"I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in."
- George McGovern
"Safeguarding the rights of others is the most noble and beautiful end of a human being."
- Kahlil Gibran, "The Voice of the Poet"
The draft is an institution whereby men and women are "forced" into military service for their country.
The fundamental statist idea behind the draft is that, in times of national emergency or otherwise, a man's life
is not his own, and rather belongs to the state. Accept or reject this, there is no arguing that this is the fundamental
principle behind the draft. Intellectuals reject the draft on this grounds, and those subject to the draft reject it on the same grounds,
albeit usually in a more selfish, narrower statement - "they don't have any right to do this to me".
Does the state have this right? Answers vary from an unconditional "No", to a conditional "No", even to an almost
The moral and practical justifications for the unconditional "No" are generally based on what was stated at the start -
the State has no right to uproot men from their homes in the formative years, and send them to die in wars which they may not
agree with or even comprehend the justifications for. Would the Vietnam War have been possible without a draft? Unlikely -
because although a country has never found itself short of volunteers to fight in a war when it was threatened, or its
ideological base was threatened, people are unlikely to volunteer for a war where the political justification is never stated directly and
truely to the populace. Whether there was true political justification for the war in Vietnam is a side issue - the fact was that there
was hypocrisy evident in it to anyone who cared to look. What were Americans fighting for in that war? The government said it was
to stop the spread of Communism - but they then said they defended the people of South Vietnam's right to vote themselves into
a Communist state if they so wished.
Who would volunteer to fight and die in a war with such a weak ideological base - one where all your efforts could come to
nothing if the vote of a people swung the wrong way? Whether you see this as justification for or against the
draft depends on your point of view - defenders of the Vietnam War would say that the war was necessary, and therefore the
draft is necessary. Critics of the war would say that the war was an un-needed evil, and as it could not have been fought without
a draft, the draft should be abolished to stop wars like Vietnam ever occuring. People will only volunteer to fight in 'just' wars, and
therefore an army of all volunteers ensures only just wars are fought.
The conditional "No" is the answer from the defenders of the Vietnam War - they would say the draft should only be used in cases
where there is a need for military action, but not one which can be comprehended by the public (say, they're not in possession of all
of the facts for reasons of national security). Unfortunately, drafts like this are not likely to be popular with the public. When people
see their young men been sent to fight and die in wars with no clear ideological purpose or goal, they are uneasy. The men themselves
doing the fighting are unlikely to be the most effective fighting force around if they know nothing of why they are fighting other than that the
State said they should.
It shouldn't be necessary to point out the problem with a government that has the arbitrary power to inititate a draft because it
believes there is a reason too when it is not obliged to release this reason to the public (say the draft's critics). Many people will
probably dismiss this as paranoia, but it's worth considering - we are at least comforted by knowing that the government will benefit
immeasurably by releasing the reason for the draft into the public domain, both in increased support for the draft at home and increased
effectiveness of its forces abroad.
Another justification of the draft that we are offered is that along with the rights we have come responsibilities. But to whom do we
owe these responsibilities? The State? Is that to say that our rights are granted to us by the State, and not something integral in us as
human beings? Statism is a process of removing our fundamental moral rights for the good of the collective nation -
accept or reject the idea of Statism, one cannot reject that basic principle. In a country where there was no Statism (that is,
where there was no such thing as the right to a livelihood granted by welfare state programmes, only the right to live for
oneself, which is what critics of Statism yearn for), there would be no such thing as responsibilities owed to the State. Many people
reject Statism because they claim it robs them of their right to live for themselves and no-one else (because their taxes are used to
support others, and so on) - to suggest to these people that they owe the State for the right to live for others seems somewhat fallacious.