Bob Herbert’s Monstrous Proposal
Military draft as a political tool.

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert said today that the U.S. should reinstate the draft so that more Americans would have a “stake” in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (Morning Joe (MSNBC 8/31/2010).

Herbert rightly condemns the suffering that is disproportionately endured by those who serve in America’s military. But how on earth can sane and decent people say that forcibly exposing others’ children to death and maiming is a good way to influence public policy? For death and maiming to be used as a political tool is a monstrous idea that should have gone away decades ago.

What is worse, as John Heilemann pointed out in the same discussion, there is no good evidence that getting a wider range of people killed would actually shorten the war. In Vietnam, Heilemann reminded us, the war managed to grind on for nearly a decade despite the fact that upper middle-class children were being drafted into it and, as a result, protesting vehemently against it.

If we want to give more people a “stake” in our nation’s expeditionary wars, a broad-based special war tax seems a preferable the way to do it: Wars would truly hold the public's attention if every cent spent on them were raised through a separate, identifiable and inescapable tax. Unlike the draft, which strikes like the stones in Shirley Jackson’s Lottery, a broad-based war tax would give every taxpayer a personal reason to oppose unjustified military actions.

TAKING LIBERTY SERIOUSLY does not favor additional taxes. But a special war tax is not an “additional” tax since wars must be paid for anyway, one way or another. What a war tax does do, however, is keep the financial cost of war from being hidden, eliminating a favorite trick that is being played by our government today.