Saturday, October 14, 2006

Bob Herbert's National Service Draft: Good Intentions, Dire Consequences

Response to my piece from last Friday on Bob Herbert's campaign to make two years of national service mandatory for all U.S. citizens suggests that the idea is growing in popularity. I am convinced that a national service draft would be a profound disaster, and believe it's vital to point out the dire consequences that a universal conscription would produce.

Spiting Your Face

I want to believe that Bob Herbert's heart is in the right place, but on this issue, his head's in a place it wasn't designed to fit into. Here are some snippets from remarks he made in September 2005 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
I think that all Americans should do two years of national service. It does not have to be in the military. I'd love to see people out there in the community. You could work with the homeless, you could work with the poverty-stricken, you could do literacy work…

… So, that's the kind of national service that I'm thinking of. It would include the military as well because, obviously, you have to defend the country. But if you're going to fight wars, then you need to draw your warriors from a broader slice of the population than we're doing now…

…One of the reasons we are not more outraged about what's going on in Iraq is that there are not that many Americans who feel that they have a personal stake in what's going on in Iraq.

Let's be realistic. National service may "not have to be in the military," but it will be if Uncle Sam decides that's what he wants the national service to be. If everybody's eligible for a national service draft, everybody's eligible for military service. That means Uncle Sam can turn into Big Brother whenever he wants to, and build a military as big as he wants for as long as he wants to fight whatever perpetual wars he feels like fighting.

Even folks who would serve in non-military capacities would in essence be subject to something akin to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, under which Big Brother could ban all opposition to his wars and all other forms of dissent. Under a national service regime, virtually every citizen could be called to some sort of semi-active duty status, and every citizen's constitutional rights could be permanently stripped.

You think that couldn't happen? Take a look at what's happening right now. Thanks to the passage of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, your President and your Secretary of Defense can declare you an "enemy combatant" and "disappear" you Joseph Heller style without so much as a by-your-leave from anybody.

A national service draft won't draw our warriors "from a broader slice of the population." It's true that most of today's rifle soldiers come from underprivileged and working class backgrounds, but guess what--that's where most of the rifle soldiers came from during Vietnam when we had a draft. Don't kid yourself into thinking we can have a "fair" draft by making it universal. Private Juarez will still be fighting door to door in some foreign hellhole while Second Lieutenant Bush passes out cocktails and peanuts on Air Force One.

If national service draftees work with the homeless, the poverty stricken, the illiterate and so forth, that will lead to all social, charitable and education organizations coming under direct control of the federal government. Do we not already have enough bloated federal bureaucracies? And do we not already have too much federal influence on what should be state controlled programs?

There Ought to be a Law

A national draft that extends beyond the scope of military service is arguably unconstitutional on two counts.

First, it doesn't appear to be allowed by Article I. Section 8 of that Article authorizes Congress to "raise and support armies" and "provide and maintain a navy." This, along with the legislature's power to "declare war" supports the constitutional legality of a military draft, but it's hard to find anything in the Constitution that supports the position that Congress can conscript citizens to work for the Red Cross or AmericaCorps.

More importantly, though, a universal conscription would make federal service a de facto condition of citizenship, and would clearly violate the Fourteenth Amendment's definition of a U.S. citizen as "All persons born or naturalized in the United States."

It follows that in order to establish a national service draft, we'd need to a) ignore the Constitution or b) write an amendment to the Constitution that expands the powers of Congress and redefines citizenship and the privileges and immunities that come with it under the Bill of Rights and elsewhere.

Either way, we'd be throwing the Constitution out with the junk mail, and pounding the final nail into the coffin of our cherished republic.

Kerosene on the Fire

I'm not sure where Herbert gets the idea that there's not enough "outrage" over what's going on in Iraq. Polls like the one taken by CNN in September 2006 indicate that opposition to the Iraq war has reached an "all time high," and even Fox News concedes that the "2006 Election Is All About Iraq."

If there's not enough outrage over Iraq to suit Herbert, it's not because most Americans aren't "sharing the sacrifice." It's because the mainstream media has allowed the Big Brother Broadcast (Fox News, AM talk radio, right wing publications like The Weekly Standard, etc.) to bully them into being "fair and balanced" on the subject. Young Mister Bush is fond of blaming the unpopularity of his Iraq misadventure on the "images of chaos and carnage" shown on the news networks. But think about it: when's the last time you actually saw a scene of chaos and carnage in Iraq on CNN, MSNBC, or any of the regular network's nightly news programs?

If Herbert honestly thinks a universal national service draft will help end the war in Iraq, he's as delusional as the neo-contrivers who started it. The populace can't control the actions of the state by becoming vassal to it.

Adopting Herbert's universal national service program wouldn't just make the United States look like Stalin's Soviet Union. It would make Stalin's Soviet Union look like Shangri-La.

And whether he knows it or not, by advocating a universal draft, Herbert is playing right in to the neoconservative agenda of selling the American public on the Orwellian notions that "war is peace," "freedom is slavery" and "ignorance is strength."

Wake up and smell the totalitarianism, Bob.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.


  1. I once agreed with Herbert, because I believed that the existence of a draft would prod people into paying attention, and would result in a mobilized resistance against wars such as in Iraq. But gradually, I have realized that this is a pipe dream, based more upon the realities of the 1960s than of the 21st century. Whether this new reality is due to the ubiquitous propoganda machine we call MSM, or to the explosion of circuses that divert people’s attention from current events, or to the chilling effect of the current administration’s “you’re either with us or against us” stance on civil discourse, or to the economic terror faced by wage slaves one paycheck away from disaster, the fact is that it’s unlikely we’ll see a mobilized populace marching in the streets in numbers comparable to what was seen in the 1960s and 1970s, to protest anything. For innumerable reasons, we are largely cowed.

    Critical thinking seems to have gone out the window (c.f., Bush’s ease in connecting Iraq to al Qaeda in the mass mind) and, unfortunately, we seem also to have lost our moral compass when it comes to injustice, as evidenced by the number of people who believe that torture is ever justified.

    The key and resounding truth you speak is:

    “The populace can’t control the actions of the state by becoming vassal to it.”

    And you are absolutely correct that there is no such thing as a “universal” draft. Anyone believing the contrary probably also believes that average per capita income and median per capita income are interchangeable.

    We are teetering on the precipice of frank totalitarianism. Adding a universal draft at this point would only push us into the abyss.

  2. Did you just hear Bush say that after Pearl Harbor, Jimmy Doolittle put a bunch of B-52s on the deck of an aircraft carrier to go bomb Tokyo, Ummmm, aren't B-52s a little big for an escort carrier? Ya think he would have known that being a pilot and all. Perhaps the question should be "How many B52's fit on Bush's pinhead?

  3. Kathleen,

    I agree, a universal conscription would be the icing on the cake we're already eating.


    That young Mister Fighter Pilot is unaware of the difference between a B-25 and a B-52 doesn't surprise me. That's what comes from being AWOL from all those TANG airpower history lectures.

  4. BTW:

    B-25 weren't only the bombers Doolittle flew over Japan, they're the bombers Joe Heller flew in from Sicily, and the ones featured in his immortal Catch-22.

  5. I really wonder whether the lack of protest in this country can be pinned on the prevalence of anti-depressant medication. It is clear to me that it would be normal for anyone who is paying attention to current events to be depressed, but in our society, rather than seek to remedy the cause, it's standard procedure to instead medicate away the symptoms.

    I've read that prescriptions for SSRIs and other anti-depressants skyrocketed after 9/11/2001, but have been trying without success to locate some data on prescribing trends over the past ten years. Isn't it convenient that just when everything has become depressing beyond belief, these highly effective "mother's little helpers" are a dime a dozen?

    [Yes, depression is a serious illness for which these drugs are a godsend. But situational depression in response to the loss of our country is not something to be medicated away, unless we want to simply concede defeat.]

    If anyone could point me toward a source of data for prescribing trends, I'd be very grateful.

  6. Kathleen,

    There may be something to what you say. My gist is that these things get prescribed like aspirin nowadays.

    But I also think that access to the web puts a lot of the protest off the streets. That could be a good thing and a bad thing, but I don't think msm bigshots like Herbert take the blogosphere seriously yet.

  7. Jeff, I think you're correct about the web.

    Blogging may be the greatest pressure relief valve ever invented. It's great that we can all interact and discuss and research and all the rest, but what might we be doing instead if the web didn't exist?

  8. I think the type of draft they're talking about is also a Constitutional problem, and I'd throw the 13th amendment into the mix.

    But where Congress would claim to gret authority under the Constitution is the Commerce Clause. That is the power under which virtually every law they pass is supported (according to them). The courts are very reluctant to actually review that power, although Rehnquist was changing that to some degree. You've got laws in place (or applications of them) that can be shown to be wholly intrastate, and not reasonably affect interstate commerce, that are upheld after being passed under the Commerce Clause. When the Rehnquist court overturned Lopez, it was the first time in a long while that the Supreme Court actually held Congress to the standard the Constitution enumerates under the commerce clause.

    If Congress wanted to pass something like this, they would say that poverty and all those other issues "affect interstate commerce" (they'd make a 'finding' that this is the case) and therefore they have the ability to pass a law dealing with it - so they'd get around the Article I issue that way. The other issues remain.