Universal National Service, or Slavery for Dummies

A story the other day in the Washington Post by state-worshiper Michael Gerson talks about how Universal National Service can be useful in trying times such as we live in today. Besides the urge to vomit, statements like this induce many thoughts. Firstly, if “Universal National Service” isn’t a fantastical Orwellian term for conscription, I don’t know what is. Why is it that Conservatives (or any others who endorse the policy) dishonestly call conscription Universal National Service, instead of what it amounts to, which is Compulsory Military Slavery? Probably for the same reason why we didn’t call the PATRIOT Act the “Spying on Americans Act,” or why we didn’t call The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act the Waiting Lines and Compulsory Expensive Healthcare Act: because if defined in appropriate, pejorative terms it sounds a lot less attractive. 

If we are not free to decide what profession we may choose, or what work we can or cannot choose to do, we are no different than a slave. The state does not own us; every individual owns their own body and the fruits of their labor by extension. By endorsing public slavery, with the state qua slave master, but condemning private slavery, one is being a hypocrite of the nastiest variety.

The article also mentions that:

Gen. Stanley McChrystal offhandedly endorsed universal national service for young people graduating from high school or college, fulfilled in either a military or civilian setting. His particular concern was the growing disconnect between the less than 1 percent of Americans who serve in the armed forces and the rest of the country. The result is not only an unequal distribution of burdens but also the unequal development of citizens. “Once you have contributed to something,” McChrystal said, “you have a slightly different view of it.”

But why would we want to have any connection to the military? Why would we want to be connected to an institution that is responsible for occupying and killing so many innocent civilians each year in undeclared wars in foreign countries? Why would we want to be a part of an organization where 26,000 members of the armed forces are raped or sexually assaulted each year, with 53% of them being men? Should we be anxious to be sexually assaulted? Why would we be anxious to be part of the military where suicide is at an all time high and more soldiers die from suicide than from combat? Is this the kind of fraternity and common experience we should be seeking to share with all Americans? Why should we be seeking to share these “unequal burdens” at all? Shouldn’t we be trying to remove these burdens entirely? 

And speaking of unequal burdens, who is it that is paying for the military to go on useless expeditions in foreign countries we have no business being in as well as paying for the salaries and multitude of benefits these soldiers receive? Oh, that’s right, the taxpayer; the class of citizen who does actual productive work that increases wealth rather than destroying or squandering it. This is the false trade-off that is often presented that the military is fighting over there, so we can be safe over here. The trade-off should be presented in those terms if we really want to get a sense of who is supporting who. Why is it that Canada has never had a single terrorist attack? Arguably, Canada is just as free of a country as we are. If it is the hatred of freedom that causes terrorism, why isn’t Canada a target for terrorism? Maybe it’s because they don’t play the role of policeman of the world and don’t stick their nose in other countries business where it doesn’t belong. The golden rule says to do unto others as you would have done unto yourself. If we had a foreign policy built upon this axiom, we wouldn’t be a target of foreign terrorism

Is  this really the kind of “burden” we want our children to be put through? When McChrystal says that by contributing to the military we will have a slightly different view of it, is he talking about the indoctrination we will receive? Does he mean that we will no longer be capable of thinking on our own and only be capable of responding to orders? I think it’s pretty clear from Daniel Somers story and the countless other military suicides that participating will only confirm the viewpoint that the military is both not a desirable place to be employed..

Further, it mentions, “The service movement has always had an element of nostalgia for the shared, unifying burdens of World War II, the United States’ epic of citizenship.” Whether or not this “nostalgia” is even in line with reality, it is clear that the military today isn’t comparable to the military of WWII. Nostalgia likely isn’t the term most soldiers will use when describing their time in the military 30 years from now.

The article next states that, “Taxation allows us to fund common purposes, but it does not provide common experiences. A rite of passage in which young people — rich and poor, liberal and conservative, of every racial background — work side by side to address public problems would create, at least, a vivid, lifelong memory of shared national purpose.” But in what sense are our imperialistic aspirations of benefit to the public? And in what sense does taxation fund common purposes? How do subsidies to farmers or any other number of industries benefit us in common? How does giving hundreds of millions or billions of dollars away in foreign aid benefit everyone? The taxation funding common purposes argument is completely ignorant of reality. He attempts to convey the notion that to obtain usufruct of the benefits of society, we must submit ourselves to the government, put the handcuffs on our own wrists, and resign ourselves to bondage for the common good. The assumption that we belong to the state relies on the proposition that all our rights are in fact privileges that we enjoy only because of the good graces of our leaders. If the “shared value” we are trying to diffuse is military slavery, how can we expect society to prosper rather than degenerate?

Gerson goes on, “Future generations will struggle to explain the conservative elements that praised Edward Snowden, apparently granted on the theory that the enemy of my government is my friend.” This statement is problematic for multiple reasons. By stating that Edward Snowden is an enemy of the government he is correct, but his tone implies that Edward Snowden is being treasonous, which makes him not simply an enemy of the government, but an enemy of the people. As we can see by the reception of most reasonable Americans, Edward Snowden is clearly a friend of the people. Naturally the government will view someone who exposes their violations of our rights as an enemy to them. If resisting political power makes us guilty of treason, then I’d be glad to be in the company of our founders who did the same thing. The government is more concerned with its own well-being than the purposes it was instituted for; to protect us and secure to us the blessings of our liberty, not to spy on us.

Patriotism is not obedience to the state. As Ron Paul would say, patriotism means to love liberty; it means opposing state power and standing up for your rights against the oppression of tyranny. Blind obedience to the government when it commits immoral acts is no virtue; to deny this principle necessarily assumes that all the Nazi’s who were obeying their government in exterminating Jewish people were in fact patriots and serving their country honorably.

He ends by stating that Universal National Service “strengthens…our national character.” Aside from the obvious demagoguery, any time we talk of “national character” or national values, we are explicitly talking in collective terms, ignoring that societies are heterogeneous made up of individuals with subjective values. This means that there are many competing values in society so the notion of a collective version of this that everyone belongs to is ridiculous.We are a society of individuals, not individuals composing a society. Individuals like Michael Gerson would fit in very well in Soviet Russia where they also recognized the benefits of compulsory national service in fostering a society of obedience and lack of the ability to generate their own convictions. Those who cannot think for themselves are in no condition to differentiate between right and wrong or justice and injustice; a servile and docile population is ideal for a government hell-bent on tyrannizing its people.