Many North Americans have been worrying lately that the governments of the United States and Canada will reinstate the draft, conscripting civilians of the right age to fight in the wars to which they have committed (or in which they are entangled, whichever your point of view). My advice is, don’t worry: they are not bringing the draft back for a long time. Here’s why.
In both the US and Canada, conscription would be extremely unpopular right now; and despite what the cynics say, politicians are held to account by public opinion. In recent polls, Stephen Harper’s popularity was falling to about 36%. George Bush’s is no better. If they instate conscription, their popularity will fall further and further. Their parties will not get elected again. In fact, if the Conservative Party of Canada attempted to push conscription through parliament, it would be defeated in a vote of no confidence; and if the Republicans tried the same in Congress, they would lose the midterm elections in November. So we’re safe in the short term. But what about the long term?
Sure, it’s hard to predict what will happen years from now. But I’m going to anyway. Tell me if this sounds presumptuous, but the draft is such an unpopular idea that unless there is an enormous crisis that presents a clear and present danger to the people and the state, it will remain unpopular enough to defeat any politician or party that backs it seriously. I use the word “seriously” because one Democratic congressman named Charles Rangel symbolically (facetiously) introduced a bill to universalise military service in the United States right before the War in Iraq. Well, Michael Moore can try to sign up the sons of congresspeople all they want, and he is about as likely to succeed as Charles Rangel, and for the same reasons.
First, the draft is still remembered not from when it was a good idea (the World Wars) but from the highly unpopular Vietnam War. Public opinion brought that war to an end and the same sentiment will disallow it for a while to come. Second, the governments fighting these wars, and the wars themselves, are sitting on restive electorates that will not take lightly to being buffaloed into accepting that they should die for the good of some far away group of people they don’t understand. From this argument I get my third point, that most North Americans do not understand why they should care what happens in Afghanistan and Iraq, forgetting that the planning of a certain World Trade Center bombing took place in Afghanistan after being ignored after the end of the Cold War. Fourth, as Wikipedia points out, and Michael Ignatieff endorses, the emphasis in developed countries today is not on numbers, but on strategy, better trained forces and better technology.
So if you are afraid that you will be drafted to fight in Afghanistan or Iraq, or some other war you are afraid that your government is about to enter into, don’t be. They won’t be sending you anywhere against your will. And if I’m wrong, you’ll see me doing something I’ve never done before: attending a political protest.