Rangel Renews Call for Draft: Time to Ask Alfred
The incoming Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee said yesterday that he will push to renew the military draft, as lawmakers in both parties sharpened their criticisms of the situation in Iraq and struggled for consensus and solutions.
It is clear that the war in Iraq is a resounding failure of both conception and execution. Yet Charles B. Rangel(D-NY) has been calling for a renewal of the draft for quite a long time now. That he has renewed his call after a narrow Democratic victory in the recent elections, a victory that was made possible by discontent with the war speaks to something- but what on earth could it be?
Rangel believes that if the risk of being conscripted is spread equally throughout society and not confined to the children of the poor (as it primarily is with our present volunteer system), lawmakers will be reluctant, out of sheer self-interest, to export their own youngsters to the combat zone. A politician as canny and experienced as Rangel probably does not believe his proposal will pass. His proposal is a consummate rhetorical and political gesture, designed to draw attention to the glaring fact that the children of the political elite do not face the same set of social circumstances as the rest of us. The argument seems to be that the prospect of their own children going to a modern war would be enough to cause legislators to be cautious.
This strikes me as a variant on one of the oldest, and least credible arguments found in the history of war. Alfred Nobel, for example, believed dynamite was a weapon so terrible that it might guarantee world peace. Rangel seems to believe the same of his policy.
Of course, as the Nobel argument and many like it illustrate, there is very little that puts people off war, and a draft is unlikely to do so, particularly in a polity where the chief legislators do not have conscript-aged children.. There are precious few instances in history where increasing the capacity to make war leads to peace. And political regimes, particularly enlightened ones susceptible to rational arguments of self-interest, are often in power for only fleeting moments, while the machinery of a bureaucracy such as is necessary to conscription is the very devil to eliminate. The last 12 years, and particularly the last 8, should be testimony enough , but if not, Mr. Rangel can go ask Alfred what the outcome will probably be of new weapons or fearsome policies designed to end war by increasing a government's ability to wage it.