Of conscripts, mercenaries and free men

It seems only logical that in a nation that values freedom, its elected officials must ascertain that the country only engages in armed conflict when the security of the nation is at stake. No other time. Yet, Congress voted overwhelmingly to allow the use of force in Iraq.

As reluctantly as we paint ourselves in being the world’s cop, we are quick to give a free hand to an administration in Washington that seems to thrive on that endeavor, as evidenced by what has happened for two years now… under the guise of fighting terrorism.

Rep. Charles B. Rangel was among the few in Congress who voted against the resolution giving the president authority to carry out war. An advocate for bringing back the draft, he underlines that “if we are going to send our children to war, the governing principle must be that of shared sacrifice”; and in our volunteer military, both poor and minorities are disproportionately over represented. But perhaps the most compelling reason given by the congressman for re-instituting the draft is “the greater appreciation of the consequences of decisions to go to war”.

A draft, universally applied to the physically-fit, without deferments other than for conscientious objectors, could become an excellent deterrent against promiscuous wars. And most wars are promiscuous! It would change the level of political activism in the country seeing the killing and maiming of draftees who would not otherwise have volunteered for wars of choice. And the chances of congressmen kin being war casualties would increase dramatically.

But Rangel’s advocacy does not find many assenters among his elected peers. Not a popular thing, the draft. Too many memories of other wars of choice, blood spilled for no good reason… nothing heroic about that. So the consensus is to keep our military the way we have it now: a career, professional military. It appears that the nation is not quite ready to go back to what many consider involuntary servitude.

Some will claim that we already do have a perfect fit to our military needs. After all, what we are defending is a way of life, capitalism, and we are doing it across the globe. If business people are mercenaries, motivated solely by monetary gain, why shouldn’t their defenders be mercenaries as well? If the term “mercenary” embarrasses us, or causes dismay to some, perhaps we should not be wearing blinders, or better yet, blindfolds. The United States , for them, is no longer a nation that simply needs defending, but a rising empire that requires a strong military support to achieve its goals.

Most often the use of military force is inadvisable, and unacceptable if used in a preemptive way. Our incursion into Iraq without the blessing of the Security Council will be written in history books as a case study in triple failure on the fronts that count: moral, diplomatic and military. Never mind Cheney’s neo-conservative, warmongering assertions.

Why inadvisable? Simply because of the consequences that reverberate from those actions, short and long term. First, it kills and injures innocent people… collateral damage as we callously call it; second, it sows the seeds of hatred which will turn into future terrorism, and further alienate us from tribes, nations and entire faiths (Islam); third, because it portrays the United States to the world in the worst possible light: the Huns of the twenty-first century, aiming to conquer and destabilize regions to attain selfish objectives. More than fighters of terrorism, we are appearing to the eyes of the world as terrorists ourselves.

We certainly don’t have the right to send conscripts to fight this kind of war. And probably we should not send our volunteer troops, either. After all, many, if not most, of these young people, particularly those in the enlisted ranks, volunteered out of economic necessity, and could hardly be called mercenaries or professional enforcers for politicians with hardened hearts and distorted views of the world.

Should we be asking our conscripted young, or a mercenary force, foreign or domestic, to fight our battles, to safeguard our questionable interests? If we are to remain a free people, with legitimate economic and spiritual claims, we might need to become part of a national militia… all become citizen soldiers, all flag-bearers, not flag-wavers.