Mises Daily Articles
Conscription as an Omen
[From a speech delivered by Senator Taft at the Gettysburg National Cemetery 1946.]
There is one step now proposed, supported by government propaganda, which seems to me to strike at the very basis of freedom. It is the proposal that we establish compulsory military training in time of peace. The power to take a boy from his home and subject him to complete government discipline is the most serious limitation on freedom that can be imagined. Many who have accepted the idea favor a similar government-controlled training for all girls.
There is no doubt that the government, and particularly the War and Navy departments, are straining every nerve to secure the enactment of this legislation. Secret meetings are being held in the Pentagon Building and elsewhere. Recently the chief executive officers of some forty or more women's organizations were invited there, and it is said they were addressed by the Secretary of War, the Secretary of the Navy, the Under Secretary of State, General Marshall, Admiral King, and other high-ranking officers. The ladies were requested not to disclose the substance of the speeches made or identify the War Department or its officials with the sponsorship of the plan …
Government propaganda is bad enough when it is open, but it is inexcusable when secret. We may expect a flood of open propaganda after the ground has been prepared, and everyone who is opposed to the plan will be pictured as for war and for unpreparedness.
We have fought this war to preserve our institutions, not to change them. We have fought it to permit us to work out our problems here at home on a peaceful foundation, not on a foundation dominated by military preparations for another war. The question of the best form of military organization should not be an emotional problem. It should be dealt with by argument and not by propaganda. But the methods being used threaten the freedom of this country, for if they are successful they can be used to fasten upon us every kind of regulation, price control for business, wage control for labor, production control for farmers….
Military conscription is essentially totalitarian. It has been established for the most part in totalitarian countries and their dictators led by Napoleon and Bismarck. It has heretofore been established by aggressor countries. It is said it would ensure peace by emphasizing the tremendous military potential of this country. Surely we have emphasized that enough in this war. No one can doubt it.
On the contrary, if we establish conscription every other nation in the world will feel obliged to do the same. It would set up militarism on a high pedestal throughout the world as the goal of all the world. Militarism has always led to war and not peace.
Conscription was no insurance of victory in France, in Germany, or in Italy. The countries with military conscription found that it was only an incident and not the determining factor in defense or in victory.
Military training by conscription means the complete regimentation of the individual at his most formative period for a period of twelve months. If we admit that in peacetime we can deprive a man of all liberty and voice and freedom of action, if we can take him from his family and his home, then we can do the same with labor, we can order the farmer to produce and we can take over any business. If we can draft men, it is difficult to find an argument against drafting capital.
Those who enthusiastically orate of returning to free enterprise and at the same time advocate peacetime conscription are blind to the implications of this policy. They are utterly inconsistent in their position. Because of its psychological effect on every citizen, because it is the most extreme form of compulsion, military conscription will be more the test of our whole philosophy than any other policy.
Some say it is unconstitutional. It makes very little difference whether it actually violates the terms of the Constitution. It is against the fundamental policy of America and the American Nation. If adopted, it will color our whole future. We shall have fought to abolish totalitarianism in the world, only to set it up in the United States.
Robert A. Taft was the most prominent representative of the political arm of the Old Right, which Thomas E. Woods, in his introduction to The Betrayal of the American Right, describes as "budget-conscious Republicans, ideologically averse to international crusades."
Woods continues: "Senator Robert A. Taft … greeted Harry Truman's early Cold War policies with skepticism. Taft was critical of the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and NATO, each of which he viewed as either unnecessarily provocative or ruinously expensive."
It did not take long for Taft's prophecy from this speech to be realized. Rothbard writes, "When a nationwide railroad strike loomed, it was the liberal Harry Truman who proposed to draft the strikers into the army and force them to keep working, and it was Senator Taft who led the opposition to the move as slavery."