A Moral Argument for the Draft?
It seems that even the U.S. Army has to care about ethics now and then. With Army recruiters failing to make their monthly quotas, the shadowy side of conscription has reached systemic proportions. Unable to hide the problem any longer, the Army has called for the suspension of all recruiting for...uh...one day.
"Army to Spend Day Retraining Recruiters" [NYT]: Responding to reports about widespread abuses of the rules for recruitment, Army officials said yesterday that they would suspend all recruiting on May 20 and use the day to retrain its personnel in military ethics and the laws that govern what can and cannot be done to enlist an applicant.
Douglas Smith, a spokesman for the recruiting command at its headquarters in Fort Knox, Ky., said that every member of the command, including 7,500 recruiters nationwide and senior officers, was scheduled to take part in the day of instruction, called a "values stand-down."
Unfortunately, the problem is more serious then anything that can be resolved in a single day of a so-called "values stand-down." After all, recruiters already know that the underage and the mentally challenged may not be enlisted – they do not need a day of "kumbaya," they need to fire officers who violated recruiting laws. Consider these examples:
At least one family in Ohio reported that its mentally ill son was signed up, despite rules banning such enlistments and records about his illness that were readily available.
David McSwane, a 17-year-old who lives outside Denver, also recently caught one recruiter on tape, advising him on how to create a fake diploma, and another helping him buy a product that purportedly cleansed his system of illegal-drug residue. This week, a CBS affiliate in Houston, KHOU-TV, played a voice mail message from a local recruiter that threatened a young man with arrest if he did not appear at a nearby recruiting station.
Army statistics show that substantiated cases of improprieties have increased by more than 60 percent, to 320 in 2004 from 199 in 1999.
This "values stand-down" is not about correcting any ethics improprieties, but about public relations. Indeed, part of the "ethics retraining" will involve a plug for counseling services:
Mr. Smith said the Army would re-introduce recruiters to legal recruiting practices and the rules that prohibit them from lying to applicants or hiding information from the military that could make them ineligible to serve. He said the focus of the day would also be on reminding recruiters to take advantage of counseling services that might alleviate stress brought on by long workdays and the repeated rejection of their appeals by prospects.
Something needs to change fundamentally in the way conscription takes place. We have known for years that the Army targets some of the poorest and most disadvantaged in this country. It’s all well and good to have an all volunteer army, but it seems rather reprehensible to have the poorest dieing on the battlefield to protect the profits of the richest. Either something drastic needs to change in recruitment incentives to attract the rich and the poor, or else conscription should not be voluntary.
Let me be clear – I don’t like war and I don’t support the current occupation. Nor do I want a draft, particularly if the only reason is to make up for a recruiting shortfall. But it is immoral and unacceptable to create an army of the most underprivileged in this country. Wealth should not be a factor in deciding whether you are on the front lines or whether you get to stay at home in cushy Air Force base job. Wealth should not be a factor in whether you have to fight at all or whether during war time you get to run a company and make boon profits.
War is immoral enough without letting it divide society along lines of privilege for who gets to fight and who doesn’t. Its as simple as that.
If each division was composed equally of recruits from all ranks of the economic spectrum, perhaps the President and Congress would be a bit slower to sending them to war.
The defense of state power can certainly be criminal or abusive. It is particularly abusive when the state decides to force its people against their wil - i.e. the draftl. But the state can also defend its power by exploiting the class of needy or disadvantaged citizens. In that case, the defense of state power can be just as abusive.
Those who rightfully oppose the draft are led to the conclusion that an all volunteer army is the only morally acceptable route. But in arriving at the decision, we can also fail to see that such an outcome, at times, can be just as immoral. In that case, one might be led from the all volunteer army in the opposite direction, i.e. to the conclusion that a draft that equally represents the population is the only morally acceptable route.
To be clear in my original post, I should have presented this as a moral dilemma, but I took for granted that the draft was an unacceptable option. The point of bringing out the dilemma was not to argue on behalf of the draft, but to bring attention to just how difficult the defense of state power can be from a moral point of view.
Another way to look at things would be to compare military recruitment to ordinary employment. Some might think that just as with the military, people have the free choice to gain employment wherever they chose, even if it means taking a job for 7 days a week, 12 hours a day, for next to nothing. But we recognize that although such decisions are not forced, they are also not free. If the two parties who enter into a contract are on an unlevel playing field to begin with, then the contract is not fair. That is one reason we have unions. By enabling workers to collectively bargain for wages and benefits, the union attempts to partially correct the imbalance of the playing field, to make sure that workers have a fair employment contract.
Workers take jobs with unfair wages, inhumane hours, and unsafe working conditions all the time, but we know that just because they seem to enter into the working arrangments of their own choice, that does not make their decision free. We don’t say, “Oh, well, it was their decision to work for 1 dollar a day, 80 hours a week” or “Oh, well, it was their decision to work around toxic chemicals without adequate protection.”
The fact that no one is holding a gun to their head when they decide to take such a job does not make it right. The same holds true for those who take jobs in known hazardous conditions – like military service.
In short, the point of all of this discussion is simply to bring attention to the moral difficulty a country faces when attempting to defend its power. It is certainly an evil when it decides to enslave its citizens. But knowingly recruiting those who are economically destitute for the defense of state power can be a form of enslavement just as much, and unless we are mindful, we may fail to see that our “all volunteer” army is just as pernicious as the forced enslavement of the draft.
[X-posted at Freiheit und Wissen]