Today in terrible ideas: ‘Let’s draft our kids’

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Government is getting expensive — and people are concerned that our nation can’t ‘Think Big’. So Thomas Ricks, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, says the state should conscript our young people — and reap the reward from cheap wage-labor.


Seriously, that’s what Ricks proposed in a recent op-ed for the New York Times:

A revived draft, including both males and females, should include three options for new conscripts coming out of high school. Some could choose 18 months of military service with low pay but excellent post-service benefits, including free college tuition. These conscripts would not be deployed but could perform tasks currently outsourced at great cost to the Pentagon: paperwork, painting barracks, mowing lawns, driving generals around, and generally doing lower-skills tasks so professional soldiers don’t have to. If they want to stay, they could move into the professional force and receive weapons training, higher pay and better benefits.

Those who don’t want to serve in the army could perform civilian national service for a slightly longer period and equally low pay — teaching in low-income areas, cleaning parks, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, or aiding the elderly. After two years, they would receive similar benefits like tuition aid.

And libertarians who object to a draft could opt out. Those who declined to help Uncle Sam would in return pledge to ask nothing from him — no Medicare, no subsidized college loans and no mortgage guarantees. Those who want minimal government can have it.

(Emphasis mine)

Let’s get this straight: You can opt out of this conscription — but only if you sign away your right to access services your tax dollars fund?

Saying that people can have “minimal government” by simply abstaining from things they are paying for betrays that this isn’t a sincere, or intellectually honest, proposal meant to assuage the philosophical concerns of those who might legitimately balk at such an idea.

But wait, there’s more. Here’s the money quote from Ricks: “[H]aving a draft might, as General McChrystal said, make Americans think more carefully before going to war. Imagine the savings — in blood, tears and national treasure — if we had thought twice about whether we really wanted to invade Iraq.”

That’s a noble sentiment — and we should certainly exercise prudence when making these decisions. But the draft Ricks proposes explicitly says those conscripted would not be deployed. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but it’s highly doubtful that forcing teenagers to spend their time with “paperwork, painting barracks, mowing lawns, driving generals around,” as Ricks specifically outlines, would deter them from supporting a foreign intervention.

This certainly isn’t the first time someone has called for a national draft of young people. And it won’t be the last. But could (would?) someone at least make an effort to persuasively do so?

Here’s the bottom line: Ricks wants to use the government to engage in a form of social engineering — to use the draft in order to bring about his preferred policy solutions. But to do so, he has engaged in sophistry, inventing some reasonable-sounding, salutary benefits — which upon closer examination, betray his ulterior motive.

In the process, he treats these “kids” — who by the way are legally adults — like they’re pawns of politicians and think tank fellows in Washington, D.C.

Matt K. Lewis