Thursday, July 24, 2008

Slavery via a draft for the U.S. armed forces - a non-existent matter

Jason Kuznicki mused on the proposed Universal National Service Act of 2007 (H.R. 393), and noted that it included the following phrase:

To require all persons in the United States between the ages of 18 and 42 to perform national service, either as a member of the uniformed services or in civilian service in furtherance of the national defense and homeland security . . . .

Jason then looked at the words "require" and "service" and postulated the following:

Just so we’re clear…

Required = involuntary.
Service = servitude.

Why was Kucnicki focused on those two particular words? Because involuntary servitude is, with some exceptions, illegal in this country, thanks to the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads in part:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

But there are other opponents to Rangel's measure. While Rangel introduced a similar 2003 bill as part of his opposition to the Iraq War (he figured that if the U.S. was going to fight in Iraq, minorities should not bear the brunt of the casualties), other anti-war people opposed the 2003 bill:

One Virginia resident wrote that Representative Rangel’s proposal was “misguided and frightening” and that “a draft of our youth to fight a war that many have questioned is morally reprehensible.” Another writer added that conscription was not the proper means to the noble end of an equitable distribution of the military burden. He argued that “the only effective way to share the cost equitably is to pay military personnel those salaries that make military service attractive . . . . [A] draft that forces young people into service at salaries insufficient to attract them voluntarily concentrates the cost of military involvement unfairly on those young people who are drafted.”

Ron Paul wrote the following, again in 2003 and again with the Iraq War as a backdrop:

To get more troops, the draft will likely be reinstated. The implicit prohibition of “involuntary servitude” under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution has already been ignored many times so few will challenge the constitutionality of the coming draft. argues that the draft is Constitutional:

The Constitution does not directly mention the word "draft" or even the older "conscription," but its authorization for the Congress to "raise and support Armies" is a clear indication of the same concept - to use the resources of the nation to create or man an army....

"Is the draft constitutional?" The plain answer to this, noted in the introductory paragraph, is that it is. Conscription is clearly anticipated by the Constitution. The Constitution did impose one small but key restriction on a conscripted army - any allocation of funds to support the army can only have a life of two years. Any allocation thereafter must be reauthorized by Congress. Since the House of Representatives is elected every two years, this is a safeguard against runaway armies. If the people are not satisfied with the way a draft is being run, they can elect a House that will not authorize further funding....

There has also been some question raised about the draft in regards to the 13th Amendment. Surely the draft, for at least some, constitutes involuntary servitude, prohibited by the 13th. The only exception the 13th contemplates for slavery or involuntary servitude is as a punishment for a duly convicted crime. However, the courts have ruled that the intent of the 13th was never to abolish the draft, and that serving in the military, even against your will, is not involuntary servitude. These "duties owed to the government" are exempted from 13th Amendment protection. In Butler v Perry (240 US 328 [1916]), the Supreme Court wrote:

"[The 13th Amendment] introduced no novel doctrine with respect of services always treated as exceptional, and certainly was not intended to interdict enforcement of those duties which individuals owe to the state, such as services in the army, militia, on the jury, etc. The great purpose in view was liberty under the protection of effective government, not the destruction of the latter by depriving it of essential powers."

Butler did not directly concern the draft. It addressed laws that required able-bodied men to work on state roads for their maintenance when called by the state. However, its implications for the draft are clear and a case decided just two years later (Arver v US [245 US 366 {1918}]) set it in stone:

"[A]s we are unable to conceive upon what theory the exaction by government from the citizen of the performance of his supreme and noble duty of contributing to the defense of the rights and honor of the nation as the result of a war declared by the great representative body of the people can be said to be the imposition of involuntary servitude in violation of the prohibitions of the Thirteenth Amendment, we are constrained to the conclusion that the contention to that effect is refuted by its mere statement."

So, in essence, it has been declared that conscription is not equivalent to involuntary servitude for Constitutional purposes.

And if you take a moment and think about why the 13th Amendment was passed, the difference is clear. There's a difference between requiring able-bodied men to work on a road gang for a few months...or requiring able-bodied men to fight a war for a few years...and the situation that the 13th Amendment was designed to solve, the requirement of able-bodied men, women, and children to serve a private master for the rest of their lives.

Sepp Blatter may disagree, but a few years of armed forces service is not equivalent to a lifetime of slavery.

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