Swans Commentary » swans.com February 14, 2005  



The Draft


by Ian Werkheiser






(Swans - February 14, 2005)  Despite being explicitly told that there would be no need to draft US citizens to cover our military adventurism abroad, it looks increasingly inevitable. The dreams of neoconservatives that we would have a quick victory in Iraq, leading to a pro-Israel government and massive financial benefits for some companies, that this would be a shining beacon of the new orders of things, has of course gone unrealized. Iraq is exactly the morass they said it never would be, needing more and more troops just to keep the backwards progress at a low level. Not to say that some people haven't made a lot of money in the invasion and occupation, but nothing like the oil-addled fantasies many had going into it. Even as the ground beneath our feet continues to give way in Iraq, there are strong demands for troops elsewhere, if they are to finally get a pipeline through Afghanistan like they have always wanted, and if we are to invade Iran, Syria, and anywhere else valuable US resources are unfortunately located within foreign borders.

And so the strain grows even as recruiting falls to a new low and many troops flee to Canada to avoid service. We keep those already serving from leaving, in many cases through stop-loss; we recall many others to active duty years after their initial tour was ended, and we up recruitment benefits in an attempt to lure more of the lower classes to join. Any hope we have of the international community cleaning up our messes allowing us to move on to the next conquest gets more and more distant as we are increasingly isolated in Iraq and in our international position in general. Many in Iraq believe that the recent elections will lead to more activity from the "insurgents," people who in their own eyes are defending Iraq from a foreign occupier. Their position may actually grow in appeal if the U.S. does not quickly leave the country now that elections have been held, as many Iraqis think we will.

Troops leaving as their tours end, and increasingly more leaving from death and injuries, plus low recruitment, plus increasing demands for soldiers -- such is the arithmetic of our foreign policy, and the draft seems to be the clear answer. To which I say: good.

Most people in both the left and right look at our current military's members in much the same way; only the guess as to their motivations differ. People on the right tend to see the men and women in the military as volunteers motivated by patriotism, a need to defend this great nation, to stand forth for the Constitution, and other neo-fascist rhetoric. But how different is it from the position we usually hear articulated by the left: the idea of people in the military as volunteers, some perhaps deluded by the flag-waving propaganda or a family tradition, some motivated by the violent lifestyle, some by the chance for more money and a college education? In both cases, however, it is a volunteer army, a nice phrase conjuring a fairly innocuous image. Thus we must support these volunteers who kindly choose to lay down their lives for us.

In actuality, the U.S. employs mercenaries to go and enforce our wishes.

The gang of mercenaries we currently employ attracts those in dire economic straights. Thus when the US public decides whether or not to support a war, they're really deciding whether or not to support sending poor people to die for them, a fact that makes the decision much easier. That must change. It's probably impossible to fulfill the fantasy of having the architects of the wars fight them -- Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and their ilk paratrooping into the desert -- but if the majority of Americans support the war, they must support the possibility of fighting and dying in it. This will almost certainly lead to less support for war, and while that is an end to be desired, it is only a side benefit of what is a fairly obvious ethical necessity: if we as a democratic citizenry want a war, fighting it is an unpleasant necessity, and so should be shouldered equally.

One objection that springs to mind is that we are not a perfect democratic citizenry. Mightn't it be possible that if we had the draft, thereby shouldering the burden equally, the people's voices still would not be heard in whether or not we go to war? The U.S., after all, has a long history of public cost funding private gain. The answer is yes, not listening to the will of the people in deciding whether to prosecute a war would be a possibility just as it is now, but unlike now, the military would not be as tractable. Mercenaries are people who make their living fighting and killing, or being ready to do so. Just as we currently have a mercenary army, a draft gives us a citizen's army. The differences are important. A citizen's army would not have had the years of indoctrination into the military mindset before being told what it needs to go do. As Noam Chomsky says,

"...in fact, in the Vietnam war, the U.S. military realized, they had made a very bad mistake. I mean, for the first time I think ever in the history of European imperialism, including us, they had used a citizen's army to fight a vicious, brutal, colonial war, and civilians just cannot do that kind of a thing. For that, you need the French foreign legion, the Gurkhas or something like that. Every predecessor has used mercenaries, often drawn from the country that they're attacking like England ran India with Indian mercenaries. You take them from one place and send them to kill people in the other place. That's the standard way to run imperial wars. They're just too brutal and violent and murderous. Civilians are not going to be able to do it for very long. What happened was, the army started falling apart. One of the reasons that the army was withdrawn was because the top military wanted it out of there. They were afraid they were not going to have an army anymore. Soldiers were fragging officer. The whole thing was falling apart. They were on drugs." (Democracy Now, 2004)

This is why the US military is so desperate to have the Iraqi army trained and deployed, willing Gurkhas to impose the colonial will. But Iraqi soldiers routinely flee service, partly in response to death threats to themselves and their families, and partly in an unwillingness to fight with the US troops against Iraqi civilians. And so the prospect of a civilian, and one hopes therefore more civil, military looms.

All this is not to say, however, that people should go forth gladly to fight when drafted. Quite the contrary. People opposed to a particular war, or to war in general, should of course resist it with whatever tools at their disposal, and a large one would be refusing to answer the draft, or if drafted into the military, refusing to fight, and talking to their fellow soldiers about doing the same. This is not an ethical inconsistency. Breaking a law in order to hold fast to what you consider to be right is a necessity, not a conflict. So while for the reasons Chomsky listed, in addition to the political strength of the eigtheen to twenty-five year old potential draftees that would certainly emerge, it is probable that they will put off a draft as long as possible, it is unlikely that they can do so indefinitely. And in any minimum ethical standard for a democracy, that's all to the good.

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Fisk, Robert; "Amid Tragedy, Defiance: Millions Vote Despite Suicide Bombers," The Independent, January 31, 2005.

Jamail, Dahr; "U.S. Military Resorting to Collective Punishment," Inter Press Service, January 18, 2005.

Hersh, Seymour; "What the Pentagon Can Now do in Secret," The New Yorker, January 24 and 31, 2005.

Schmitt, Eric; "General Says the Current Plan is to Maintain 120,000 Soldiers in Iraq Through 2006," The New York Times, January 25, 2005.

Davey, Monica; "8 Soldiers Sue Over Army's Stop-Loss Policy," New York Times, December 6, 2004.

Noam Chomsky interviewed on Democracy Now, November 15th, 2004.


About the Author

Ian Werkheiser is an activist, writer, and teacher currently living in Japan.



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Published February 14, 2005