Last week, Technician published an opinion column by Caitlyn Mahoney titled “The draft has outlived its purpose.” In the column, Mahoney argues that the draft is an archaic system and should be eliminated. I disagree with Mahoney’s argument about the draft, but I also take issue with the debate itself.
For Americans, 18 is the age you realize your right to vote. Suddenly, your worldview and your fate are tied to the larger civic community 一 to the fate of your country. For American men, the obligation to register for the draft adds another layer to that tying of fates. Whether or not your country is seeking peace or seeking war matters, the draft finds its value in that it serves as a constant reminder of our shared fate as a country. It reminds us that war does not exist in the abstract but can strike too close to home. Beyond the merits of the draft itself, I argue a larger point is missed by debating whether the draft should continue to exist: should war continue to exist?
Congress may at some point decide to eliminate the draft, also known as the Selective Service Program. However, barring an amendment to the Constitution forbidding a draft, Congress really cannot eliminate the idea of a draft. The idea of a draft is an idea as old as war itself. History tells us the U.S. is not unique in its use of conscription, nor will it be the last nation to employ such a system. Having a system such as the Selective Service System in place does not mean that we are currently using it and this is unique.
It is worth noting that nobody in the U.S. is currently being conscripted into military service. This point is important because it demonstrates how the idea of a draft exists outside of and separate from the Selective Service System. Eliminating this specific system does little to change the possibility of a war which requires a draft or the likelihood that Congress would employ this tool. In such a dire situation, Congress, as it has in the past, would simply reinstate it.
But though debating whether we should have a draft is pointless, the debate over whether we should have war in the first place is not. Anthropologist Margaret Mead famously argued that war is not a fulfillment of some innate biological need, but an invention. Resorting to violence to resolve disputes is a choice 一 one that we can also not make. But one peace-loving country is not enough.
The structures of our global society and system would have to change and, in the spirit of Margaret Mead, I argue they can and should. In this context, I sense that the debate over eliminating the draft is really a proxy for the debate over war itself. The two concepts, after all, have been tied together since their inception.
There is, however, a hard truth underlying this: we bear the burden of being born into a world in which war is sometimes politically necessary, but never ideal. Even if we recognize that war does not have to exist, we cannot afford to ignore that it does. Mead recognized this fact, arguing that war would be inevitably barring a seismic change in the class and power structures of the world.
Here, we see how the draft has merits. We bear this burden, the reality of war, and must choose how to handle it. Eliminating the Selective Service System will not eliminate war. It would, however, take away one small aspect of the reality of war. Perspective, in this sense, is crucial. We should not overlook the forest for the trees. The draft will likely continue, but this does not mean that war should.