Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Draft: It's Not Just for Soldiers Anymore

President Obama is keen on beginning a program for national service. This all seems fine and good on the work builds character, "ask not what your country can do for you," and so on. If you're paying attention, though, buzzwords like "national service" and "public-private partnership" (the latter coming out of the Treasury, mostly) sound far more ominous.

Imagine my totally lack of surprise, then, upon discovering this Defense Department document and accompanying news story.

I want to pull out the most relevant bit:
The directive emphasizes, however, that volunteers be sought first for any expeditionary requirements, before requiring anyone to serve involuntarily or on short notice. Overseas duty tours shall not exceed two years.
Yes, you read that right. The Department of Defense now has a mechanism by which "defense civilians" can be conscripted and sent overseas to do the government's bidding. You can find a definition of "defense civilian" in your English Comp textbook under the same heading as "frictionless sandpaper" and "carnivorous vegan."

For those of us who have forgotten, Amendment 13 Section 1 says:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
I registered with the Selective Service when I was 18. Every time I think of this I wish I could take it back. At the time, I simply didn't know any better. They taught us in school that the draft was authorized under the Constitution, through Article 1, Section 8. The relevant bits are:
The Congress shall have Power...To raise and support Armies...To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying nito Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department of Offcer thereof.
The question becomes whether a military draft is both necessary and proper for carrying into execution the raising and supporting of an army. Well, we are fighting two simultaneous wars with an all-volunteer military right now, so a draft is patently not necessary for the raising and supporting of an army.

The Supreme Court has ruled on the matter, saying:
As we are unable to conceive upon what theory the exaction by government from the citizen of the performance of his supreme and noble duty of contributing to the defense of the rights and honor of the nation, as the result of a war declared by the great representative body of the people, can be said to be the imposition of involuntary servitude in violation of the prohibitions of the Thirteenth Amendment, we are constrained to the conclusion that the contention to that effect is refuted by its mere statement.
Essentially, this is a non-answer, a mere gainsaying of the undeniable fact that conscription is by definition involuntary and by definition servitude. In the Department of Defense news article the phrase "serve involuntarily" is even used verbatim.

The draft has also changed since the Vietnam era. From the Selective Service System website:

If a draft were held today, it would be dramatically different from the one held during the Vietnam War. A series of reforms during the latter part of the Vietnam conflict changed the way the draft operated to make it more fair and equitable. If a draft were held today, there would be fewer reasons to excused a man from service.

Before Congress made improvements to the draft in 1971, a man could qualify for a student deferment if he could show he was a full-time student making satisfactory progress toward a degree.

Under the current draft law, a college student can have his induction postponed only until the end of the current semester. A senior can be postponed until the end of the academic year.

If a draft were held today, local boards would better represent the communities they serve.

The changes in the new draft law made in 1971 included the provision that membership on the boards was required to be as representative as possible of the racial and national origin of registrants in the are served by the board.

A draft held today would use a lottery to determine the order of call.

Before the lottery was implemented in the latter part of the Vietnam conflict, Local Boards called men classified 1-A 18 1/2 through 25 years old, oldest first. This resulted in uncertainty for the potential draftees during the entire time they were within the draft-eligible age group. A draft held today would use a lottery system under which a man would spend only one year in first priority for the draft--either the calendar year he turned 20 or the year his deferment ended. Each year after that, he would be placed in a succeedingly lower priority group and his liability for the draft would lessen accordingly. In this way, he would be spared the uncertainty of waiting until his 26th birthday to be certain he would not be drafted.

So yeah, no more "hiding" in college. Anyway, I've already dwelled too long on something that still (mostly) hypothetical. Let me just end by saying that if the draft ever comes back, women had better be required to serve too, and that I hope that any move towards compulsory "national service" of any kind will meet widespread resistance by my generation.

1 comment:

  1. yes, you spent way too much time writing on something that's purely hypothetical. Too many reasons why it won't happen.