bleeting:

But most of all, having a draft might, as General McChrystal said, make Americans think more carefully before going to war. Imagine the savings — in blood, tears and national treasure — if we had thought twice about whether we really wanted to invade Iraq.

It's a compelling argument that if more people felt the sting of war, so easily ignorable for most Americans, that war would become less likely. Public outrage over Vietnam being motivated by the threat of the draft is one obvious example, but even with a draft, that war lasted more than a decade. A lot of people could die for the hopes that the public would be outraged fast enough to stop the war.

Certainly if warmongering politicians feared for their kids, they might try a little harder to avoid invading another country, but as libertarian consultant Stephen P. Gordon, who served in the Army for ten years, told Reason over email, "If McChrystal thinks that every citizen will be taking the same risk as we consider going to war, he’s sadly mistaken. Somehow the rich and the elite will find a loophole; historically they always do."

Not only are men like Ricks, McChrystal, Brooks, and Rangel willing to sacrifice the freedom and maybe the principles and lives of millions of youths, who apparently are communal U.S. property even after they reach the age of majority, but they want to use these men and women to build some delusional picture of mandatory civic coziness that does not and should not exist.

[Addendum] The awesome John Glaser over at Antiwar.com said it better and briefer, hence my strike-through text above. The draft is slavery, period.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    If the idea is really to make Americans less likely to support a war, maybe we should draft those age 40 and up.

  • John||

    Since the draft affects the young and the young don't vote, a draft will not affect our willingness to go to war. The draft didn't stop the US from being involved in Vietnam and Korea, both of which were much more bloody than either or Iran or Afghanistan. And spare me the myth that the draft turned America against Vietnam. The casualty count and the expense turned the country against it. Had Vietnam produced the casualty rate that Iraq did, the country would have never turned against it.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    ...if you're not into the whole brevity thing.

  • John||

    Is it against the rules to agree with someone?

  • ||

    Since the draft affects the young and the young don't vote, a draft will not affect our willingness to go to war.

    Err...I believe that was the exact point CN was making.

  • Tonio||

    It's John, KK. He's like an old hit-and-miss engine - sometimes firing, other times just coasting ahead on momentum.

  • John||

    Because you could never agree with someone and expand on their point. That would require thought. Much better to just insult people and make ad homonym attacks. That is the Tonio way right?

  • ||

    It's just that you phrased it as if you were arguing with CN. The words "And spare me the myth..." kind of point to that.

  • John||

    It was a rhetorical device. I was agreeing with him. I should of probably said "spare us the myth.." but oh well. And even CN knew I was agreeing with him above.

  • Tonio||

    Hello, John.

  • ||

    "Those who voted to declare war were automatically enlisted for the duration of the war. The ballot even told them where to report the next morning. Those who didn't vote were the next draft, and those who voted no the last draft."

    Master Cathcart, For Us, The Living

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    "If McChrystal thinks that every citizen will be taking the same risk as we consider going to war, he’s sadly mistaken. Somehow the rich and the elite will find a loophole; historically they always do."

    The rich have always been able to get soft billets if they wanted them, but never mind that - it won't happen *this* time! See my earnest social-justice face!

  • John||

    I keep seeing all of these shit coming out of the Pentagon about how we need to cut military benefits. I wonder if that is all part of a long game to bring back the draft. If you want a volunteer force, you need to have high salaries or you will never get good people to join and stay in. As it is, there is no reason for a draft because the pay is high enough that recruiting quotes are always met. The one sure way to create the kind of personnel crisis needed to get a draft is to destroy military benefits.

  • Randian||

    We do need to cut military benefits. They are completely gratuitous at this point.

  • John||

    No they are not. Not when you consider that most people are two incomes and it is virtually impossible for a military spouse to have a career. Also consider that most people who serve their full 20 years leave the military with physical problems and skills that often do not translate to the civilian world.

    A normal civilian job doesn't kick you out after 20 years with work related injuries and few marketable skills. And of course, a civilian job usually doesn't involve your employer asking you to die for the company.

    And even if you think they are so gratuitous, the cuts being proposed are so draconian, getting rid of the 20 year retirement, that no one who had any choice at all would ever serve more than a few years. It would kill our professional corps of officers and NCOs.

  • ||

    Also consider that most people who serve their full 20 years leave the military with physical problems and skills that often do not translate to the civilian world.

    You need to specify here. There are plenty of non-coms that go on to lead lives and careers as lobbyists, consultants, and various other jobs capably. My uncle retired as a (I want to say 3-star) general in the Air Force and is now a consultant for a company in DC. No physical problems, and his skills helped him land his job.

  • Randian||

    the 20-year retirement is and always has been ridiculous, especially because it is only extended to Active Duty. First of all, the military keeps telling me that a lot of its skills translate into civilian sector employment. Secondly, how much of a civilian job do you need when you're drawing a pension and full medical benefits at the ripe old age of 38 years old?

  • Agammamon||

    Randian - that pension at 38 is 1/2 base pay. For an E-6 that's about a $1500 dollar take-home.
    Not too shabby for sitting on your arse all day but not enough either.

  • Brett L||

    Eh. I know an AF MP who made Lt. Col and took his 20. Went to the FLDOC and took another 20 doing training courses. Now, given the relative professionalism standards -- the AF has some and DOC doesn't -- it wasn't a bad deal for the DOC, but I'm not sure he needs to get a Lt. Col's salary plus all the other stuff.

    Knew another guy who was an E-8 or -9, Command Master Sergeant, maybe? Anyway, whatever rank you can get without being the HNCOIC. He put in like 35 before moving over to DOC.

  • Agammamon||

    1. Most military members do *not* leave with physical problems. I'd agree that most retire with medical pay but that's more the extremely leniency of the VA than any real problem. I was pushed to have my condition (hypothyroidism) evaluated - probably could have gotten at least 10% disability for something that has no effect on me beyond having to take one (inexpensive) pill a day and certainly isn't service related.

    2. Most people in the same socio-economic bracket as the sorts who join are not in two-income households. And spouses are given a huge amount of help in securing work, even career work within the community.

    3. The getting rid of the 20 year retirement (which by-the-way isn't actually retirement - that's at 30 years of service - its a retainer for possible futer service) was to replace it with a 401k type savings plan. This allows 2 things 1. you don't get a 20 or nothing fuck you. and 2. allows those who've served less than 20 but have to move on (for whatever reason) to port that retirement plan over to their new job.

    3. Military service is not so onerous that no-one would ever serve multiple decades. I enjoyed my time. Well the first half anyway, shortly into my second decade the personal behavior rules started getting really tight but I was in a position to either throw away 12 or more years of service and start over for retirement or stick it out till 20 - an unpleasant side-effect of the current defined-benefits retirement plamn.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    No, we need to cut redundant and ridiculously expensive-to-maintain decrepit weapon systems (that just happen to have huge ties to congressional hot-spots).

    And THEN we need to cut the benefits.

  • John||

    And THEN cut billets. Keep the benefits reduce the number of people, especially generals and their staffs.


    A joke i just invented

    Q: How many people in the Pentagon does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

    A: A personnel requirements assesment will be conducted by the Department of Asset Allocation Priority, with results of said study to be considered by a non-binding ad-hoc panel of senior military and outside consultant-specialists who will then pass recommendations up to relevant department heads; final decision making authority to be made by congress following the submission of a full needs-analysis report and comparison of potential competitive solutions for any such deployment; determinations will then be made for required funds to be allocated for the acquisition of related materiel (see, ref: Section A32g, "Bulb"-lighting variety); final funding perameters will then be presented to the Procurement department, who will be authorized to submit a formal Request for Bid to various recognized contractors; coordination of efforts will be overseen by intenal auditors to ensure due diligence and resource allocation process compliance. Assesments on the effectiveness of each department will be reviewed on an ongoing basis to ensure distribution of forces in the delivery of necessary bulb-screwing needs in an effective and responsive matter; next scheduled assessment due to be delivered in October 2028 (expedited)

  • KDN||

    Most local services Verizon sells are contracted via a 1-2 page application for service that references the applicable rate guide (i.e. JP Morgan agrees to purchase three T-1's at the 36 month rate published in the FCC's NY Tariff). The typical DOD purchase ballooned these out to a minimum of 17 pages with the fluff you wrote comprising 16 of them. Bureaucracy rules.


    I actually wrote a shitload more but forgot about the word-limit thing again...

    The punchline to the screed was that "further research would likely be required to better determine the optimal number of people needed for bulb-screwing; however cost-overruns and delays related to answering the original question had exceeded budgetary expectations and the near term determination was to outsource current bulb-screwing requirements to an existing general contractor under an already-extant unrelated program (*development of bird-proof jet engines) and put in a request for further resources in the next fiscal cycle.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    While I'm against all kinds of bloated government budgets, I can see John's point about military benefits.

    When the military decided to go all-volunteer, part of the plan was to make it compete as every other volunteer-based employer does in the job market. It would entice prospective recruits with pay and benefits at least somewhat comparable to what you'd expect in other jobs.

    Though, if you want to do something about the cost of benefits, reducing the size of the military and keeping us out of wars seem like better options.

  • John||

    Cut the size and bloat of the military. The brass don't want that. So they will instead screw the rank and file by cutting benefits.

  • Agammamon||

    The brass have little say in benefits - they can recommend (and rarely do they recommend less) but its congress that signs that check.

    As for screwing the rank and file - that's absurd. In the late 90's there was a big hoopla in the navy because a proposed pay change had senior enlisted making more than junior officers - based on a recommendation by senior officers.

    Who screamed about that? Just the JO's.

  • R C Dean||

    Lets not overlook that drafting people into government jobs (military or otherwise) converts them from tax producers to tax consumers.

    What will that do for our deficits?

    Call it 4mm 18 year olds, which gives you 8mm people in the drafted labor force in any given year (assuming two year stints). 8mm/year drawing $15,000 in "salary" is $120 billion in salary alone; who knows what the new overhead would be, but call it a conservative 30% per "worker", and you're up to nearl7 $160BB/year in cost alone. Throw in an offsetting loss of tax income, and I would guess you are probably up to a net hit to the fisc of $180 - 190BB.

  • John||

    And don't forget the enormous problems in disciplining a draftee force. The military used to be much more brutal than it is today. A draftee force has to be.

  • Drake||

    Yep - back to ass-kicking since threatening to kick them out wouldn't work.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    No, they're all 'energetic' and gung-ho! The only discipline that will be required is to make them STOP cleaning at the end of the day!

  • Agammamon||

    No salary - they're conscripts. Room, board, and uniforms provided.
    Maybe some chits that can be spent at the PX.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Draft the doctors. Then make them provide medical services for a low, fixed salary. That way, we won't have to enslave them.

  • Tonio||

    I see what you did there. Hah!

  • BakedPenguin||

    Belgium was way ahead of you, Pro Lib.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Belgian innovation strikes again.

  • BakedPenguin||

    "Fat Bloody Belgian Bastards!"

  • Chupacabra||

    "Let's not call them anything. Let's just ignore them!"

  • Pi Guy||

    As I believe John noted in a thread yesterday, couldn't we also avoid wars by having our elected leaders simply obey the fucking Constitution?

    Congress declares war, not TOTUS. No "kinetic actions." No Kill List. No extraordinary rendition. And no ignoring habeus corpus.

  • John||

    The way to stop going to war is to stop going to war or get your enemies to stop making war on you. It is really that simple.

  • ||

    But of course I'd still be expected to pay taxes for all those services I'm not getting, right?

  • Drake||

    What an idiotic idea. Why train unwilling conscripts to fight? Read "Making the Corps" by Thomas Ricks - it's a bitch training men to fight.

    I was an NCO and couldn't imagine dealing with unwilling conscripts screwing up my unit. Fifty years ago, NCO's could stomp their fucking guts out. Now? Administrative charges, who cares?

    And 18 months is a joke - that is about the time to get a recruit fully trained and integrated into a unit.

  • John||

    It would be a back door way to destroy the military and make it into a giant indoctrination and welfare program with little or no military effectiveness.

  • Tonio||

    Good point John, and one which needs no expansion because you succinctly said everything that needs to be said.

  • John||

    thank you ;-)

  • T||

    The worst guy I ever had to deal with as an NCO was the guy who shot himself in the leg with a .38 so he wouldn't have to deploy. There was absolutely nothing we could do to this guy. He did not care.

  • Drake||

    Imagine a brigade of such shit-birds.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    The Blue Falcon BDE!

  • db||

    I thought Ricks was an advocate of the draft? Things I've read by him over at Foreign Policy seem to lean that way sometimes.

  • Drake||

    "Making the Corps" is the only Ricks book I've read. I cannot reconcile the sacrifice he describes (and I went through willingly) with the idea of pumping unwilling teenagers into the system.

    I know it would be the Army not the Marines absorbing the influx, but it would destroy what is a very good army right now.

  • John||

    but it would destroy what is a very good army right now.

    I think that is the idea.


    I cannot reconcile the sacrifice he describes (and I went through willingly) with the idea of pumping unwilling teenagers into the system.

    Having read him multiple times on the subject (and the comments of his loyal commentariat)... the idea seems to be that if we had a draft, War would be more carefully entered into.

    Sort of makes me think of the 'stern-daddy' rationale = Caught your kid smoking a cigarette? MAKE HIM SMOKE THE WHOLE PACK TILL HE PUKES. That'll make him *never smoke again*

    (I do not know if this in fact works or not)

    I think the idea is indeed to make the problem so much worse that people choose to avoid it entirely. "peace through compulsory service" I find it moronic myself.

  • ||

    As I said yesterday, he never says you get to opt out of paying for the SS/Medicare, just that you get to stop being eligible.

  • Lucy Steigerwald||

    That's a really good point. Worse and worse!

  • Joe R.||

    I've said before that that is the leftist's wet dream.

  • Lucy Steigerwald||

    All the time, anonymity bot. All the time.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Well I mean he put his name on the article.

  • UneasyRider||

    I might be tempted to favor all sorts of madness in exchange for the opt out program, provided opting out also exempts me and my employer from paying my FICA taxes.

  • DJF||

    We need the best we have to be in the military fighting in places like Afghanistan, Somalia and the Congo

    So I propose only drafting the best, that would be top people in the Administration, Congress, Courts, Foreign Policy Think Tanks, Newspaper Editorialists, Pentagon Contractors etc. I know this would put a big burden on the rest of the USA but we muddle through while our elite fight the wars they think we need to fight.

  • Drake||

    Okay, I can get behind this idea. I would even volunteer to train them. They would love me.

  • DJF||

    If you really wanted a draft which would reduce the number of wars then the people drafted and sent to the front lines must include the people who make the decision for war.

  • Surly Chef||

    I don't think so. It would simply attract a different kind of bloodthirsty asshole to politics. Maybe a more honest one. Still most of human history is dominated military/political class who very much fought wars they advocated because it was profitable.
    You'd need to remove any possible monetary or political gain from service. No public sector job after retirement, elected or otherwise and absolutely no rapine and pillage. If you advocate a war of aggression and as such are drafted, you can come home poor or not at all. It's glorious patriotic service after all, why would anyone need to be paid!

  • The Heresiarch||

    Roger on that. For most of human history, many generals have fought alongside the rank and file. Think Alexander the Great, Hannibal, the Black Prince, Julius Caesar, although Octavian, not so much.

  • John Thacker||

    It would massively hurt the economy to do this. Driving a cost off a balance sheet doesn't reduce it.

    The real cost of soldiers to the economy is always what it would cost to pay them in a free market. If you draft them, you're just hiding the cost.

  • Tonio||

    [I]n classic lefty fashion where equality of misery is the answer

    Spot on, Lucy.

  • Invisible Finger||

    We all are feeling the sting of pointless war right now - the shitty economy is that sting. Funny how we get these moronic arguments only when the sting hits the rich harder than everyone else. It's not fair!

  • db||

    Steigy Returns!

  • Whiterun Guard||

    More like escapes.

    From Riggs' "punishment area".

  • Pi Guy||

    Glad you're back.

    I was thinking maybe you were laying low and writing a book or something but this whole Riggs angle is so much more interesting...

  • ||

    classic lefty fashion where equality of misery is the answer

    This is a good phrase. Did you steal it or coin it, Lucy?

  • Lucy Steigerwald||

    Ya never know, but I don't think I stole it...

  • Whiterun Guard||

    I mean there was that whole Winston Churchill thing...

  • mr lizard||

    Service equals citizenship....would you like to know more?

  • Lucy Steigerwald||

    Dammit, I was going to make a "Starship Troopers" reference in my post and I totally forgot to.

  • Tonio||

    Yes, but that was voluntary service. And in the novel it's clearly stated that they can't turn anyone down. That doesn't mean that everyone got into the military, but everyone had a chance to earn citizenship through government service.

  • Mickey Rat||

    "Yes, but that was voluntary service."

    Service was voluntary, what type of service was not. It went the gamut from starship pilot, to infantryman to...lab rat.

  • Rob Ives||

    It is just a back door way to create a giant government jobs/benefits program.

  • Tonio||

    A point made by John at 11:29 above. Plus, as John wrote, destroy the effectiveness of the military.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    So now that boomers are to old to serve, they suddenly want the draft back. How convenient!

  • Sal Paradise||

    "And libertarians who object to a draft could opt out. Those who declined to help Uncle Sam would in return pledge to ask nothing from him — no Medicare, no subsidized college loans and no mortgage guarantees. Those who want minimal government can have it."

    Awesome. And you'll adjust my taxes accordingly, right?

  • Chadwyck||

    Yes. You'll have to pay the "opt out" tax, of course.

  • ant1sthenes||

    Can't you settle for not having to toil in Uncle Sam's cotton fields for free? What is it with libertarians and their unreasonable expectation.

  • Rob Ives||

    They don't want the draft because of military service. They want to create a giant new government spending program and this is how they disguise it.

  • SIV||

    Rural working class whites = "cannon fodder"

    Urban youth= "community organizing"

    Elite youth =" third world backpacking adventure travel"

  • ant1sthenes||

    No, they just want the benefit of labor without giving the laborers a choice about whether to do it or a say in compensation (which will, necessarily, be subsistence level).

    But they don't have nearly enough white suits and mint juleps to pull it off, sorry to say.

  • SIV||

    There is most certainly a difference between the TEAMS on conscription. Back in the 1970s the Republicans killed the draft. Jimmy Carter reinstated registration and restored the "selective service". Even now one party and one ideology seems to yearn for slavery.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Ding, ding, ding! Thats just it - not enough to take all your money, they want to enslave you as well.

  • Raston Bot||

    After the Compulsory National "Service" Act is passed (and yes, the scare quotes will be in the title of the legislation), one solution to the riches of problems that arise will be to create a whole new military branch for the draftees. There they can sit on their asses and not do shit while collecting a check. It'll be called AmeriCorps. Is that name already taken?

  • Tulpa the White||

    And libertarians who object to a draft could opt out. Those who declined to help Uncle Sam would in return pledge to ask nothing from him — no Medicare, no subsidized college loans and no mortgage guarantees. Those who want minimal government can have it.

    Wait, there has to be a catch somewhere. Is he sneaking in a sodomy requirement to this deal or something?

    Because I never got a subsidized loan, will never see a penny of Medicare if I ever retire, and don't have a mortgage, let alone one I would expect to be "guaranteed".

  • Raston Bot||

    I would also like to opt out of food safety regs, gun bans, and vice (all of em) criminalization. Is that on the menu?

  • ant1sthenes||

    Yes, the deal will be this:

    Libertarians: Government will take so much of what you make, and destroy or undermine all non-state institutions, such that you will be unable to survive on your own.

    Slaves: Government will take as much as above, but will then generously return some of it to you in the form of "welfare" that comes with numerous behavior-controlling strings attached. Because you depend on them, and "chose" to do so, they will feel entitled to demand whatever they want from you, up to and including your life and (to the extent you may be ordered to help murder and oppress the innocent) your soul, if such a thing exists.

  • Metazoan||

    What's funny about the "opt-out" is that presumable one still has to pay for all those things. So the suggestion is that you have to be enslaved by the state to get your own money back?

  • ||

    Imagine the savings — in blood, tears and national treasure — if we had thought twice about whether we really wanted to invade Iraq.

    This form of logic is so mind boggling ignorant that it borders on evil. The idea that drafting every young adult into service, thus massively increasing the size and capability of our military, would somehow make us think twice about going to war is a damn lie. What it would do is convince the government that we have the capability to invade countries at will and fight on countless fronts. What else are you going to do with a 10 million man army? When you have a big hammer, you go around looking for shit to beat down.

  • John||

    As I said above, the draft didn't keep us out of the Korea or Vietnam, two wars that were much worse than the ones we are currently fighting.

    Also, the draft makes soldiers more not less expendable.

  • Drake||

    Yes - soldiers would receive far less training, but leadership would know that there is a limitless supply of fresh bodies behind them.

  • R C Dean||

    if we had thought twice about whether we really wanted to invade Iraq.

    I seem to recall several months where we thought about little else.

  • IceTrey||

    The Vietnam War "officially" started in '64 with the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and ended in '72 with US troop withdrawals. That's 8 years, not "more than a decade".

  • Caleb Turberville||

    Don't we count the '75 Siege of Saigon as part of the larger war?

  • R C Dean||

    Not our war at that point.

    Which is why the North won, really.

  • Brett L||

    Sure. But Eisenhower told Kennedy to stay out of it and we got John Wayne and the Green Berets movie.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    Is this another case of someone using a patently moronic argument to mask a more ideological, and perhaps sinister, ulterior motive?

    Or, and this is perhaps even more frightening and disturbing, are these people just insanely dumb?

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Unlike Europeans, Americans still seem determined to maintain a serious military force, so we need to think about how to pay for it and staff it by creating a draft that is better and more equitable than the Vietnam-era conscription system.

    We'll get it right this time. We promise.

    And libertarians who object to a draft could opt out. Those who declined to help Uncle Sam would in return pledge to ask nothing from him — no Medicare, no subsidized college loans and no mortgage guarantees. Those who want minimal government can have it.

    I notice he left out exemption to federal income taxes and SS withholdings. False choice creating shitbird is still a shitbird, right?

    But most of all, having a draft might, as General McChrystal said, make Americans think more carefully before going to war. Imagine the savings — in blood, tears and national treasure — if we had thought twice about whether we really wanted to invade Iraq.

    This might actually mean something if the Congress were herded off to be deployed after the vote was cast, or the President had to actually be Commander-in-Chief, or the white paper-writing policy wonks were put on a plane for their basic training immediately after the resolution for war was duly passed.

  • Romulus Augustus||

    Some American presidents actually were in combat before they were elected.
    Washington, Grant, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Bush I are major examples.

  • Tonio||

    Truman, Jackson, T. Roosevelt...

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    A massive draft would open up an exciting possibility for our political elites. They've been able to trash every right in the Bill of Rights except for the Third Amendment. They'd have a "compelling state interest" to knock that one off too, and they'd have a complete set.

  • Tonio||

    And use the Commerce clause to justify anything they couldn't otherwise.

  • BikeRider||

    "One reason our relatively small military is hugely expensive is that all of today’s volunteer soldiers are paid well; they often have spouses and children who require housing and medical care....:

    This could be interesting. If they're going to eliminate expensive family housing and benefits, then they won't draft parents.

    Imagine being a teenage boy when nearly every 17 year old girl wants to get pregnant to avoid the draft.

  • Tonio||

    There you go with those foreseeable consequences again.

  • Metazoan||

    Can anyone tell me how the draft doesn't violate the 13th amendment?

  • R C Dean||

    Because fuck you, serf.

    That's how.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    You can thank the Supreme Court:


  • ant1sthenes||

    SCOTUS has only addressed a bona fide military draft, not the compulsory civilian service they are proposing.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    'Cause they pay you while you're in.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    Nope, that logic won't cut it.

    Read the text (emphasis added):

    Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
    Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

    It is supposed to ban all forms of forced labor, whether payed or not. The keyword is "involuntary."

  • Lucy Steigerwald||

    That's definitely how I always interpreted it as well.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Don't you know the Constitution is not a suicide pact?! War on Terror! Spreading democracy! Necessary and Proper! The Huns are at the gate! (Insert kneejerk bloviation here)!

  • ||

    Because it's really just a tax?

  • IceTrey||

    Can anyone tell me how 99.9% of everything the Feds do doesn't violate the 13th amendment?


    I have read Tom Ricks' blog @ Foreign Policy ('The Best Defense') for a couple years now... I've always been a bit of a war history nerd, and I enjoy his reading lists, his frequent quality guest contributors... apparently he also went to my high-school, which i think is a funny coincidence.

    whenever this issue of a draft has come up, I've been surprised that so few of his regular commentators have taken him to task for it at all . Indeed - most of his readers are relative cheerleaders of the concept. I've made my criticisms but not gotten very far with them, at least on the FP board.

    What is most notable is that the strongest pro-Draft constituents tend to be from the "intellectual, centrist-anti-war-Left". The idea seems to be that when government is being run by 'the wrong people' (read: Republicans), government is free to make enormous strategic blunders because they are unconstrained in their ability to deploy the All Volunteer Force (AVF); if we had a draft, by contrast, leaders would be politically constrained from 'pulling the trigger' as it were, and using force capriciously, because the ramifications would impact everyone in america rather than a small cadre of volunteers.

    The idiotic idea seems to be this = the best way to constrain a government is to *enlarge its power* to the point where it will suddenly feel greater responsibility when employing it.



    basically, for some people the answer to everything is ultimately, "more government", no matter what the issue. Call it "Al Smith"-syndrome.

    I also note a strong underlying theme of 'retribution' among the pro-draft crowd (despite the fact that almost none of the proponents I've seen in print - excepting McCrystal? - are current or former military people)... there is a sense that 'everyone needs to share the pain...whether they like it or not!' ... It always strikes me as a bit of moral narcissism, the idea that these people call upon everyone to suffer, that it will make us more pure, it will make us better, that the guilt will be shared by all...

    When I described the typical proponents as being 'anti-war' i think i misspoke = they're not the typical peace-nik. To the contrary, they virtually worship the military as an institution, and believe 'supporting the troops' to be something no-one can do too much of. They fall over themselves proclaiming their everlasting and total committment to troop-supporting-ness. Where they find fault is in the fact that their beloved troops have been used so poorly by bad political decision-making, and seem to think that 'greater participation' in the military is what is needed to right the ship.

    Frankly I can't help but sense in the argument a whiff of childish fantasy...where we all played war, once, and dreamed that within us all was a hero.

    And I hear this coming from 60+yr men

  • Sevo||

    You know who else thought this was a good idea?
    Suggestion: "Wages of Destruction", Adam Tooze.
    Watch the Nazi economy collapse in several hundred pages! Marvel at how predictive it is!!

  • BoscoH||

    Holy shit. He trolled you bad. Bad.

  • Adam330||

    Better idea- draft everyone in Congress or who runs for Congress.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    "But most of all, having a draft might, as General McChrystal said, make Americans think more carefully before going to war. Imagine the savings — in blood, tears and national treasure — if we had thought twice about whether we really wanted to invade Iraq."

    Hey, General Dumbass, seems you forgot your smarter predecessor, GEN Abrams - he made sure the Guard and Reserve would be involved in any future conflict, to make sure there would be support or opposition well known ahead of time.

    I piss on you and Ricks both!

    Wow, ho knew retirement could be so liberating?!



    I think its informative that the only time Generals speak up and suggest that maybe important decisions are being made without proper consideration is AFTER they've retired. I don't recall McCrystal putting his neck out defending Shinseki when the politicians were throwing him under the fucking bus for suggesting that securing Iraq would require greater force than allocated.

    There seems to be this idea that if somehow more people 'share the pain' for bad decisions, that bad decisions will become less likely. I think history has shown that it just results in no one knowing precisely who to blame anymore.

  • Agammamon||

    Well, to be fair, a general's place is not to openly question the civilian policymaker's once their decision has been made.
    Its inappropriate on a couple of levels, most importantly the idea that the military is completely subservient to the civilian government (don't need these guys getting ideas ala Egypt).

    And as McCrystal found out personally, openly opposing the administration is a one-way ticket to retirement.


    Agammamon|7.11.12 @ 4:50PM|#

    Well, to be fair, a general's place is not to openly question the civilian policymaker's once their decision has been made

    Forgive me if i call bullshit on that - the history of war has a long history of the soldiers telling the politicians the best way to get a job done. Shinseki wasn't saying, "IRAQ IS A MISTAKE! DONT INVADE!", he was saying, "if you plan to do X, you are going to need Y"... and he got his ass and career handed to him for it. You're responding to a comment that was never made. My point was that these bozos seem to think a draft will provide greater incentive to 'not make stupid and capricious decisions'. 'Like Iraq'. My comment was, What was stopping them before?

  • ant1sthenes||

    "It's not whether they go build roads and parks or that sort of thing. It's what you put inside them"

    Perhaps the most honest assessment of government's relationship to the citizen since "Lean Forward".

  • freeAgent||

    Let's also think about what companies might not exist if the government did this. Among them:


    Due to being drafted, the visionaries who founded these companies would have been stuck scrubbing toilets instead of revolutionizing our economy during their young adult lives.

  • SIV||

    The founders of those companies would have all qualified for the 2 year "third world backpacking adventure travel" form of national service.

  • Agammamon||

    Nah, because they wouldn't have made a significant amount of money during their peak-draftable time-frame.

  • amelia||

    My one acquaintance who doggedly believes that a draft would reduce our involvement in foreign conflicts also, allegedly with reluctance, has stated, more than once, that with respect to social class "Che was right." I've never asked for an elaboration of that one since I prefer my head unexploded.

  • Joseph Steigerwald||

    3 exceptions. NFL draft. NHL draft and in case of alien invasion. I think we all saw Independence day.

  • NL_||

    I think Jeff Goldblum's unlikely word-association would've already lead to the destruction of the mothership before the USPS managed to deliver your draft notice. It was a holiday weekend, after all. Plus I think the aliens blew up most of the delivery vans.


    That's only 2~!

    I assume the third is the obvious one = BEER

  • NL_||

    So basically the army would have to expand its hospitality capacity to support hundreds of thousands of disinterested and ill-motivated conscripts every year, only to see them leave just as they begin to gain some competency in the field.

    If there's anything that makes it easier to run a massive organization, it's forcing it to implement an enormous internship program.

  • NL_||

    *Actually* I think you meant "uninterested."

  • Agammamon||

    ". . . somewhere between indentured servitude and slavery . . ."

    No need to sugar-coat it, a draft *is* slavery. You can say its temporary, that conditions aren't as harsh as they were for american slaves, whatever - how nicely a slave is kept doesn't change the fact that he's a slave. And if you don't think concsripts are slaves, wait and see what happens to those who resist the draft.

    And counter to your earlier point, one of the first things we need to do for our current draft (selective service) is open it up to everyone. We may not be able to get rid of it but there's no reason that men only should be subject to the registration requirements.

  • Lucy Steigerwald||

    I just added an addendum saying that. You read my mind. And you are right, don't know why I waffled there.

    No, that's the point. There is no reason men should be the only ones suffering, but doing evil fairly is evil. I don't want to put fairness on the table, let's just advocate for the draft's demise.


    i think you're both completely wrong!

    With proper slaves, there's no @*#$@ way you give them a gun, pump them full of bullshit about how their country was so really awesome and great they want to risk getting shot at, then setting them loose with the expectation that they'll actually defend you and your property and interests from some equally-armed and motivated strangers who've never fucked with them before.

    Obviously, if they were real slaves, the first thing they'd do is shoot you in the groin, surrender your country to the enemy, join them in a campaign of rape and pillage, get the enemy to give them a ride back to their homeland, where they would probably continue the campaign of rape and pillage, having determined it was much more fun than working for a living.

    Slaves are practical fellows.

  • Agammamon||

    Something current draft-supporters don't seem to understand is that the volunteer force is institutionally unable to deal with conscripts. A huge change in the way we deal with our subordinates would be required.

    Can you imagine trying to keep a no-drugs policy in a conscript force? Half of your conscripts would be toking up right infront of you - what are you going to do? Kick them out? What about those who don't want to clean that toilet or even show up to work on time? Discipline problems would be endemic under the current system.
    You'd have to bring back a lot of the harsher attitudes and corporal punishments that were available pre-volunteer force that we don't use today. GySgt Hartman is awesome to watch, not so cool when your son comes home in a box because the sadist drove him to suicide.

  • Agammamon||

    And if you think Abu Ghraib or guys pissing on corpses were embarrassing, wait until the average YouTube commenter is deployed.

  • wef||

    Is it permissible to call Thomas Ricks a fascist?

  • ||

    It's not whether they go build roads and parks or that sort of thing. It's what you put inside them, because once you have contributed to something, you have a slightly different view of it.

    Once you've been personally enslaved, even temporarily, I would think you have a waaaay more than "slightly" different view of it.

  • Brian from Texas||

    First of all this guy's a dumbass. Has he even seen this country's draft-age citizens? Half are too fat to pass a military physical and the other half are so drugged up on Ritalin, Prozac, anti-depressants, etc.......

  • bmp1701||

    My suggestion? We reinstate the draft, but for every 1,000 citizens drafted, one Congresscritter must be randomly selected. The lucky Congresscritter will then be sacrificed, Aztec-style, on Pay-Per-View.


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.