November 24, 2006 6 Comments
The question of whether we need a universal military draft will be important as long as this country is placing thousands of young men and women in harm’s way in Iraq. As long as Americans are being shipped off to war, then everyone should be vulnerable, not just those who, because of economic circumstances, are attracted by lucrative enlistment bonuses and educational says Charles Rangel, the incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee from New York. You can read more here.
The draft is a logical extension of democracy. If a nation is deciding on whether to wage war or not, one of the questions its citizens should have to ask is whether they are ready to step in harm’s way for the aims that their government is pursuing. The war in Iraq for instance is being fought by young people from the poorest backgrounds, many who signed on just because they did not have other economic options, while almost none of their leaders in the White House and Congress have experienced war or even have children in uniform. In fact a large number actively avoided the Vietnam draft and got off by being connected to the high and mighty.
I have so often railed against the state, especially the Kenyan one, on this blog but there is something about this posture that can sometimes be a bit false, particularly if it is in wartime. Let me stay with the United States for a minute. In the most general terms, both the Left and the Right of that country regard their politics to be in some way opposed to the state even as they fight for the right to possess and direct it. Both sides are after all arguably different strains of classical liberalism with its clarion call of individual rights not only pre-existing the state but taking precedence over it.
From the Left comes the rebellion against The Man who is supposed to support the military or use it to not only dominate and control society – the playground of the (vulnerable) progressive individual with his inalienable rights – but also to embark on a violent imperialism abroad. The Right also fights The Man who it supposes to be a be-suited bureaucrat determined to bring the economy – the playground of the profit-maximizing individual to whom private property is virtue – under his malign control. Both sides regard the state warily and want it cut down to size when it does not serve them. The hunger for power by these two broad groupings is ever present, and is really at the heart of their critiques against the state. If you were a Martian and heard either side rail about the evils of state-power, as I have done so often myself, you would think that the state is run by robots or is a very big animal with a will totally disconnected from the politics of the day.
Yet the government, if democracy exists in America, is created and maintained by the interaction between these camps. The government to put it more simply is the people. If it wages war, so do they. So why should the poorest among them, eighteen year olds from trailer parks who sign on to get a college education and a job, have to be shredded by IUDs while the rest sit back and snipe at each other over the actions of the government from their safe seats?
It does not matter that an individual American did not support the war personally; celebrating his country as a democracy means that he implicitly has to own the actions of the present government. Military service and the draft are an extension of democratic citizenship and not to be understood as an extension of Left or Right politics, or for whom you cast your vote, or the anger or delight you feel as news of the war carries to you.
But in politics as in life nothing is so clear-cut. I suspect that my reasoning opens a Pandora’s Box. If indeed the government is the people in a democracy – take or give some problems here or there – then it might make logical sense for civilians to be violently attacked by forces opposed to that nation’s policies. The more robust and realized a democracy is, the thinner gets the boundaries between citizen, military and government. Thus it would make perfect, if heinous and cruel, sense to attack the citizen of a democratic country because you are opposed to his government’s actions.