The Pentagon is moving forward with pressuring Congress to add women to the Selective Service program, which will make virtually all young people eligible for the military draft. The Washington Times reports:
The Pentagon says the country should stick with mandatory registration for a military draft, and it advocates a requirement for women to sign up for the first time in the nation’s history.
The recommendations are contained in a Defense Department report to Congress that serves as a starting point for a commission examining military, national and public service.
Congress ordered the Pentagon report, and the office of the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness completed it in the early months of the Trump administration.
Currently, only male citizens and residents age 18-25 are required to register, for a pace of about 2 million each year.
Women, whom the government has never ordered to sign up, would add 11 million to the Selective Service System database “in short order,” the report says.
Not surprisingly, the Pentagon, the report reminds us, wants the Service Program to continue indefinitely. No surprise there. But now, the Pentagon wants to expand draft registration so it can include millions of young people who had not previously been eligible.
This proposed change will be couched in a variety of irrelevant issues like “gender equality” and “women in combat.” At the heart of the matter, however, is the fact that the Pentagon wants an even larger list of potential forced laborers who can be paid below-market wages. In other words, draft registration offers — and has always offered — a list of people who can be forced to pay higher taxes in the form of mandatory “service”:
“Conscription is slavery,” Murray Rothbard wrote in 1973, and while temporary conscription is obviously much less bad — assuming one outlives the term of conscription — than many other forms of slavery, conscription is nevertheless a nearly-100-percent tax on the production of one’s mind and body. If one attempts to escape his confinement in his open-air military jail, he faces imprisonment or even execution in many cases.
Conscription remains popular among [nation-]states because it is an easy way to directly extract resources from the population. Just as regular taxes partially extract the savings, productivity, and labor of the general population, conscription extracts virtually all of the labor and effort of the conscripts. The burden falls disproportionately on the young males in most cases, and they are at risk of a much higher tax burden if killed or given a permanent disability in battle. If he’s lucky enough to survive the conflict, the conscript may find himself living out the rest of his life as disfigured or missing his eyesight and limbs. He may be rendered permanently undesirable to the opposite sex. Such costs imposed on the conscript are a form of lifelong taxation.
Fortunately for those who escape such a fate, the term of slavery ends at a specified time, but for the duration, the only freedom the conscript enjoys is that granted to him by his jailers.
But, Modern Conscription Won’t be About Combat Duty
The irrelevance of gender issues here is made clear by the fact that the Pentagon’s report is part of a larger effort which is, as the Times describes it, “a commission examining military, national and public service.” We’ve moved well beyond the issue of strictly military or combat service when we’re talking about forced labor through conscription.
Should the American federal government decide that it’s necessary to finally make use of the Selective Service lists, the new draftees won’t be people sent to carry rifles on the front lines. The military doesn’t want poorly trained conscripts in combat, anyway. But this fact by no means precludes the potential usefulness of conscription to the federal government.
What the US federal government does want — especially in case of dropping revenues due to economic crisis — is cheap labor to build military bases, drive trucks, prepare food, load cargo, mop floors, and perform the countless non-combat tasks that are required to further expand military prerogatives both at home and abroad. Yes, the US government can pay people to do all those things now. But conscripts could be much cheaper.
After all, even in the military, few soldiers ever are in combat situations. In active war zones in recent decades (i.e., Iraq and Afghanistan) there have been seven support personnel for every infantryman. In other words, for every rifle-carrying soldier in a combat zone, there are seven computer programmers, cooks, and mechanics keeping that combat soldier well supplied.
But why stop with military-related issues? “National service” can encompass a wide variety of duties. These can include any of the tasks currently performed by civilian contractors who do government work now on all sorts of domestic infrastructure and social benefits programs.
In the future, if young Americans are drafted, they’re going to be fixing vehicles in a garage or sitting at a desk in an office. And they’ll be doing those tasks for the low, low wages that involuntary servitude makes possible.
The issue of whether or not women should be in combat roles is a totally separate issue and beside the point of whether or not draft registration should be expanded further.
A Huge Repudiation of Property Rights
Ultimately, the only aspect of the women-as-draftees debate that is important is the issue of whether it is morally acceptable to force young people into temporary slavery. Precious few conservatives, of course, have a problem with this, which is why they ultimately can only oppose the expansion of draft registration to women on the grounds of gender politics. For the conservatives, it’s simply a given that forced government labor is entirely justified.
But, even outside the hard-core of the pro-military right-wing regime, it’s hard to find anyone in Washington who seriously opposes draft registration. It’s now been decades since the 1970s when there had a been a movement to abolish both the draft and draft registration. Ron Paul, not surprisingly, was among the supporters of that plan. Not even the end of the Cold War could end mandatory draft registration.
Now we’re talking about expanding the program. But make no mistake about it. Expanding Selective Service from 50 percent of young adults to 100 percent is not about equality, or progress, or patriotism. While these notions will no doubt be used to bully people into supporting such a move, the real-world effect will be a massive expansion in government power over the lives of the population.
Even if modern conscripts avoid all combat, the idea of conscription will always be nothing more than a wholesale repudiation of property rights. The argument that the draft is a necessary “insurance policy” in case of military crisis is no different than saying that nationalization of private industry should always be on the table as an important “insurance policy” in case of economic crisis. Or perhaps the abolition of freedom of speech should be an option as an “insurance policy” in case of social and ideological upheaval.
If young Americans can’t be convinced to fight in the federal government’s wars, then that’s an indication that the federal government doesn’t quite command the respect it thinks it deserves. Often, this is an indication that young people don’t believe the federal government’s propaganda that a war is necessary to “defend freedom,” “fight global communism,” or “end all wars.” If Americans would rather take their chances not taking up arms for the federal government, that’s a serious problem for the federal government, indeed. But what’s a problem for the federal government is by no means necessarily a problem for the taxpayers who pay the bills. Nor is it a problem the federal government is morally entitled to “rectify” by forcing millions of Americans into involuntary servitude.
Ryan W. McMaken is the editor of Mises Daily and The Free Market. He has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado, and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from 2009 to 2014. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.
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