The Crime of Conscription
by Rep. Ron Paul, MD
November 26, 2003
The ultimate cost of war is almost always the loss of
liberty. True defensive wars and revolutionary wars against
tyrants may preserve or establish a free society, as did
our war against the British. But these wars are rare. Most
wars are unnecessary, dangerous, and cause senseless
suffering with little being gained. The result of most
conflicts throughout the ages has been loss of liberty and
life on both sides. The current war in which we find
ourselves clearly qualifies as one of those unnecessary and
dangerous wars. To get the people to support ill-conceived
wars, the nation's leaders employ grand schemes of
Woodrow Wilson orchestrated our entry into World War I by
first promising during the election of 1916 to keep us out
of the European conflict, then a few months later
pressuring and maneuvering Congress into declaring war
against Germany. Whether it was the Spanish American War
before that or all the wars since, U.S. presidents have
deceived the people to gain popular support for ill-
conceived military ventures. Wilson wanted the war and
immediately demanded conscription to fight it. He didn't
have the guts even to name the program a military draft;
instead in a speech before Congress calling for war he
advised the army should be "chosen upon the principle of
universal liability to service." Most Americans at the time
of the declaration didn't believe actual combat troops
would be sent. What a dramatic change from this early
perception, when the people endorsed the war, to the
carnage that followed - and the later disillusionment with
Wilson and his grand scheme for world government under the
League of Nations. The American people rejected this gross
new entanglement, a reflection of a somewhat healthier age
than the one we find ourselves in today.
But when it comes to war, the principle of deception lives
on. The plan for "universal liability to serve" once again
is raising its ugly head. The dollar cost of the current
war is already staggering, yet plans are being made to
drastically expand the human cost by forcing conscription
on the young men (and maybe women) who have no ax to grind
with the Iraqi people and want no part of this fight.
Hundreds of Americans have already been killed, and
thousands more wounded and crippled, while thousands of
others will experience new and deadly war-related illnesses
not yet identified.
We were told we had to support this pre-emptive war against
Iraq because Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction
(and to confront al Qaeda). It was said our national
security depended on it. But all these dangers were found
not to exist in Iraq. It was implied that lack of support
for this Iraqi invasion was un-American and unpatriotic.
Since the original reasons for the war never existed, it is
now claimed that we're there to make Iraq a western-style
democracy and to spread western values. And besides, it's
argued, it's nice that Saddam Hussein has been removed from
power. But does the mere existence of evil somewhere in the
world justify preemptive war at the expense of the American
people? Utopian dreams, fulfilled by autocratic means,
hardly qualify as being morally justifiable.
These after-the-fact excuses for invasion and occupation of
a sovereign nation direct attention away from the charge
that the military industrial complex encouraged this war.
It was encouraged by war profiteering, a desire to control
natural resources (oil), and a Neo-con agenda of American
hegemony with the goal of redrawing the borders of the
countries of the Middle East.
The inevitable failure of such a seriously flawed foreign
policy cannot be contemplated by those who have put so much
energy into this occupation. The current quagmire prompts
calls from many for escalation, with more troops being sent
to Iraq. Many of our reservists and National Guardsmen
cannot wait to get out and have no plans to re-enlist. The
odds are that our policy of foreign intervention, which has
been with us for many decades, is not likely to soon
change. The dilemma of how to win an un-winnable war is the
issue begging for an answer.
To get more troops, the draft will likely be reinstated.
The implicit prohibition of "involuntary servitude" under
the 13th Amendment to the Constitution has already been
ignored many times so few will challenge the
constitutionality of the coming draft.
Unpopular wars invite conscription. Volunteers disappear,
as well they should. A truly defensive just war prompts
popular support. A conscripted, unhappy soldier is better
off on the long run than the slaves of old since the
"enslavement" is only temporary. But in the short run the
draft may well turn out to be more deadly and degrading, as
one is forced to commit life and limb to a less than worthy
cause - like teaching democracy to unwilling and angry
Arabs. Slaves were safer in that their owners had an
economic interest in protecting their lives. Endangering
the lives of our soldiers is acceptable policy, and that's
why they are needed. Too often, though, our men and women
who are exposed to the hostilities of war and welcomed
initially are easily forgotten after the fighting ends.
Soon afterward, the injured and the sick are ignored and
It is said we go about the world waging war to promote
peace, and yet the price paid is rarely weighed against the
failed efforts to make the world a better place. Justifying
conscription to promote the cause of liberty is one of the
most bizarre notions ever conceived by man! Forced
servitude, with the risk of death and serious injury as a
price to live free, makes no sense. What right does anyone
have to sacrifice the lives of others for some cause of
questionable value? Even if well motivated it can't justify
using force on uninterested persons.
It's said that the 18-year-old owes it to his country.
Hogwash! It just as easily could be argued that a 50 year-
old chicken-hawk, who promotes war and places the danger on
innocent young people, owes a heck of a lot more to the
country than the 18-year-old being denied his liberty for a
cause that has no justification.
All drafts are unfair. All 18- and 19-year-olds are never
drafted. By its very nature a draft must be discriminatory.
All drafts hit the most vulnerable young people, as the
elites learn quickly how to avoid the risks of combat.
The dollar cost of war and the economic hardship is great
in all wars and cannot be minimized. War is never
economically beneficial except for those in position to
profit from war expenditures. The great tragedy of war is
the careless disregard for civil liberties of our own
people. Abuses of German and Japanese Americans in World
War I and World War II are well known.
But the real sacrifice comes with conscription - forcing a
small number of young vulnerable citizens to fight the wars
that older men and women, who seek glory in military
victory without themselves being exposed to danger,
promote. These are wars with neither purpose nor moral
justification, and too often not even declared by the
Without conscription, unpopular wars are much more
difficult to fight. Once the draft was undermined in the
1960s and early 1970s, the Vietnam War came to an end. But
most importantly, liberty cannot be preserved by tyranny. A
free society must always resort to volunteers. Tyrants
thinks nothing of forcing men to fight and serve in
wrongheaded wars; a true fight for survival and defense of
America would elicit, I'm sure, the assistance of every
able-bodied man and woman. This is not the case for wars of
mischief far away from home in which we so often have found
ourselves in the past century.
One of the worst votes that an elected official could ever
cast would be to institute a military draft to fight an
illegal war, if that individual himself maneuvered to avoid
military service. But avoiding the draft on principle
qualifies oneself to work hard to avoid all unnecessary war
and oppose the draft for all others.
A government that is willing to enslave a portion of its
people to fight an unjust war can never be trusted to
protect the liberties of its own citizens. The ends can
never justify the means, no matter what the Neo-cons say.