Rep. Charles Rangel, (bio, contact) a decorated veteran of the Korean War, says he will introduce legislation to resume the military draft in the event of a war against Iraq. In an op-ed published in the New York Times, Rangel said the prospect of a draft would make Congress less likely to support a war.
“I believe that if we are going to send our children to war, the governing principle must be that of shared sacrifice,” Rangel wrote. “I believe that if those calling for war knew their children were more likely to be required to serve–and to be placed in harm’s way–there would be more caution and a greater willingness to work with the international community in dealing with Iraq…”
While Rangel wishes to use the draft as a means to dissuade the White House from toppling Saddam Hussein, he also has an egalitarian goal in mind. “A disproportionate number of the poor and members of minority groups make up the enlisted ranks of the military, while the most privileged Americans are underrepresented or absent, wrote Rangel.
There’s a certain irony to Range’s call. Typically liberals complain that there are not enough blacks and other ethnic minorities represented in American life, but now, one of the liberal’s chief spokesmen thinks there are too many minorities in one of American’s most respected institutions.
Yet it’s Rangel’s fundamental motive that is the most vicious one could imagine: in order to dissuade the President from pursuing a war with an enemy that threatens the security of the American people, Rangel proposes the government violate the rights of the American people. Rangel is not alone in his call for the military draft–many conservatives also seek to re-establish the draft and mandatory national service, but in the name of American nationalism.
Supporters of the draft fail to recognize one central truth: a proper government exists solely to protect the individual rights of its people. One can not claim to defend these rights while one simultaneously violates their most sacred tenet: that the individual has a right to his life that may not be violated. The only effective way to share the cost of war equitably is to pay military personnel those salaries that make military service attractive and to give the military the resources it needs and a mission worthy of the men and women who carry it out.
During the Vietnam War, the philosopher Ayn Rand was a fierce opponent of the military draft. Writing in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Rand observed, “If the state may force a man to risk death or hideous maiming and crippling, in a war declared at the state’s discretion, for a cause he may neither approve of nor even understand, if his consent is not required to send him into unspeakable martyrdom–then, in principle, all rights are negated in that state, and its government is not man’s protector any longer. What is there left to protect?”
Ayn Rand was right. There can never be a national emergency that legitimizes the violation of individual rights. In fact, the re-institution of the draft itself would constitute a national emergency worthy of the strongest opposition–not in order to oppose America, as the hippies did during the Vietnam War, but precisely because America ought to mean the most perfect expression of the principle of individual rights we are capable of achieving.
As a veteran of the Marines, I am proud of my five years of military service. Yet that service was predicated on the belief that I defended both my personal freedom and the freedom of the American people. I can not countenance the idea that the government would sacrifice the freedom of someone else in the name of protecting me. Rep. Rangel says he wants a vigorous debate on the question of the military draft. I hope it is a quick debate as well, and that the question of human sacrifice will simply be dismissed out of hand.