Conscription Is Slavery

by | Mar 21, 2019


Last month a federal judge in Texas declared the all-male military draft to be unconstitutional because it applies only to men and not also to women. The decision flies in the face of a decision by the Supreme Court in 1981 that upheld the constitutionality of the draft-registration process. Back then, however, women were not permitted to serve in combat roles, which was the justification for the Court’s ruling. Today, women are permitted to serve in combat roles, a point cited by that Texas federal judge.

While the controversy might seem academic given that we haven’t had conscription for several decades, that could change on a moment’s notice. Given the propensity of US officials, from the president down, to embroil the United States in foreign wars, lots of fathers and mothers might suddenly be shocked to see their daughters suddenly being hauled off to boot camp and then to war, where they would face the possibility of being shot, bombed, killed, injured, maimed, or raped. Lots of young women might also be shocked.

Yes, I know America has a volunteer army. And yes, I know that it has proven sufficient to fight America’s forever foreign wars for the past several decades. But the fact is that all that could change overnight if US officials were to embroil the United States in a war that the volunteer army couldn’t handle on its own. In that case, the Pentagon and the CIA would not hesitate to advise the president to immediately initiate the draft.

After all, that’s the point of draft registration. When a male reaches the age of 18, he is required by law to register for the draft. With draft registration, the Pentagon has a ready list of people to conscript at a moment’s notice, should the necessity arise.

What happens if a young man refuses to register for the draft? He is criminally prosecuted, convicted, fined, and sentenced to jail. There is nothing voluntary about draft registration.

Questions naturally arise. Does that District Court’s order mean that young men no longer have to register for the draft? I could be wrong but it sure seems to me that reliance on a US District Judge’s judicial decision might be a legitimate defense in a criminal prosecution for refusing to register. To obviate that possibility, the Pentagon and the CIA will almost certainly advise the Justice Department to appeal the ruling. Or will draft registration — and, by implication, the draft — now be extended to women to make it constitutional? Or is it possible that draft registration will be ended entirely?

For anyone concerned about the principles of freedom, there is only one right answer: End the draft itself and never implement it again. A permanent ban on conscription is the ideal insofar as freedom is concerned.

After all, we call it by that fancy word “conscription” or even by the less fancy term “the draft,” but the fact is that it’s really nothing more than slavery. The state orders a person to leave his life and report to a military installation, where he is required to serve the state, specifically the military, and obey its orders. The draftee has no effective choice. If he refuses, he goes to jail.

That’s the very essence of slavery. A slave is required to serve another person or another entity. He has no effective choice. If he refuses, he is severely punished.

There is no way to reconcile conscription with the principles of a free society. The big problem, of course, is that Americans have been born and raised under this system and, equally important, have been taught that they are living in a free society. Therefore, most Americans (libertarians excepted, of course) are not able to recognize that it’s the exact opposite — that everyone is living in an unfree society, one in which everyone within a certain age group can be enslaved on a moment’s notice and be forced to kill or be killed in one of the national-security establishment’s foreign wars. Ironically, with conscription freedom is destroyed in the name of protecting “freedom” or “national security” in some faraway land.

Statists say that sometimes conscription us necessary to win a war and, therefore, that there’s nothing wrong with enslaving people temporarily for the greater good of the nation.

But when people have to be forced to fight in a particular war, that’s a good sign that the government shouldn’t be waging that war. When a genuinely free people are invaded by a foreign army, most of the citizenry are going to fight to preserve their freedom and well-being. A free people don’t need to be forced to fight.

But when a regime embroils the nation in a faraway war, the situation changes. Suddenly, people say to themselves: That conflict doesn’t involve me, my family, or my nation. I’m staying out of it. That’s when the state resorts to conscription — to force people to fight in those faraway lands and to kill or be killed.

That’s why American men had to be enslaved to fight in the Vietnam War, the Korean War, World War I, and World War II. Not enough American men were willing to volunteer to fight in those foreign wars. It wasn’t worth it to them. So, US officials forced them to do so through conscription.

Maybe the solution is to reenact the Thirteenth Amendment in a modified form, as follows:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. And this time we mean it.

Reprinted with permission from Future of Freedom Foundation.


  • Jacob G. Hornberger

    Jacob George Hornberger is an American attorney, author, and politician who was a Libertarian candidate for president in 2000 and 2020. He is the founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.