August 23, 1999
Draft not needed for protection of liberty
Selective Service should be eliminated, funds to Veterans Administration
When a federal agency admits that it could stand to cut a program, everyone should take notice. Especially when the program carries a $25 million price tag that could be better spent caring for our veterans.
In 1994 a Department of Defense document was released saying that the time had come to end the inefficient Selective Service draft registration system. In fact, the report stated draft registration could be stopped "with no effect on military mobilization requirements, little effect on the time it would take to mobilize, and no measurable effect on military recruitment."
From the military's perspective, the reasons are straightforward: the world of the 1990s is very different from that of previous generations. This is a world in which even the most low-ranking of soldiers are more likely to use specialized computers than magnetic compasses even in the field. As a result, the skills needed by modern soldiers cannot be taught in a six-week boot camp before being shipped to the front.
In fact, any crisis that might warrant a draft most likely will not have a front, as was demonstrated in the recent action against Yugoslavia. Pilots flying high-tech planes dropped bombs on targets selected with the aid of orbiting satellites and directed by computer technicians thousands of miles distant.
While some romanticize the notion of a draft, it is simply inconsistent with the realities of today's military.
But a draft is also inconsistent with something far less temporal: the philosophy of liberty. Our founding fathers saw the notion of standing armies -- and indeed the potential for them -- as inconsistent with liberty. In fact, King George is criticized in the Declaration of Independence for maintaining such armies and programs.
The draft is foreign to the precepts of liberty. If there is ever a threat to our national survival, people will serve if they believe liberty is worth saving; droves of men rushed to volunteer for service after Japan attacked in 1941. The burden rests on those in elected office to ensure our free society remains one in which the people are willing to fight, even to death, for its continuation. In our Constitution, the founding fathers provided for this mechanism by ensuring all would be free to be armed so that they may rise up in defense of liberty.
The existence of the mechanisms for a draft reveals a great deal about our state of affairs. It reveals first the belief of many in our government that they are unwilling to maintain a system which the people desire to protect. They cynically suggest that people would not defend their own liberty in the face of a clear and present threat, and so the government-as-patriarch must decide what is best for them.
More importantly, it reveals the basic philosophy of our leadership: that all things belong first to the government. After all, taxes are withheld from workers before their paycheck is even cut. This means government gets the first fruits of our labor -- not our God or family. The existence of a draft registration makes it clear that government has first dibs on the life of every man.
Our nation does have a problem with recruitment and retention -- reasons often cited for keeping the draft registration. Countless surveys, though, have found these problems come not from a lack of patriotism, but because more and more Americans are frustrated with our foreign policy and the increasing number of "police actions" that put soldiers in harm's way without a national interest at stake.
Working with me on this critical issue has been the chairman of the Veterans Administration appropriations subcommittee, Jim Walsh (R-NY), as well as William Clay (D, Missouri), Jack Metcalf (R, Washington) and Gary Ackerman (D, New York). Language has been placed in the Fiscal Year 2000 budget to place the Selective Service system in deep standby, end the registration, and transfer the annual $25 million to the Veterans Administration. The VA is one of the most inadequately funded agencies, and this infusion of cash would make a real difference to thousands of veterans. Conversely, our national readiness would not be affected in the least by the change.
The time has come for the United States to stop looking backward at the tactics of the past, and instead focus on the needs of a modern military and a society oriented toward liberty, while providing for those who have valiantly served our nation.