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Return of the Draft?

Dave sends a frightening news story:

The government is taking the first steps toward a targeted military draft of Americans with special skills in computers and foreign languages.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is adamant that he will not ask Congress to authorize a draft, and officials at the Selective Service System, the independent federal agency that would organize any conscription, stress that the possibility of a so-called "special skills draft" is remote.

The story goes out of its way to assuage the public that there won't be a draft, but at the end admits:

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., has introduced a bill that would reinstate the draft. The legislation has minimal support with only 13 House lawmakers signing on as co-sponsors. A corresponding bill in the Senate introduced by Sen. Fritz Hollings, the outgoing South Carolina Democrat, has no co-sponsors.

Arthur is characteristically worried (follow his links), but I'm not. I don't want to be misunderstood about this — the draft is a thoroughly evil program — but there is a very simple reason why this kind of draft is utterly impractical. It's such an obvious problem that I doubt even the U.S. Congress could fail to realize it.

Atlas will shrug.

Intellectual work cannot be compelled. The unwilling will not do it. The government's ranks of draftee computer programmers would be unproductive and error-prone and could (and would) easily sabotage whatever they were working on without detection. Bugs are subtle and difficult to find even when nobody's trying to conceal them. But the real threat would be in the architecture of the system. A deliberately poor design decision would be virtually undetectable — it may not prevent the system from ever working, but it could hugely delay it. Delay is the deadliest form of denial of service.

Intellectual work can only be done on a voluntary basis. Mutual trust and shared goals are absolutely essential. A draft would undermine both.

This issue reminds me of a scene in Atlas Shrugged where a sort of one-man intellectual draft actually happens. Government thugs have captured John Galt and order him to fix the economy they have ruined:

"I can't forget a fact of reality, Mr. Thompson. That would be impractical."

"All right, then: I hold a gun. What are you going to do about it?"

"I'll act accordingly. I'll obey you."


"I'll do whatever you tell me to."

"Do you mean it?"

"I mean it. Literally." He saw the eagerness of Mr. Thompson's face ebb slowly under a look of bewilderment. "I will perform any motion you order me to perform. If you order me to move into the office of an Economic Dictator, I'll move into it. If you order me to sit at a desk, I will sit at it. If you order me to issue a directive, I will issue the directive you order me to issue."

"Oh, but I don't know what directives to issue!"

"I don't, either."

There was a long pause.

"Well?" said Galt. "What are your orders?"

"I want you to save the economy of the country!"

"I don't know how to save it."

"I want you to find a way!"

"I don't know how to find it."

"I want you to think!"

"How will your gun make me do that, Mr. Thompson?"

Mr. Thompson looked at him silently — and Galt saw, in the tightened lips, in the jutting chin, in the narrowed eyes, the look of an adolescent bully about to utter that philosophical argument which is expressed by the sentence: I'll bash your teeth in. Galt smiled, looking straight at him, as if hearing the unspoken sentence and underscoring it. Mr. Thompson looked away.

"No," said Galt, "You don't want me to think. When you force a man to act against his own choice and judgment, it's his thinking that you want him to suspend. You want him to become a robot. I shall comply."

Tiny Island