A former speechwriter for President Richard Nixon thinks his old boss made a mistake when he ended the military draft in the early 1970s during the war in Vietnam. Noel Koch reports that Nixon himself came to believe he erred and “[urged] that the draft be restored.”
Well, that’s too bad. My only reason for crediting Nixon has been taken away. Nixon was one of the worst presidents ever to have occupied the office. This is so not only for the usual reasons given, but also because he imposed on the country an intrusive bureaucracy that rivals those left behind by Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. Think of an idiotic law that some peaceable individual is harassed for violating, and chances are it’s being enforced by an imbecile agency created by Nixon.
Now comes Noel Koch to take up, as far as the draft is concerned, where Nixon left off. A look at what may only charitably be called his arguments is instructive. Writing in the Washington Post, Koch begins with this: “The most obvious [reason] is that we do not have enough men and women in our armed forces. Reliance on reserves and the National Guard is creating strains along the socioeconomic spectrum and is not an endlessly sustainable expedient. If we are to fight elective wars, as we are told we must, we need more men and women on active duty.”
The first thing to wonder is why Koch thinks a draft wouldn’t create the same strains he’s so concerned about when it comes to deploying the reserves and National Guard. This is curious in the extreme. Is the draft not disruptive of people’s lives? How could it not be?
The other objection to Koch’s “obvious” reason is that it utterly depends on the imperial foreign policy pursued by the Bush administration. Koch takes that policy as an unquestionable given and assumes that anything that serves the policy is imperative. No other considerations — for instance, those things that go under the name morality — are admissible. President Bush has proclaimed a program of elective wars. So it is written. So it is done.
But that program is not carved in stone, and if it is, it was carved by highly fallible mortals, with names like “Cheney” and “Rumsfeld.” We can only hope someone takes away their chisels.
It might have occurred to Koch that if the Bush plan for Good’s conquest of Evil requires the draft — which after all is involuntary servitude imposed under threat of violence — then maybe something is wrong with the Bush plan. This is the mark of a closet totalitarian: the state’s presumptions and impositions are not to be questioned. If the freedom of the individual must be stolen, well, that’s how it goes. Now shut up and march.
But wait. Koch has other arguments for the return of conscription. Let’s hear him out: “The draft shattered class distinctions. It mixed high school dropouts with college graduates, rich with middle class and poor…. Class lines blurred and so did racial lines. The military did more to advance the cause of equality in the United States than any other law, institution or movement.” Regardless of what one thinks of this argument, the only proper response is: So? This justifies the state’s stealing years of a person’s life and maybe his life itself? Does that stuff about unalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence mean nothing?
Koch goes on: “[The] nation also needs a draft because it is one proven mechanism to bring unity to our rapidly separating parts. It needs a draft to provide that common civic grammar that encompasses those who have served and their families and friends. It needs a draft to honor, and to even out, the sacrifices we call upon our young to make for our nation.”
Whenever you hear someone talk about unity, common civic grammar, and sacrifice for our nation, you are hearing a spiritual descendant of Mussolini. He should get the same response I hope we’d give Il Duce.