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Conscription, is it Slavery?


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Philosophy of Liberty | Worker’s Rights | Get Out of Jury Duty | Is Conscription Slavery?

A young black man is taken away from his wife and child by armed men. They haul him away across a great ocean and force him to labor for them. If he tries to escape, they will place him in chains. If he succeeds in escaping and is recaptured, they may decide to kill him. His life is theirs to dispose of as they please. He must obey them blindly, any questioning of their authority may result in being chained to a post and whipped.

Do I describe slavery in 1790, or the draft during the Vietnam War?

Guess what; I’m not going to even tell you which one it is.

Would it matter?

What kind of “free country” would allow the above description to apply under any circumstances at all? People are quite fond of asking this of the kind of the slavery that ended in 1865, but not the kind that was started in 1863.

obey

Conscription is slavery, and I don't think that any people or nation has a right to save itself at the price of slavery for anyone, no matter what name it is called. We have had the draft for twenty years now; I think this is shameful. If a country can't save itself through the volunteer service of its own free people, then I say: Let the damned thing go down the drain! -- Robert A. Heinlein

The one form of indentured servitude still legal for non-convicts in the United States is military service. When you join the military, you have fewer rights and freedoms left than did “indentured servants” in the Americas three centuries ago:

  • You have masters whose orders you must follow without question.
  • You are not allowed to “quit” until your contracted term ends (if then), unless your appeal to your masters and they agree, which is unlikely.
  • They command labor from you, while you’re paid a token sum and given a minimal standard of food and shelter.
  • You may well be doing it on the promise of training that can become a career once you are freed of the obligation.

So far, this describes an indentured servant in the Colonies in 1700, or a US soldier.

But unlike other indentured servants, as an American soldier you’re not allowed to sue your masters, not even after you leave.

Now I’m not saying the above is necessarily a bad thing. Well, except the not suing part…that’s obscene.

But it’s certainly hypocritical that this kind of treatment was also banned by the US government, except that it makes itself the exception.

Sadly, though, that’s normal for government, the kind of double standard that lets a state ban gambling as harmful to the poor, then set up a state lottery that it markets specifically against poor people, at worse cost/payoff ratio than any casino, sporting event, or numbers runner.

But the difference between an indentured servant and a slave is simply that one chooses (if only through his actions) to be an indentured servant, and signs a contract agreeing to its conditions and to when it will end, as with volunteer soldiers, while a slave is taken by force and kept until his masters choose to release him.

It is a line that should never be crossed, of course, in a free country.

That is the line, of course, that is crossed by the draft, or any other mandatory “service”.

Some people would claim that this is “necessary for the defense” of that free country, or some other accomplishment.

Of course this is not true.

If someone were actually to attack that free country, its people would rise up and eagerly fight to defend it, as their own liberty is at stake.

It is when the country aggresses against another, or decides to risk the lives of its subjects in some foreign war, that the people are reluctant to die at the command of its leaders.

In other words; if the country deserves to have its military ranks filled, they will be filled.

A country that can’t get its people to fight for a cause does not merit their help in the first place.

It is never justified in resorting to slavery, for any cause at all.

Philosophy of Liberty | Worker’s Rights | Get Out of Jury Duty | Is Conscription Slavery?

18 Comments »

  1. I was a conscript in the military of a particular country and still am (in reservice duty). My country enforces conscription for all males and we have to serve for several years in the military at the age of 18. After that, we have to go back to the army every year for a few weeks for reservice duty.

    This is my thoughts as someone who is conscripted and hated every moment of it.

    1) Your personal freedoms are taken away from you when you enter the military. You can be jailed for many different offences that seem trivial or ridiculous in civilian life. e.g. insubordination, absenteeism, malingering, etc. Once had a friend jailed for arriving late.

    2) You are trained to kill and might be forced kill against your will. Penalty is court martial and a very long term military jail sentence. Conscripts who are unwilling to serve for various purposes such as religious or moral reasons are all jailed. There is no other way to enforce proper conscription apart from heavy penalties. Most people don’t want to die or kill.

    3) You transform into a lesser human being the moment you are conscripted. People don’t care if soldiers die even if they are forced against their will. It is always ‘it is their duty’ or ‘we had it coming’. When civilians are killed, all moral outrage ensues. But what about a conscript who doesn’t want to be there? Why is it okay to kill me? Why is it less immoral to kill a person who is forced into servitude? In wartime, I don’t want to kill the enemy. All I want to do is stay alive.

    4) High risk of injury and death. The military is a high-risk job even during peacetime. People die for so many reasons that the rate of death would seem alarming if compared to civilian occupations. We all hear about occupation hazards of jobs such as miners, but what about the military? Well here it goes. These are some of the incidents I have heard of. (i) Lightning strikes signaller during bad weather when outfield (ii) Tank flips over in uneven terrain crushing tank commander (iii) Collapse in jungle due to heat exhaustion (iv) Face chopped off by helicopter blade when the blade goes too low (v) Various vehicular accidents such as tanks crushing soldiers (vi) Firearm malfunction, blowing up soldier’s face (vii) etc.

    5) No recourse to proper justice. Due to military secrecy, you are tried by military court which isn’t impartial the least bit. What does a group of military men know about law and justice?

    6) Gender inequality. Only males are conscripted. Discriminates both women and men.

    It might seem like I’m whinging but I do think I have the right to do so since I did not and will never sign up for becoming a soldier. If I volunteered, then so be it, it’s my choice. But I didn’t and I think that makes a whole world of a difference.

    Comment by lionelloon | November 21, 2012 | Reply

    • let me guess, a Singaporean? I’m serving here myself and find it absolutely farcical. Luckily not in a combat vocation, but I agree with the article wholeheartedly. What’s the point of defending a country that treats you like shit. I always say defense with slavery is like boosting birth rates with rapes – both are equally important to nation’s survival then what’s the difference?

      Comment by thedriver | October 4, 2013 | Reply

  2. Of Coursae “conscription” is slavery ! The WW2 was fought using slave armies on both sides, and it achieved nothing useful – the dictators were going to fail anyway, such faulty theories upon which their governments were bases were self destructive.

    I have always argued that a country that has to use conscription is not worth defending.

    Comment by Briar Lorenz | May 27, 2011 | Reply

    • that is most of the world.

      Comment by Erik Anger | April 25, 2013 | Reply

      • If you mean most of the world forces people into servitude, with conscription, then yes. And it’s evil, institutionalized, government slavery.

        Comment by kazvorpal | April 30, 2013 | Reply

      • bruh

        Comment by bob | May 13, 2015 | Reply

  3. No…Conscription is not slavery – it’s worse! It’s also the main reason why I chose to not vote for a recent candidate for President of the United States – he wanted to bring back the Draft. Why would would I say that?

    Vietnam…

    Many people sought exemptions from service and didn’t get them – 58000 of them went to ‘Nam and died there. Many more
    than that were wounded or maimed. Others got their exemptions because of their status in society or who they knew. Others yet left the country to avoid going to ‘Nam.

    A large number of our nation’s leaders didn’t choose to serve in the military. Many of them have become “Hawks” (that gets votes) and have been entirely too quick to send our nation’s youth into the meat grinder we call “War”. Many of them went out of their way to avoid military service or otherwise got special assignments that kept them “out of harm’s way”. I won’t go into examples, but there is no shortage of people who appear to believe that they’re “too good” to go over to a foreign land to fight and die for “their country.”

    On more than one occasion in our nation’s history, it has been well-illustrated that the reasons we went to War were not the “right” ones or were a deception (the true reason would never have been accepted by the general public.). On a related note…I have, on more than occasion, seen a book entitled “Business As War.” Unfortunately, I also think there’s more than a few people around who think that is true. They probably think the same way as Otto Von Bismarck when he said, “Diplomacy is War without guns.” The world would be a better place without them!

    Some people want the Draft back because they can’t man the Armed Services to handle the tasking because of the end strength cuts at the end of the Cold War and they can’t meet recruiting goals because the word about what’s happening over there has gotten back Stateside. They’ve been forced to hire people from firms like Xe Services, DynCorp Int’l, Halliburton, just to name a few. Why can’t they get volunteers? Well, it’s not for lack of effort on the part of the various forms of the media to encourage people to join the military! At any rate, DOD now sees that using the Civil Service or companies in the public sector to do what used to be done by military members is EXPENSIVE! To cut those expenses they want the Draft back. I guess “Hindsight is 20-20.”

    Right now, serving in the Armed Forces is a choice…Until such a time that the society we live in doesn’t harbor people who think they’re too damn good to die for their country, it should stay that way!

    Well, it’s long since time to close…Take care & have a great weekend!

    Comment by Just Another Boy Scout? | July 8, 2010 | Reply

  4. Kaz:

    Another good article. I have been making a similar point on my website with regard to the Obama administration’s push to impose mandatory National Service requirements in this country. You might be interested in looking at my analysis at the site:

    http://go-galt.org/Galt_Pledge/

    I also have a running Blog (which I’m in the process of revamping) that discusses many current issues pertaining to the growing threat of national service, along with other freedom-related topics. This Blog is at:

    http://go-galt.org/Galt_Pledge/JG_Blog.html

    Regards,

    C. Jeffery Small

    Comment by C. Jeffery Small | May 3, 2010 | Reply

  5. ” You have masters whose orders you must follow without question.”

    Without question? Definitely not the case. In fact, soldiers are held accountable for not questioning orders that are illegal.

    “They command labor from you, while you’re paid a token sum and given a minimal standard of food and shelter.”

    That “minimal standard” is a lot better (especially per education level) than a lot of jobs, especially in this economy, and you can throw in health benefits as well.

    So to some degree volentarily joining the military resembles indentured servitude, but the same could be said for joining numberous large organizations that opporate across the globe.

    As for the draft: I agree it’s morally problematic, but you’re missing two key points: 1. It is (or ought to be) done only in certain situations, for neccessary ends: If we didn’t draft in WWII, Hitler had won, and eventually invaded the States would we be better off? 2. Draftees still have dignity: They’re not treated as sub-human in the same way as slaves, military commanders try to minimize casualties, and they have rights– such as the ability to apply for conciencous objection. So even if being drafted sucks, your status as an autonomous human being isn’t being denied; it’s just being given a lower-priority than the welfare of the society which enables you to live in security.

    Comment by ZT | February 2, 2010 | Reply

    • > neccessary ends: If we didn’t draft in WWII, Hitler had won,
      > and eventually invaded the States would we be better off?

      I am not a socialist, so I don’t believe that one can commit evil because the End Justifies the Means. That is a Marxist philosophy, not one for any believer in natural rights and freedom.

      But, more importantly: You insult all of the Americans who volunteered after Pearl Harbor, because it was a worthy cause.

      If a government/nation cannot get enough volunteers for a cause, then they don’t deserve to succeed in it.

      As for Hitler winning, he couldn’t even cross the tiny English Channel (that people routinely swim) to conquer a crippled, socialist Britain where private gun ownership was effectively illegal, much less thousands of miles of ocean to conquer a heavily armed United States. This leaves Hitler winning in Europe, if we didn’t step in and stop him…but I don’t see how that’s any worse than Stalin’s empire being preserved by our efforts. Stalin killed perhaps five times as many of his own people as Hitler.

      Your defense of the way enslaved soldiers are treated is pretty feeble…an example of why is that it applies at least as much to blacks during slavery. Some of them were paid better than some free whites in the same era, they had legal rights (Thomas Jefferson spent a lot of time defending slaves, pro bono) and sometimes were treated with dignity. But they were still slaves…it was still evil and wrong.

      Comment by kazvorpal | February 11, 2010 | Reply

      • “I am not a socialist, so I don’t believe that one can commit evil because the End Justifies the Means. That is a Marxist philosophy, not one for any believer in natural rights and freedom.”

        1. Actually, that’s a concequentialism/deontological debate that’s way older than Marxism versus Capitalism.

        2. Some of the oldest libertarians, defenders of liberty like John Stuart Mill actually were utilitarianism.

        3. How is such a belief incompatable with a belief in natural rights? My point is that sacrifices are neccesary to preserve a system in which basic rights are protected to begin with– that’s the philosophy of Locke, who practically invented the concept of natural rights.

        “But, more importantly: You insult all of the Americans who volunteered after Pearl Harbor, because it was a worthy cause.

        If a government/nation cannot get enough volunteers for a cause, then they don’t deserve to succeed in it.”

        1. No, I’m insulting all the Americans who DIDN’T volenteer. I never said that those who did were brave, I just said that there might not have been enough of them.

        2. If they can’t get volenteers because the public doesn’t have strategic forsight, or because people are to self-interested, or don’t have access to intelligence information and try to free-load of of everyone else’s patriotism, or are otherwise misinformed, that wouldn’t be the case.

        3. You’re actually insulting servicemembers by trying to hide behind them as an intillectual shield.

        “As for Hitler winning, he couldn’t even cross the tiny English Channel (that people routinely swim) to conquer a crippled, socialist Britain where private gun ownership was effectively illegal, much less thousands of miles of ocean to conquer a heavily armed United States. This leaves Hitler winning in Europe, if we didn’t step in and stop him…but I don’t see how that’s any worse than Stalin’s empire being preserved by our efforts. Stalin killed perhaps five times as many of his own people as Hitler.”

        1. He came very close– ask any British historian about the Battle of Britain. And if it weren’t for US aid, he might have succeded.

        2. Had he not made blunders like attacking Russia or misunderstanding the role of strategic bombers, he could have won, which begs the question what should the US have done in that situation?

        3. If we hadn’t intervened then either Hitler or Stalin would own all of Europe; at least this way a large chunk was free.

        4. Your point about Stalin ignores the fact Hitler killed a lot more people in a lot shorter time. Stalin also ruled a larger area with a history of anti-semetic violence, which Germany didn’t really have before Hitler.

        5. The entire debate about WWII is irrelevent, anyway, because there are other situations and countries that would have thier existance threatened without the draft… Israel comes to mind.

        “Your defense of the way enslaved soldiers are treated is pretty feeble…an example of why is that it applies at least as much to blacks during slavery. Some of them were paid better than some free whites in the same era, they had legal rights (Thomas Jefferson spent a lot of time defending slaves, pro bono) and sometimes were treated with dignity. But they were still slaves…it was still evil and wrong.”

        1. Neither those slaves or those free whites lived in conditions comparable to military service today.

        2. Your argument by analogy fails because you have yet to explain why exactly slavery is “evil and wrong,” and why it applies to this situation as well. Slavery was wrong because it treated humans as property and mere means to an end. Conscription in emergency circumstances doesn’t treat people as a mere means to an end, because you’re trying to preserve the existance of a country and a legal system that allows basic rights to be protected to begin with.

        Comment by ZT | September 1, 2010 | Reply

        • End Justifies the Means:

          1. Yes, but in modern politics, it’s owned by Marxists and other socialists (including neocons).
          2. Utilitarianism is different, at least until the socialists get hold of it. What is best for society is consistent application of principles, not the End Justifies the Means, so it actually violates measurement of utility.
          3. Natural rights are not protected by their own violation. If you force people to wage foreign wars because you claim it’s better for them, it’s no different than forcing them to work for a state factory, because it’s better for them.

          Volunteers:
          1. If there hadn’t been enough volunteers, then it would not have been a worthy cause. Ironically, this may have meant that FDR should deal with Japan diplomatically, which he had refused to do specifically in order to force them into attacking the US. But there WOULD have been enough volunteers after Pearl Harbor, in all likelyhood, because people perceived the attack on what was actually a land we held through military occupation, as an attack on the United States proper.

          2. It is not up to some elite nitwits to decide whether the people don’t have enough foresight. More likely, the bureaucrats who wish to wage a given war are too sociopathic. Again, it’s no different than deciding that Americans have too many choices, or too many cars, or anything else. The collective will is best determined by liberty, not ivory tower bureaucrats.

          3. Hardly…I argue that if a cause is worthy, people WILL volunteer. You argue that they may not, so they should be FORCED to throw away their lives when they do not believe the cause worthy. So you are saying they are not good enough to recognize what is worthy, for themselves.

          Hitler’s Fantastic Conquest of the US

          1. Yes, he came very close to crossing a gap of water (not necessarily winning any land battle there) that any good swimmer can master alone. Then he only had to cross a thousand miles of ocean and occupy a land where guns were NOT already illegal, the size of all of Europe.

          2. If the US were not involved, MAYBE he could have “won”, in Europe only. Which would have been no worse than the Soviet Union dominating after we rescued them in WWII. In fact, probably better.

          3. Hardly. Because of his mistakes, Hitler and the Soviet Union would both have ended up too weak to even hold themselves together. In fact, that’s pretty much what happened, if you deduct American intervention.

          4. I don’t give a crap what the genetic heritage of the innocent people slaughtered was. It wasn’t sixty million Russian Jews, it was sixty million people.

          5. If Israel can’t defend itself without enslaving its people, it doesn’t deserve to…same as anywhere else. Once again, I have faith that any people WILL volunteer, if the cause is just…in fact, that’s a truism, because there is no other valid measure of what is worthy.

          American Military Slaves are Treated Nicely!

          1. Again, this is irrelevant. If you treat slaves well, they’re still being heinously wronged.

          2. Slavery is evil and wrong because it violates the natural rights, the freedom of choice, of the enslaved. Not because of some ridiculous cosmetic specifics about not treating people a certain way. The very definition of evil, if you examine the concept across all of the world, is the violation of the choice/property of the individual. All the rest is meaningless local taboo, like “it’s evil for women to expose their face/breasts in public”.

          Comment by kazvorpal | September 6, 2010 | Reply

  6. Is conscription slavery? Yes. However you fail to differentiate in the article the difference between volunteering to join the military, and being forced.

    From the article: “The one form of indentured servitude still legal for non-convicts in the United States is military service. When you join the military, you have fewer rights and freedoms left than did “indentured servants” in the Americas three centuries ago:

    * You have masters whose orders you must follow without question.
    * You are not allowed to “quit” until your contracted term ends (if then), unless your appeal to your masters and they agree, which is unlikely.
    * They command labor from you, while you’re paid a token sum and given a minimal standard of food and shelter.
    * You may well be doing it on the promise of training that can become a career once you are freed of the obligation.”

    What you describe here has nothing to do with conscription. One voluntarily joins knowing what one is getting oneself into. Of course, if this applies to forced joining, then yes, what you say is valid, but voluntary joining throws that out the window.

    Comment by Josh | October 29, 2009 | Reply

    • I described, above, volunteer soldiers, not conscription.

      Elsewhere in the article, I’m talking about conscription specifically.

      And the fact that you know what you’re getting into (which is probably not true, because military recruiters include some of the most dishonest and corrupt of all hucksters) doesn’t change that it’s indentured servitude, with fewer rights than an indentured servant had 300 years ago.

      Comment by kazvorpal | October 29, 2009 | Reply

  7. […] conscription, heinlein, liberty, patriotism, robert heinlein, slavery, the draft Conscription is slavery, and I don’t think that any people or nation has a right to save itself at the price of […]

    Pingback by Conscription is Slavery « Words of the Sentient | August 12, 2009 | Reply

  8. Great Heinlein quote. Good post.

    Comment by Zach Bibeault | August 11, 2009 | Reply

    • I wrote that one ten or twelve years ago, for the Site of the Sentient, although I updated and modified it a bit as I was posting it here.

      While I don’t think that Obam has the slightest plan to institute the imaginary mandatory civil service the hyperbolic are worrying about, if he did, this article would apply to that, as well.

      Comment by kazvorpal | August 12, 2009 | Reply


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