June 01, 2005

To draft or not to draft

Jon Carroll makes a lefty case for the draft:

So what about the draft? What about reconnecting the Army with the nation it serves? I know, easy for me to say -- ain't no one gonna draft me -- but, seriously, what about it? Already there is serious inequity -- the president, knowing that the draft is unpopular, instead uses reservists in ways never contemplated by military planners, bringing untold hardship to innocent families.

Also, the Vietnam experience suggests that a universal draft would focus attention on our continuing problems in Iraq and the woeful way they are being managed. It would invest the rest of the nation in the plight of the military, and it would make the Bush administration's 'move along nothing to see here how about those Ten Commandments?' position untenable.

I don't want anyone to die pursuing this hubristic dream of exported democracy. On the other hand, since people are still dying, I'd love to focus the attention of the nation on the dying. The draft would be an excellent way to do that, and it would be equitable public policy.

and I respond by email:

Dear Jon Carroll,

I agree with you wholeheartedly that the burden of the Iraq war has fallen unfairly on the poorer and more naively patriotic members of our society, and I think your suspicions that most Americans are rather detached from the realities of war might be entirely accurate. But I do not feel the draft is a way to really address these problems.

The thing is, it is far too easy for someone like me -- 25, from an upper middle class family, master's degree, working on a Ph.D -- to avoid the draft, whether legally (educational exemption) or otherwise (my dad buys me a plane ticket to Germany). Many of today's chickenhawks, such as Rush Limbaugh, avoided the draft in Viet Nam by reporting medical problems. Should there be a draft, it is certainly the case that many more young Americans will see war. But it is also certainly the case that many of those young Americans will be the sisters, brothers, and neighbors of those who already serve, not scions of the wealthy and powerful.


MosBen said...

Why not just remove the exemptions? Sure, someone with flat feet might not make the best front liner, and that'd still be a problem (though I think Dr. Scholls would disagree that it's unsurmountable), but why not make those people seeking medical exemptions take positions that they *are* able to do. Even if Rush wasn't on the front lines wading through rice fields, I can't imagine there wasn't something he could have done over there. And you could pretty easily get rid of the education exemption if you wanted.

As to people fleeing to Germany, yeah, that's still something of a problem, but I don't know if I'm comfortable basing our public policy on the possibility that it might make rich people turn themselves into criminals.

Noumena said...

That was more or less Carroll's response to my email. But I assume we want some level of exemptions, otherwise we'll be arresting terminal cancer patients in their hospice rooms.

In any case, it seems like you're liable to end up with the two-tiered full-time army / national guard system within the full-time army itself. Did W deserve to be in the air national guard? No, probably not. Did he or his father do anything illegal to get him in there during Viet Nam? No, probably not. There's some speculation that Rush exaggerated his medical problems to get out of service; whether or not such speculation is accurate, it does reflect the fact that it would be just as easy to get your friendly family doctor to diagnose you as being just beyond the guidelines, exempt from any military duty.

But, to divert this discussion completely, this proposal really, really, really fails the test of the Categorical Imperative, not to use persons merely as means. In the act of drafting a certain percentage of the population, you assume some further percentage is going to die in combat (or wounds received therein). Those conscripted into combat become means to two ends, whatever military goal the leaders have in mind, and making the citizenry more aware of the horrors of war. You might be able to make a Kantian case for a draft when the first goal is to repel a clear and present danger to the pursuit of the kingdom of ends (think World War 2), but I really don't think this could be done with the second goal. If the aim of the draft is to throw some people to their deaths in order to 'wake up' others, the draft is incompatible with the CI.