“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
— Wendell Phillips, 19th century abolitionist
My great worry is my generation is not vigilant enough. By that I mean we haven’t given enough thought to ideas that potentially threaten our ways of life, and thus we leave the door open to political exploitation.
Perhaps the greatest threat to any group of young Americans in the modern age is the institution of a military draft, which would compel millions of people to risk their lives against their own wills for the benefit of those wielding political power.
Although today’s military is staffed by voluntary employees, young men are well aware this could change at a moment’s notice. At the age of 18, every American male is required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, which holds on file the names of more than 15 million people in case Congress should choose to reinstate the draft and conscript them into service.
We are told it is our civic duty to register, merely one of the many necessary inconveniences of adulthood. We are assured conscription would only be used as a last resort when the volunteer military is insufficient.
In reality, the registration list makes it dangerously convenient for Congress to jeopardize the lives of innocent American citizens and disrupt their careers, relationships and personal ambitions.
Imagine the public reaction if the state had a registry of a carefully selected class of individuals who could be forced to uproot their careers and families and work as field-hands in the event of a massive increase in the demand for farm crops. Does this registry serve as anything but a means to enable the state to institutionalize slavery in the future?
I know some would respond that slaves historically did not receive payment for their work while conscripted soldiers have, but what does that matter? Would slaves in the 19th century have been any less enslaved if they received paychecks but were still forced to labor under the whip of their masters?
Let’s not be mistaken: Good things don’t happen to soldiers who refuse to serve or attempt to escape during wartime.
Despite the diversity of political viewpoints in America throughout its history, people are never more prone to abandon their convictions and fall in line with government propaganda than they are during wartime. This propaganda typically takes the form of fear-driven campaigns that equate all forms of support for the military apparatus with freedom, liberty and security.
If we are to avoid the mistakes of the past and summon sufficient political pressure to prevent the institution of another draft, we have to convince this generation that military conscription isn’t just an inconvenience or a “necessary evil,” but a wrong.
We are not the property of the state. We are not simply capital to be expended at the whim of politicians and military commanders. We should categorically reject a policy of kidnapping young people and forcing them into the involuntary servitude of a political state that claims to be protecting them.
Although freedom from a draft will never be completely secure, there are steps our generation should take to minimize the future risk of conscription.
In the short run, we should call for the abolition of the Selective Service System and its full registry, which serves as the sole great enabler of government conscription.
In the long run, we should remain vigilant and willing to apply peaceful political pressure in opposition to military draft proposals. We can’t afford to wait until a congressional declaration of war to make up our minds on the issue, because we can’t afford to fall in line when the time comes to debate the draft.
Daniel Houston is a senior journalism and philosophy major from Fort Worth and is a staff writer for the Lariat.