McChrystal is wrong, we don't need a military draft

A draft is discriminatory, unconstitutional, and un-American. Photo: U.S. Army

WEST CHESTER, Pa., July 15, 2012 —Former U.S. Commander Stanley McChrystal recently made headlines when, at the Aspen Ideas Festival, he proposed reinstating the draft in order to fight the insurgents in Afghanistan: “I think we ought to have a draft. I think if a nation goes to war, it shouldn’t be solely represented by a professional force, because it gets to be unrepresentative of the population.”

McChrystal continued: “I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk. You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game.” The former commander’s comments are chilling considering just how long the war in Afghanistan has continued; certainly, the more time our forces are on the ground, the greater the possibility that Congress might consider the institution of a draft. Despite McChrystal’s sentiments, history has taught us that the draft is inadvisable, for many reasons.

First, for any individual who cares about the rule of law, the draft is unconstitutional. The Thirteenth Amendment specifically prohibits involuntary servitude; in fact, even before the ratification of the Amendment, Congress had previously rejected an act of conscription in 1812. Daniel Webster, a member of the House of Representatives, spoke out against the act recognizing that the Congress does not have the authority to implement a draft:

“Is this Sir, consistent with the characters of our Constitution? Is this civil liberty? Is this the real character of our Constitution? No, Sir, it is indeed not. The Constitution is libeled, foully libeled. The people of this country have not established for themselves such a fabric of despotism. They have not purchased at a vast expense of their won treasure and their own blood for a Magna Carta to be slaves. Where is it written in the Constitution, in what article or section is it contained that you may take children from their parents, and parents from their children, and compel them to fight the battles of any war in which the folly or the wickedness of government may engage it?”

The ability of the government to use conscription means that the government owns you as an individual. Conscription is an act of slavery, something that the Thirteenth Amendment bans and something that the Congress does not have the authority impose.

Second, without a draft, the government would be much more inclined to fight wars only for defensive reasons.  Some might argue that without the power of conscription there wouldn’t be many individuals willing to volunteer to fight for our nation in time of crisis. One has only to look to history to see that this argument does not hold true; for example, there was no draft during the Revolutionary War, yet many volunteers joined General Washington’s army to help gain our nation’s independence. The draft is simply a tool employed by our government to force individuals to fight conflicts that are unpopular. Good examples of this are our past conflicts with Korea and Vietnam, when the draft was implemented in order to force young Americans to fight conflicts that were extremely unpopular at home.

Finally, assuming a draft is implemented, it would be unfair because it discriminates against specific groups, and because there are always avenues to escape its clutches, leaving others to “hold the bag.” For example, there is the issue of age discrimination. Why include only 18 to 25 year olds? Why not extend the age limit to 35 years? Shouldn’t service be based on someone’s physical fitness?

Would women be drafted or only men? Would medical issues be considered as grounds for deferment/exemption? If so, which issues, and why not others? What extenuating circumstances would allow one to resist being drafted: college, family responsibilities, importance to the functioning of a company? There have always been various ways to escape the duties that the draft entails. When conscription was instituted during the Civil War, wealthy families would often pay others to take the place of their sons. During the Vietnam War, privileged college students could defer, leaving the more economically challenged to bear the burden. Ultimately, draft unconstitutionality and discrimination would lead to social unrest and protest at the very time that unity is most needed.

War should be the last option for any nation. We should be hesitant to send our young men and women into harm’s way to fight any enemy, real or imaginary. Conscription is the tool of the state, used to send individuals against their will to fight regardless of whether they agree with the merits of the war. If there is any conflict that demands immediate response and poses a risk to our national security, people will naturally rise up to fight, in defense of their homes and their way of life. We should oppose and dismiss McChrystal’s suggestion, support the rule of law, and allow individuals, not bureaucrats, to decide when to take up arms.


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Kevin Kelly

Kevin Kelly is currently a college student majoring in History and Political Science. His writings have appeared in The Daily Local, Lew’s blog, The Washington Times,, and Freedom’s Phoenix Online Digital Magazine. He has been a popular guest political contributor to numerous national radio shows across the country, offering his perspective on a wide array of issues. 

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