Some of you might be familiar with Creedance Clearwater’s song “Fortunate Son”, where they sing:
“Some folks inherit star spangled eyes,
Ooh, they send you down to war, lord,
And when you ask them, how much should we give?
Ooh, they only answer more! more! more!,”
I’m grateful to be living in times when there is no involuntary military draft in Canada or the U.S.A similar tothe one John Fogerty sang about. It was not until between the World Wars for Canada and during the Vietnam for the U.S.A. that mandatory conscription was eliminated.
My case against conscription is built on these assumptions, which I believe are solid. My argument against conscription is taken from a non-pacifistic perspective (though I am sure a pacifist would accept the main thrust of these points, though they might find some quibbles).
(These are experimentally written out at this point, so I wouldn’t stand or fall behind on these wordings, they probably need to be tinkered with)
- The State conceivably may own some things, but it does not own human life (since the State is not God). And unless an individual does something to justify capital punishment, the State has no authority to force them to yield up their life. (I would argue that some people who argue for conscription do so out of an idolatrous conception of the State)
- Human life is exceedingly precious beyond anything a State could offer. While the State may conceivably do good which would put an individual in debt to them, there is nothing the State could do on the behalf of the individual which would require yielding up their life. (that is not to say, however, that an individual couldn’t decide they want to voluntarily yield up their life for some reason-ie. they feel they should for the good the State has proffered to them).
- Christian ethical obligation cover all of life and all vocations, therefore Christian solders are obligated to follow Christian ethics. And an inferior who sins is responsible, to some degree, for his sins (he may not be held as culpable as his superior, but he is still responsible for his actions under Christian ethics). “I was following orders” may modify the degree of complicity, but it doesn’t eliminate complicity.
- Both supporters and detractors of Just War theory must agree that there is such a thing as an unjust war. And prosecuting an unjust war is disobedience to God. And a Christian’s first allegiance is to God and allegiance to all others must be consistent with allegiance to God (if we must chose obedience to God versus obedience to man, we must always chose God).
- A mandatory draft appears to be operating under the idea that either (a) it is impossible for the State to carry out an unjust war or (b) the citizens first allegience is to the State and not God. In either of those scenarios, it would seem that a mandatory draft would make sense. In my mind, however, both (a) and (b) are untrue.
- I am intrinsically suspicious of the grounds for any war effort that can’t excite citizens enough to jump up and volunteer. I’m also intrinsically suspicious of any State which decides it can’t persuade its citizens to fight and most force them to.
For these reasons, among others, I find mandatory drafts to be utterly inconsistent with Christian ethics, individual liberty, and common sense.
Lest someone think that it is absurd to talk about something that is so far away from ever happening, let me bring up a couple of things. To be clear, I am not claiming that the current conditions are such that a military draft is about to be imposed. I’m merely trying to show that some people wish there was a draft.
- As recently as July 6th, 2012, General McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan has advocated a return to a military draft. (in my opinion, McChrystal basically thinks an army of slaves would work better than an army of mercenaries). (Looking at the past, in 2003, 27% of the U.S. supported the concept of a draft. And in 1980, more than half of Americans thought a return of the draft was necessary.)
- Charlie Rangel has been repeatedly calling for a military draft.
- Just recently, in Let’s Draft Our Kids in the New York Times, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, Thomas E. Ricks, argues for a new revised draft. In his vision there would be one way of escape from the draft, giving up all social benefits and services from the government. On the surface, one might think Tom’s proposal has some merits. It will make the country collectively think twice before prosecuting a very questionable war, like Iraq for example, And, it does have an escape hatch for those who don’t mind become a second class member of the country in terms of the benefits. But there is a decisive and fatal flaw in Tom’s proposal, if one wants to have a humane and liberty loving country that is. Tom’s proposal presupposes that on each and every military expedition, you OWE your life to the government in service of whatever military whim the current leader (who you may or may not have voted for) chooses. It presupposes that you owe your life to expeditions in Vietnam, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. and if you don’t comply, you must be punished by giving all the services that everyone else gets. It basically presupposes that social services are worth a human life. How absurd that is, from a Christian perspective!
While it is rather unlikely that a military draft will return, if 9/11 has so changed America’s willingness to take drastic action, what would happen if a couple more 9/11-style things happened? I would argue that it wouldn’t take much to sway public opinion quite a ways towards re-instituting a draft!
Hopefully this form of slavery will never be re-instituted in North America! As Reagan said: “conscription is a form of slavery, a horrible and costly exception to America’s founding principle. It is morally repugnant to the ideals of a free society. “