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End, Don’t Extend, Draft Registration

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This past week demonstrated with blinding clarity that 1) Republicans, contrary to their rhetoric, oppose individual liberty, and 2) the establishment news media really couldn’t care less about the presidential candidates’ views.

After the last Republican debate, the media continued its obsession with the reality-TV and horse-race sides of the election. News readers, correspondents, and “analysts” droned on about Marco Rubio’s robotic repetition during the debate and the insult swaps by Donald Trump and Jeb Bush. You had to read the cable channels’ “news tickers” running right to left along the bottom of the screen to find out that at least some Republican candidates think young women should have to register with Selective Service in case the military draft is reinstituted. On CNN, at least, this story was not deemed worthy of further attention.

Which is more important? Rubio’s short-term memory problem, the Trump-Bush mud-wrestling match, or registration for the draft?

Here’s a clue: the draft is slavery. It is short-term slavery at best, but it’s possibly debilitating and even fatal. Thus registration with Selective Service is — surprise! — registration for possible enslavement. Anyone who supports individual liberty against state power would oppose conscription. This is no close call.

The draft ended in 1973 during the Nixon administration. (Classical-liberal economist Milton Friedman played a key role in its demise.) In 1980, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter signed a proclamation requiring 18-26-year-old men — but not women — to register with Selective Service, supposedly as a signal to the Russians that Carter had noticed their invasion. But the draft was not revived. (We later learned that the Carter administration helped to provoke the invasion by aiding jihadis, hoping Afghanistan would be the Soviets’ “Vietnam.” The 9/11 attacks were blowback from Carter’s operation, and Afghanistan would become America’s second “Vietnam.”)

Ronald Reagan, Carter’s opponent in 1980, criticized draft registration on grounds that it “destroys the very values that our society is committed to defending,” but in office Reagan changed his mind because “we live in a dangerous world.”

According to Selective Service: “Failing to register … is a felony punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 or a prison term of up to five years, or a combination of both.” (Counseling “another to fail to comply … is subject to the same penalties.”) Failing to register can also result in loss of government benefits, such as student aid, federal jobs, and job training.

With military combat roles now open to women, the question of extending compulsory draft registration to them has come up. The New York Times reports that “the Marine Corps commandant, the chief of staff of the Army and one of the top Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee [Claire McCaskill] said … that women should be required to register. Two days later, two Republican members of the House who are military veterans — Duncan Hunter of California and Ryan Zinke of Montana — introduced legislation that would require women to register.”

That set the stage for the question at the Republican debate. Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie endorsed compulsory registration of women. Christie, strangely, said not forcing women to register constituted discrimination against them. Bush said he did not expect the draft to be resumed, but hastened to add that he opposed ending registration.

The remaining candidates said nothing. No one objected to registering women. More revealing, no one called for ending draft registration for men. The candidates of the party that insists it alone favors liberty and limits on government power favor draft registration!

Few people call for a new draft; military leaders reportedly oppose conscription because it fills the armed forces with people who prefer to be elsewhere. So why continue draft registration? The usual answer is that it would promote readiness in an emergency. But that is no reason to violate liberty. The practical value of a quickly dated list of registrants is also doubted.

Some misguided people will argue that if men must register, then fairness dictates that women must register too. It’s an odd notion of fairness or justice, however. Compulsory draft registration is unfair because it violates young people’s rights. Therefore, extending the unfairness cannot be fair. The only fair measure would be to abolish registration and never draft anyone again.

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Sheldon Richman, author of America’s Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com.  He is also the Executive Editor of The Libertarian Institute.

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