A Conscientious Objector Argues for the Draft

I want to preface this pro-draft argument by saying two things. First, I’m not sure the argument holds up but I haven’t been able to refute it so far; if you can, say so. Second, I’m old enough to have been eligible for the draft during the war in Vietnam. I filed conscientious objector papers, which never came up because my number in the draft lottery was above 200. On that issue, unlike most others, my opinion hasn’t changed.

I’m Pro-Draft

In fact, if a draft is instituted and you’re eligible, I advocate resistance rather than participation.

But it’s hard to avoid the idea that an all-volunteer army is a bad thing. A draft is not a good thing. But nothing military is good; by the time you’ve reached the military option, you’re already talking least-bad, pros and cons.

On the pro side, an all-volunteer army doesn’t force those of us who don’t want to go to war to do so. It makes for a more professional army, theoretically and probably practically better trained, though as we’ve seen recently, not necessarily better equipped or supplied. So far in Iraq, the professional military seems to be putting up with tours of duty way past what they contracted for with far less complaint than citizen soldiers would make.

Recycled Arguments

Somehow these same arguments seem to work just as well on the con side.

By not forcing us to fight if we don’t want to, an all-volunteer army reduces the political cost of going to war, and thus makes it more likely that we’ll do so.

A more professional army is not clearly a good thing. As CIA mouthpiece Georgie Ann Geyer says:

A good friend of mine—a prominent and wise American diplomat—recently commented to me on the new American soldier in Iraq: “I was surprised by them. They’re professional warriors, more Hessians than traditional American soldiers.”

Professional Warriors

Why does the US need professional warriors? We haven’t been attacked by a military force of any type since Pearl Harbor; on the continent, since 1812. Yet we spend enormous amounts of money on our military, estimated by some whose livelihoods don’t depend on the Pentagon to be about two-thirds of the federal budget (the Defense Department budget does not include, for example, expenditures for veterans or interest on the debt taken out to support our wars).

For many years Americans seemed to feel that they were invulnerable, that they could bomb cities with no repercussions. After all, how many countries have mounted thousand-bomber raids on other countries? Anti-war folks, of whom I’m one, cannot tell the truth very often; even if they know that Fallujah is just one more in a long string of war crimes committed by the US government, by no means limited to the current conflict in Iraq, they can’t say so. Americans don’t want to believe that their country is one of the worst offenders in history with respect to killing innocent civilians; but there’s no alternative if your preferred method of attack is to destroy cities by bombing them. And, as the results of the recent election prove, facts are not welcome in certain parts of this country.

After many years of thinking that the US was invulnerable, Americans have recently discovered the error of their thoughts. Unfortunately, many Americans seem not be Reality-Based Model Switchers: when their model fails to predict events in the real world, they get angry at the world. (One expects this sort of thing from the millenarians, who are apparently now so excited about the imminent return of Jesus that they’ve decided to throw away their crosses; paging Bill Hicks.)

I suspect that this is one reason fact-fearing Americans have become rabid warriors: they’d rather kill than think. If you force them to think, they’ll kill indiscriminately. Fallujah. Dresden. Hiroshima. Name a city that was destroyed from the air by a country other than the US (sometimes with British assistance).

At least we helped the Germans and Japanese rebuild the cities we destroyed. The Iraqis are on their own (except that we’ll be taking the oil money with us).

The Composition of a Professional Military

In the current climate of the US, a professional army is bound to include hugely disproportionate numbers of members of various minority classes, especially blacks and Hispanics, to whom few opportunites of advancement in mundane society are presented.

Heavily under-represented, on the other hand, are the offspring of members of Congress.

As long as decisions on whether to go to war (and whether to abdicate Constitutionally mandated decisions) are made by mostly white, mostly male, mostly rich people who are certain their kids won’t be sent, the cost of war to Americans is not being taken into account. (We’ve essentially never calculated the cost of war for civilians on the other side, so this is no change.)

The Warrior Class

In the long term, a professional army becomes a unique social class. Military life becomes a method of advancement in society. For those who survive the constant wars that a professional army insists on, privilege awaits. Who can argue that a life of danger, undertaken at the request of the state, shouldn’t result in some privileges?

A social class of warriors, living apart, educated differently, with Limbaugh piped to them wherever they are in the world, is an institution that does not fit the original idea of America.

Rome’s Praetorian Guard eventually auctioned off the empire. Literally. They ran the auction from inside their camp, communicating over the wall with those who sought to buy the imperial throne. Not suprisingly, the successful buyer died suddenly about a year later. Nothing personal, just business.

Martial Law

Given the current direction of US policy, both foreign and domestic, one can predict that further acts of terrorism will be visited upon us. In fact, I argue that this is the goal of American foreign policy at present.

Governments in general want to control everything that happens to everyone every second of their lives. The founders of the US were aware of this, and provided tools to fight this tendency. One of the tools was the whole checks-and-balances thing, which Congress dumped (not for the first time) after 9/11.

The lesson for dictators-in-waiting is that terrorism helps you overcome the checks and balances. If you’re trying to get control of everything, allowing terrorist attacks fits your scheme. Bombing cities around the world, which is certain to generate more terrorism, is therefore a logical extension.

Once your population is sufficently terrorized, they’ll submit to the loss of civil rights on the theory that doing so will make them safer. In short, they’ll become sheep.

And you can declare martial law. The professional military will know what to do, and will be sufficiently disconnected from the rest of the population, and sufficiently propagandized, to agree.


I want to emphasize here that my argument is not against members of the US military. My argument is that our current method of filling the military rosters has been tried, for example by Rome, and the results were not what Americans have traditionally said they wanted.

Maybe 9/11 really did change everything. Including the American spirit of freedom.


26 December—Not doin’ the homework. Chomsky has a blog entry on this topic. Had I known, I expect I would have quoted from it. For instance:

The military command, and the civilian leadership, learned an important lesson in Vietnam: you can’t expect a citizen’s army to fight a vicious, brutal colonial war. Their predecessors knew that. The British, French, etc., provided the officer corps, special forces, and professional military, but relied on the Foreign Legion, Ghurkas, Indian troops, and other mercenaries. That’s standard.

I might add, for what it’s worth, that although I was actively involved in organizing and supporting resistance (including support for draft resisters) in the 60s, and was saved from a likely prison sentence only by the Tet offensive, I was never opposed to the draft. If there is to be an army, it would be best, I think, for it to be mainly a citizen’s army. In part for the reasons that the top command oppose that option.

As to how long it will be tolerated, that’s up to us.

Of course Znet prevents deep links. The link to Chomsky’s blog is near the bottom of the third column. I quoted from the entry for Friday, December 17, 2004, titled “The Draft”.

You're welcome to use this form for private as well as public comments; but if you don't want your comments posted to this site, please say so explicitly. As far as I know, this form works in every case, unless you're running XP (and if so, why?). If you have problems with this form, send your comment to count_belisarius@earthlink.net.

All fields are optional.