They fought for freedom, not service

By Steven Martinovich
web posted September 13, 1999

Although most people don't believe it, The Who had it right when they sang "The kids are all right."

I'm close enough to today's teens only by the benefit of my age -- a tender 28 years -- to know how it feels to be described as the worst generation of teenagers in history, a claim made of every generation going back to antiquity. Alexander the Great may have razed half of Asia as a young man but today's kids get knocked because they prefer to listen to Korn or Marilyn Manson. Times change.

Perceptions, however, do not. Teens have always been perceived as lazy and shiftless, desperately in need of some iron in their spine. Some people even think that a rifle and a green uniform is the way to straighten that back. Stick those kids in the army, they say, and they will be transformed into disciplined members of society who will grow up equipped to lead the nation.

One of the proponents of this idea is Col. David Hackworth (Ret.), one of America's most decorated soldiers and a writer on current events from a military angle. In a recent piece Hackworth, worried that "millions of young Americans aren't being imbued with the right stuff that will give them the strength and character to lead America," proposed that 18-year old men and women spend six months in boot camp. They would then graduate and could either spend one year serving America in an altruistic venture, such as working in an economically blighted area, or join the nation's armed forces for an 18 to 36 month stint.

Not only would this instill discipline, argues Hackworth, but "rich would rub elbows with the poor, the black and white and brown would sweat together and become one."

"With vets again filling their ranks, Congress, the media and industry would be stronger, too -- not to mention better informed -- just as they were after WWII, Korea and Vietnam," he continues.

Admittedly today's teens are more rebellious and probably less prone to consider joining their nation's armed forces than generations past. Sixty per cent of today's teen males, points out Hackworth, are being rejected by America's military because of poor condition, past drug use or past trouble at school or with the law, twice the rate observed during World War II. And although the youth crime rate has generally fallen over the last few years, it is still much higher than rates from four or five decades ago, Hackworth's golden era.

Although the idea of mandatory military service might seem attractive for those reasons, and a stint your author did in Canada's army reserves certainly helped him, there is one good reason for Americans to oppose any reinstatement of a draft, one that should have occurred to Hackworth. He's based his entire career on it.


Back in 1967, novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand addressed one of the burning issues of that day, the military draft, decrying it as no less than the worse statist violation of a person's right to life, comparing it to the similar forced service in the Soviet Union. It was no less than the defence of a free nation by a slave army.

"It negates man's fundamental right -- the right to life -- and establishes the fundamental principal that a man's life belongs to the state, and the state may claim it by compelling to sacrifice it in battle," she wrote.

Proponents of the draft believe that living in a free society, such as the United States, means that you have an obligation to that it. That assumes, however, that rights aren't inherent but granted by the state. She and I argue that the state only exists to protect the rights of a person and can't claim title over a person because of them.

A draft, argued Rand, turns the natural order of America's freedoms upside down. Instead of protecting the right of the individual to live their life the way they see fit, the government instead imposes its beliefs on that individual and negates their rights. The government's only justifiable rationale for existence is to protect our rights.

And people don't volunteer for military service -- and that includes the cream that Hackworth wants -- if they perceive their government as corrupt, as many people do today, or if their nation for no clear reason sends her soldiers to other nations. Between World War II and 1993, America's soldiers were sent to nine missions. Between 1994 and today, the Clinton era, her soldiers have been sent to more than thirty.

Forcing them to serve in America's blighted areas is no better a rationale for compulsory service. As Rand pointed out, forcing youth to toil for the economic betterment of others when youth traditionally begin to firm their self-esteem, ambitions and their minds is nothing but altruism. Instead of sacrifice for a cause, it is sacrifice for sacrifice's sake.

The problem with America's youth aren't the youth, but America itself. Generations X and Y are easily one of the most cynical and pessimistic generations in recent history and have a distrust of government that would make any small government conservative proud. Having seen her nation's armed forces dragged into every conceivable corner of the world for no good reason by an American government which is easily the most corrupt seen this century, it's not hard to imagine why young people today do not wish to serve.

Hackworth is right. America's military manpower shortage would be solved if redundant bases were closed but that's not Hackworth's goal. His goal is addressing the moral fibre of today's youth. He believes that compulsory military service would instill morality, but morality -- by its very nature -- is a voluntary code of conduct. Forced military service is not voluntary, it the imposition of the non-voluntary.

The utmost that force can do is to create an absurd counterfeit of morality, one not based on knowledge and rational judgment, but on mere brute fear and obedience, and even that fraudulent morality can last no longer than the force that imposed it. If conscripts place the slightest value on their own lives and freedom -- i.e., if they have the slightest beginnings of genuine morality -- then conscription will not even produce that sorry fraud: it will provoke rebellion!

Hackworth -- and others who argue for compulsory military service -- believe that a person's life belongs to the state. That's not what he and the World War II generation fought for. That's what they fought against.

Steve Martinovich is the editor in chief of ESR and was a big loser in Sunday's NFL pool.

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