Thursday, October 7, 2004

The Specter of Shared Complicity and Risk: America's War Makers Fear the Draft

When Charles Rangel, the anti-Iraq-war Democratic congressman from Harlem, first proposed reinstating the draft he was widely ignored, but this week the pro-war US House leadership made a point of bringing his bill up for a vote for the explicit purpose of defeating it (The vote was 402-2) ("House Overwhelmingly Stomps Out Bill that Would've Reinstated Draft," USA Today, October 5, 2004).

They wanted to scotch concerns that the draft might be revived because, as they aptly feared, such public belief could hurt the reelection and war plans of President Bush.

It was the influential Republican economist Milton Friedman -- a man with a deep grasp of the theory of self-interest and incentive -- who was among the first to propose undermining the anti-Vietnam-war movement by abolishing the draft. A summary of William F. Buckley's 1969 write-up of Friedman's plan was read with enthusiasm by President Nixon, who ordered his staff to follow up on "this intriguing idea." (Richard Reeves, President Nixon, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2001, p. 51).

The draft is a tough issue. On the one hand, it forces people to be ready to kill and die for a state whose leaders are not bound by the murder laws, but on the other hand it makes it politically less likely that the killing will happen in the first place.

What do you think the US campuses would look like today if we had a real, random draft, one in which even the young George W. Bushes of the country could be sent to Fallujah if they got unlucky? Its undoubtedly true that such a draft would be realistically impossible -- the rich would still manage to buy their way out, but much of the middle class wouldn't and that would still be sufficient to put enough campuses into an uproar that Washington would be less able to wage its wars of choice and whim.