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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    A Draft By Any Other Name Smells As Foul

    Evan Lisull columnist
    Evan Lisull

    The specter of military conscription in the United States was formally ended in 1973, thanks largely to the efforts of then-Sen. Mike Gravel and President Nixon’s adviser, Milton Friedman. Suffice it to say, it was hardly a tragic loss for a country that has resisted such conscription since its use during the Vietnam War. The only specter most students face today is their impending MIS midterm.

    Still, like all bad ideas from the state, this one keeps emerging, a zombie that refuses to stay in the grave. Rep. Charlie Rangel has introduced the “”Universal National Service (UNS) Act of 2007,”” which would mandate that every citizen between the ages of 18 and 42 serve for two years, either performing national service within the country or directly serving in the Armed Forces. This sort of draft, however, is sugar-coated under the guise of “”public service”” to make it more palatable to the post-Vietnam citizenry. However, Americans should not let the sweet taste of “”service”” lure them into swallowing the razor of state-mandated slavery.

    This is hardly the only problem with the bill. The bill stipulates that the service can be mandated with an official declaration of war or a national emergency. Proponents will point out the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe as an example of the need for ready bodies. The problem with this argument is the simple fact that volunteers were in New Orleans and the surrounding areas – thousands of helpers, from motivated individuals to large organizations like the Red Cross. Rather than encouraging these individuals, the UNS Act would instead relegate them under the control of an organization like FEMA – clearly a more effective body at delivering help to those who need it.

    Normally, the emergency provision would serve as a check on the power of the act. However, the federal government’s “”Chicken Little”” mindset has ensured that we will never be out of a state of emergency – even if the only life-or-death you face is crossing the bike lane. The country has been in a more-or-less constant state of emergency since 2001, and it seems that this will be loath to change.

    Furthermore, the bill as introduced allows for no deferments after the age of 20. For most college students, this means that once you start your junior year, you are eligible to be sent off to serve your country – even if you’re only one semester from graduating.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the bill is unconstitutional. The Thirteenth Amendment clearly states that “”slavery or involuntary servitude”” (italics added) is forbidden in the U.S. It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

    Almost more troubling than the bill itself is the amount of positive press it has received. In spite of its obvious military predecessor, several major media figures have already jumped on the service bandwagon. The Sept. 10 issue of Time magazine ran a feature piece on “”The Case for National Service,”” and syndicated political commentator Larry Sabato argues for UNS in his book “”A More Perfect Constitution.””

    Ignoring the irony of baby boomers – the original draft-card-burners – supporting this sort of proposal, it is important to note the figure, and the quote, behind many of these movements. In 1961, John F. Kennedy declared, “”Ask not what your country can for you; ask what you can do for your country.”” As Sabato puts it, “”No adult alive … will ever forget (these) stirring words.””

    The fact that a good-looking martyr figure made this utterance has given it a longer shelf-life than it should have had. Keep in mind, this is the same president who modernized political nepotism, backed a coup in Iraq, selected an abrasive megalomaniac as his vice president and supported massive immigration reform (sound familiar?).

    This sentiment channels the underlying spirit of totalitarianism in its many forms – the idea that the state comes before the individual, and that national and international goals are more important than local and municipal goals. Yet this flies in the face of the Declaration of Independence, which declares that governments derive their power “”from the consent of the governed.”” Roughly translated to modern rhetoric, Thomas Jefferson demands that the country asks what it can do for you.

    So perhaps the greater problem is in the interpretation. Kennedy did not demand we work for the country; he simply made us ask what we can do. In a country founded on individual values and federalism, the most important thing people can do for their country is to live freely, and let others live freely as well.

    Volunteerism is consistent with the American pursuit of happiness, but “”mandated volunteerism”” is an oxymoron in terms. This is not simply a moronic idea, but it is one that threatens the very liberties upon which this union was founded.

    Evan Lisull is a sophomore majoring in economics and political science. He can be reached at

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