Among Katha Pollitt’s many enviable talents is the ability to cut to the heart of an issue by saying something that by all rights should be banal, but is often overlooked. Some people on the left have been arguing for a draft, arguing that it would make military sacrifice more egalitarian and inhibit military adventurism. Theoretically, this makes a compelling response to the libertarian objection to the draft. But in practice, it’s a baffling argument, as Pollitt notes:
Given our ever more stratified and atomized society, why expect the draft to be equal or fair? In the l960s, the draft was famously open to evasion and manipulation, as that large flock of chickenhawks proves. The new draft would be too. The Army doesn’t need every high school graduate–there are 612,836 men 18 to 26 in the Selective Service registry for the state of Ohio alone, more than four times the number of US soldiers in Iraq–so it will be able, as in the past, to pick and choose. When one loophole closes, another will open: If Rangel succeeds in banning student deferments, we’ll see 4Fs for college-bound kids with “attention deficit disorder” or “learning disabilities.” Privileged kids will be funneled into safe stateside units, just the way George W. Bush was.
Exactly right. What’s amazing about arguments for the draft that cite Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld et al. is that they avoided Vietnam with a draft in place. If the draft makes military service more egalitarian, it’s marginal. And the draft comes with bad side effects: it makes the military less effective, and it restricts a most intimate individual liberty. Nor is it likely that a draft will make using the military less likely. The draft is effective at providing bodies for unpopular wars. Under a voluntary system, repeated unpopular wars or misleading service agreements are likely to make propsective soldiers choose to work at Target or take out loans to pay for college. When one considers how drafts actually work in practice, they’re pretty much indefensible.