Military ConscriptionMy American Heritage College Dictionary defines conscription as “Compulsory enrollment, especially for the armed forces; draft.” Lest there be any doubt about this definition, my dictionary goes on to define compulsory as “1. Obligatory; required. 2. Employing or exerting compulsion; coercive.”
I’m writing about this because there is a new book out written by Beth Bailey, America’s Army, which relates the history of the voluntary military in the United States. From what I have heard (although I have not yet read it), it is excellent.
Over the years a number of conservatives have argued on behalf of conscription, forcing young American males who would not otherwise volunteer to serve in the U.S. Military. The primary argument is that it would be good for them.
Is that really a legitimate argument that is consistent with conservative values and principles? Liberals argue that Americans should be forced to purchase health insurance. Health enthusiasts have argued that Americans should be forced to take Vitamin D and be denied access to “bad” foods.
I might argue that everyone should go to church on Sunday, but even if I’m right, do I have the right to force someone else to do something they don’t want to do? Forcing someone to do what they choose not to do is coercion. Any time an adult U.S. citizen has been forced to do something they do not want to do because it is good for them, it is wrong. That’s not freedom. That’s the raw exercise of government power to limit another person’s freedom and to control their lives. I should not have that right. You should not have that right. The government should not have that right.
Conservatives should understand that the U.S. government has the right and responsibility under the U.S. Constitution to do only two things—maintain internal order through law enforcement and the courts, and to protect its citizens from enemies foreign and domestic.
Just what gives me or any other citizen the right to force another law-abiding citizen to do anything that I think is good for him or her? Who made me god? Men and women are mere mortals, flawed, and inclined toward seeking power over others. That’s what the founders understood so very clearly. That’s why Madison and Jefferson and the founders intentionally created a system of checks and balances—to limit the power of individuals over other individuals.
One could make the argument that perhaps, just perhaps, conscription is a necessary evil when our nation is threatened with destruction by foreign enemies. But no one who believes in freedom and the U.S. Constitution should promote or advocate military conscription because they think it would be good for those who are conscripted.
Ronald Reagan understood this and that is why, with the able assistance of Martin Anderson (who successfully encouraged President Nixon to end the draft), Reagan worked hard to make the voluntary military a success. Under Reagan the American voluntary military became the best fighting force in the world. Efficiency and morale soared.
Short of a gigantic, all-out war, there is simply no constitutional or individual freedom based argument that can be made by a conservative to advocate conscription. It is a slippery slope that can justify conscription of young men and women to do all sorts of things in our society just because government forces them to do so. Our citizens deserve better. Freedom is always tenuous. As Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”
Let us thank, salute, and honor those who willingly choose to serve in our Armed Forces. We owe them full support and our gratitude for putting their lives on the line so that we might live in freedom. They are America’s best and they deserve the best from us.