Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


Ivan Eland: A Draft Or Merely Hot Air?

A Draft or Merely Hot Air?

By Ivan Eland*
October 18, 2004

In the presidential campaign, there has been talk of returning to the draft after the election: Kerry has predicted that President Bush will reinstate the draft if reelected and Bush has denied it. Any such reinstatement would be disastrous for the republic.

In the lead up to the election, the Republicans have been so eager to run away from this explosive issue that they brought up a bill on the draft, sponsored by a few liberal Democrats, just to have the house defeat it overwhelmingly. Most politicians—including the president—know that forcing young men and women into the military against their will would likely make many voters angry. They also know that a draft would probably cause any remaining public support for the already unpopular Iraq war to melt away. Conscription was a major reason public support eroded for the equally dubious Vietnam War.

So it is safe to say that a renewed draft will not occur before the election. And it may not occur after November 2 either, but once the election is safely behind them some politicians could change their minds. War is costly, and politicians usually try to hide the financial expenses. With the already yawning federal budget deficit, that temptation is even greater. The current tar baby in Iraq has bogged down 140,000 U.S. troops and may ensnare more after November if the worsening violence and freedom from electoral constraints cause the next administration—whether headed by Bush or Kerry—to escalate U.S. involvement. So the government may be tempted to enlarge the military “on the cheap” by using conscription. But what is cheap for the government is not for the rest of American society. The cost of disrupting the civilian labor markets alone—as young, entry-level employees are coerced away from productive private sector employment into the government’s quagmire—would be high.

Even worse, in a society that cherishes individual freedom, the government would be enslaving a portion of the population to fight for the freedom of the rest of American society. Even that is a stretch because the Iraq invasion—conducted on false pretenses in a small, faraway land—hardly had to be launched to safeguard the freedom of U.S. citizens back home. In fact, it is even debatable whether, in the end, the average Iraqi will experience enhanced freedom, especially if a bloody civil war ensues or an Islamic government arises. It was bad enough for those who evaded the draft in one way or another during the Vietnam War—for example, President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz—to send U.S. volunteers to die in a war of choice, but it would be even more hypocritical to conscript the cannon fodder.

Certainly, the U.S. military is no fan of the draft. During the Vietnam War, the military was reluctant to get rid of conscription. After three decades of volunteer service, however, the military has realized that a much higher quality force can be generated by relying on people who are actually motivated to be there and will stay longer. But because the Bush administration has greatly overextended the armed forces worldwide and the morass in Iraq may significantly damage the ability to recruit and retain high quality soldiers, a desperate military may flip-flop and acquiesce to a new draft.

According to the rhetoric of liberal Democrats who advocate conscription, a volunteer military effectively requires socially disadvantaged groups to die disproportionately for their country. The liberals correctly argue that poor minorities join the military in greater numbers because they have less economic opportunity in the civilian economy. Although African-Americans are somewhat overrepresented in the enlisted ranks of the Army and Marines (Hispanics are actually underrepresented), they are less represented in ground combat units of those services. The reality is that many African-Americans choose to join military supply and logistics units, rather than combat units, to better acquire specific skills that are more easily transferable to the private sector.

Thus, the societal benefits of returning to conscription are virtually nil and the societal costs—both to the economy and to the principles of the republic—are exorbitant. After the election, the public should remain vigilant of any attempts to bring back this white elephant from a bygone era.


*Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute in Oakland, CA., and author of the book, Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World. For further articles and studies, see the War on Terrorism and

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Julian Assange: A Thousand Days In Belmarsh
Julian Assange has now been in the maximum-security facilities of Belmarsh prison for over 1,000 days. On the occasion of his 1,000th day of imprisonment, campaigners, supporters and kindred spirits gathered to show their support, indignation and solidarity at this political detention most foul... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: The Mauling Of Novak Djokovic
Rarely can the treatment of a grand sporting figure by officialdom have caused such consternation. Novak Djokovic, the tennis World Number One, has always had a tendency to get under skin and constitution, creating a large following of admirers and detractors. But his current treatment by Australian authorities, and his subsequent detention as an unlawful arrival despite being granted a visa to participate in the Australian Open, had the hallmarks of oppression and incompetent vulgarity... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Voices Of Concern: Aussies For Assange’s Return

With Julian Assange now fighting the next stage of efforts to extradite him to the United States to face 18 charges, 17 of which are based on the brutal, archaic Espionage Act, some Australian politicians have found their voice. It might be said that a few have even found their conscience... More>>

Forbidden Parties: Boris Johnson’s Law On Illegal Covid Gatherings

It was meant to be time to reflect. The eager arms of a new pandemic were enfolding a society with asphyxiating, lethal effect. Public health authorities advocated various measures: social distancing, limited contact between family and friends, limited mobility. No grand booze-ups. No large parties. No bonking, except within dispensations of intimacy and various “bubble” arrangements. Certainly, no orgies... More>>

Dunne Speaks: Question Time Is Anything But
The focus placed on the first couple of Question Time exchanges between the new leader of the National Party and the Prime Minister will have seemed excessive to many but the most seasoned Parliamentary observers. Most people, especially those outside the Wellington beltway, imagine Question Time is exactly what it sounds... More>>

Gasbagging In Glasgow: COP26 And Phasing Down Coal

Words can provide sharp traps, fettering language and caging definitions. They can also speak to freedom of action and permissiveness. At COP26, that permissiveness was all the more present in the haggling ahead of what would become the Glasgow Climate Pact... More>>