To his eternal credit, Richard Nixon helped end America's draft.
Congress responded to his "President's Commission On An All-Volunteer Armed Force" by discontinuing the draft in 1973.
The United States has set an example that we should encourage other countries to copy.
The Commission's report noted that the draft:
"has been a costly, inequitable, and divisive procedure for recruiting men for the armed forces. It has imposed heavy burdens on a small minority of young men while easing slightly the tax burden on the rest of us.
"It has introduced needless uncertainty into the lives of all our young men. It has burdened draft boards with painful decisions about who shall be compelled to serve and who shall be deferred.
"It has weakened the political fabric of our society and impaired the delicate web of shared values that alone enables a free society to exist."
Even this indictment didn't fully state the problems with military conscription. Government, of course, must wield power, but any constitution must limit how that power can be employed.
There are three types of social power: the pen (pure persuasion), the purse (inducements), and the sword (sanctions).
Government can legitimately impose sanctions only on people who violate a genuine law, a general rule of action. Conscription — appropriately described as "selective service" (emphasis added) — didn't base imprisonment of draft resisters on a genuine law. Only individuals who were selected by government to be drafted were punished.
Since 1973 the U.S. has relied entirely on its powers of the pen ("serve the country, join up!") and of the purse to staff our armed forces.
The draft was incompatible with basic American values of personal freedom limited only by the rule of law.
Arguably the Thirteenth Amendment, added to the Constitution after the Civil War, should have settled the matter: "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."
Unfortunately the Supreme Court ruled in The Selective Draft Law Cases (1918) that the draft was not "involuntary servitude," though it couldn't find any reasoning to support that conclusion. If a draft is not involuntary servitude, what would be?
The Thirteenth Amendment's coupling of slavery and involuntary servitude suggests that we need to mount a vigorous campaign urging other countries to abolish military slavery.
Clearly, it would be in our interest for other countries to abolish their drafts. It would allow reductions in our own forces and the taxes needed to pay for them. It would also serve the interests of people elsewhere, since abolition of conscription would increase their own personal liberty.
Americans have long urged other countries to become democratic. But an even higher priority should be to encourage other countries, democratic or otherwise, to respect the rule of law — that is, to impose sanctions (deprivations of life, liberty, or property) only on people who have violated general rules of action.
Harsh rules are less likely if they have to apply to everybody and not just to people who have been arbitrarily selected. For the average citizen, the protection from arbitrary government treatment provided by the rule of law far outweighs the protection created by democracy. If one has to choose to enjoy only one of these protections, most reasonable people would opt for the rule of law.
Military slavery is a major example of arbitrary government treatment. It therefore would make sense for American foreign policy to focus on ridding the world of military conscription. Such a campaign would give people in other countries a striking example of why they should insist that their governments observe the rule of law.
Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981 and his most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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