Draft the Congress and Leave My Kids Alone

The holiday season is a magical time when fantasy can become reality. Nevertheless, let’s hope one frightening fantasy conjured up by Representative Charles Rangel of New York, Senator Fritz Hollings of South Carolina and David Broder of the Washington Post never becomes a reality.

Politicians Rangel and Hollings have introduced legislation to begin forcing young people into either civilian or military service to the federal government. Columnist Broder has apparently been named head cheerleader for the campaign.

As the great Daniel Webster once exclaimed, “Forbid it, Almighty God!”

Most observers feel the country is unlikely to return to a military draft, especially going into an election year. For all the aging armchair enthusiasts, the draft has never been popular public policy.

Moreover, the performance of America’s All-Volunteer Force—regardless of how one feels about the foreign policy being pursued in Iraq or elsewhere—has been exemplary, unrivaled, awesome. Whether our politicians have a clue, or not, they have arguably the best military in the history of the world to help carry out their brilliant or banal policies. Both a scary and reassuring fact.

TIME Magazine certainly noticed: naming the American soldier their “Person of the Year 2003.” The designation is well deserved. “It is worth remembering,” observes the magazine, “that our pilots and sailors and soldiers are, for starters, all volunteers, in contrast to most nations, which conscript those who serve in their armed forces.”

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called the All-Volunteer Force “a special thing that this country has.”

One has to wonder then: what is the argument for fundamentally changing a military that is performing so spectacularly?

“[I]f we are going to send our children to war,” Congressman Rangel wrote in The New York Times, “the governing principle must be that of shared sacrifice.” Rangel’s concern is not military victory at the lowest cost in lives; it is “fair” death counts as measured by race and economic status.

Furthermore, the correct principle is the one underlying the current All-Volunteer Force: Free men and women will defend their freedom. And, additionally, that precisely such a life and death decision should not be compelled by the government in the name of “shared sacrifice,” but made from one’s own conscience.

Of course, the real idea behind Charlie Rangel’s call for conscription, for suspending the rights of some American citizens, is not to strengthen the military. Not at all. Rangel’s design is for the draft to help stop the intervention in Iraq and other potential interventions in troubled spots throughout the world.

Ironically, Charlie is wrong yet again. Conscription allowed America’s political leaders to continue to slog away in Vietnam even with a homefront badly split on the war. Neither common sense nor history suggest that allowing military policymakers to force young people into the armed services, rather than persuade them, will somehow miraculously tie the hands of those policymakers.

Where Congressman Rangel’s fantasy is peace through forced military service, Washington Post columnist David Broder’s dream is to impose “the bonding experience” of forced service on our kids. Maybe someone should take the guy on a camping trip or something.

Broder likes that under the draft, young men “were separated from homes, families, jobs and schools and thrown into an environment where discipline was applied without regard to your personal wishes.”

I have a 19-year old daughter. Under these proposals, women as well as men would be conscripted and required to perform either civilian or military service, with more bennies given for military service. Mr. Broder and other supporters of the draft and national service may not like the way my daughter has turned out, but I’m pretty proud. She’s making her own way in the world and the last thing she needs is any of these bozos screwing up a couple years of her life with their stupid schemes.

Mr. Broder’s fantasy world is so rich that he claims it was the draft that “contributed to the sense of community that supported local schools, built local hospitals and endowed local athletic, recreational and artistic facilities.” There’s more: the draft also “sustained the national spirit through the decades of the Cold War and helped the nation recover from assassinations, riots and other travails of the 1960s.” Broder skips the details on how all this worked, though.

And what has sustained us without the draft? There has been no shortage of challenges since the draft ended in 1973. There have also been plenty of challenges throughout our history, during almost all of which America was draft-free.

Any tyrant can conscript an army. Saddam Hussein proved that. However, the unconquerable spirit that drives the American soldier comes from a free people. The American soldier is there because he chooses to be there.

This generation, like past generations, has plenty of community spirit—including real, not bayonet-inspired volunteerism. Americans have always been able to trust young people to defend the country. Unfortunately, young people have not always been so able to trust their elders in waging those conflicts.

We don’t need the draft. Not just because young people are generally good, decent and patriotic young adults, rather than irresponsible, apathetic brats. And not just because the draft is stupid military policy. We don’t need the draft because the draft is wrong: it treats young people as mere objects of the nation-state, rather than citizens with inalienable rights.

Still, if Misters Rangel, Hollings and Broder continue to insist, why not a compromise? There is one group in our society that very much defines the term “irresponsible,” a group seemingly without any redeeming social value: the Congress. So let’s draft the Congress.

We can even kill two birds with one stone by enacting term limits in the process. After three House terms or two Senate terms, congressmen would be able to choose either military or civilian service and, thus, could give something back to their country for all that their country has given to them. And for all the congressmen have taken, too.

Our Congress would be the better for it. And the amazing Armed Forces of the United States would find a way to incorporate the career politician conscripts, while still, somehow, accomplishing the mission.

December 28, 2003

This column first appeared on Townhall.com.