The revival of mandatory draft registration and the threat of nuclear war in the midst of a fairly stable peace have made more and more students seek a better understanding of war. Because of the potential destructiveness of nuclear weapons, people today feel a special need for a defense policy which will at once preserve our national ideals and constitutional rights, while minimizing, if not eliminating altogether, the need to fight for them. The attention being focused on registration opponents is evidence of this new wave of sober awareness.
Because a person’s stance on registration reflects his stance on war itself, the registration issue is more than one of passing interest. In a general way, one can identify three contemporary positions on war. The first position is generally hostile to maintaining military forces in the country because of the risk of employing military power for unjust purposes. The argument here is that countries that have military power find it very difficult to keep from using it. On the other hand, people who hold this position admit the right in principle to defend the country if attacked.
A second position is that we should maintain military forces and that we should not hesitate to use them in defense of our vital national interests. People who hold this point of view generally do not look at the armed services as an evil genie, more to be feared than to be trusted. They think our democratic system of government is an adequate guarantee against the misuse of our military power. The main difference between these two positions raises the following fundamental question. Is military power necessary for the protection of the country?
A third position is that war is always wrong, no matter what the circumstances, even if refusing to fight would result in the abandonment of our understanding of human freedom. It seems that those who hold this position could not keep their freedom beyond the moment at which they are told to surrender it, which is paradoxical. But it is not my present purpose to contradict this position. Rather I want to clarify the reasoning behind the various positions on the draft registration issue.
I recently spoke with David Wayte, an opponent of registration who was indicted for not registering. His case was dismissed, however, because the court ruled that he had been unjustly singled out by government prosecutors. Mr. Wayte explained that our military is not a justifiable means for providing national security. Our constitutional rights, he believes, would be protected best by building domestic and social strength, and by pursuing friendlier relations with our current foes. In his opinion, the military can be abolished and, if this is not immediately practicable, it should still be the legitimate aim of our politics. Peace, he repeatedly urged, is the objective of his civil disobedience, as it should be the end of our foreign policy.
Curiously, that is the same goal for those who support registration, the draft, and our armed forces. But these people believe that if an attack on our national rights will cost the enemy dearly, then he will naturally show restraint, and peace will be preserved.
People like Mr. Wayte think that a reliance on our eternal diligence and compassion, along with the goodwill and restraint of our foes, will eliminate the need for our deterrent military power. It is surely relevant to note hat history fails to bear this out. But often people question if history will really repeat itself one more time so, instead of studying history, I will look at reasoning which relates closely to our country’s ideals and experience.
As a nation we have prospered like none other. People argue about how much of this is due to natural fortune or luck, but few would argue that we could have sustained our vigorous, prosperous national life for so long without a reasonable social system. That system allows brotherly goodwill to flourish, yet it does not depend on altruism to keep us afloat. We survive, and often thrive, because we emphasize personal achievement as the most effective way to create individual satisfaction, and to further the common good. We do not depend on the potent, yet sometimes insufficient, effect of mutual concern and self-sacrifice to provide our nation’s livelihood. However, these have certainly been present when we have been at our best.
In difficult times, when generosity and sacrifice are less common, our system appeals to an individual’s self-interest-something living in everyone-to right our course as a nation. The experience of our history has shown this course to be effective. It has enabled us to weather civil war, several depressions, a stock market crash, and many smaller crises without any major revisions or revolutions.
The United States relies on something intrinsic to all people, not on a sporadic discipline in them, for her success as a nation. Our people believe that it is best to make a person’s desire to meet his needs the bottom line in our mechanism of national achievement. Yet to secure our most revered rights, people like Mr. Wayte suggest that we rely on the forbearance and generosity of our enemies, even while we do not depend on these qualities among ourselves. It is an amazingly optimistic suggestion.
Mr. Wayte’s argument is appealing because it demands faith in our counterparts’ goodwill toward the United States. Peace and faith seem to be bound together, so to start by trusting a foe seems to be an immediate step in the proper direction. But trust is only helpful if it is warranted. It is important to realize that a benevolent offering does not necessarily ensure a friendly response. In our own assessment of the best way to operate a state, we believe that a successful system is one which relies on what is natural in man, as supplemented by but not entirely dependent upon, acquired disciplines or learned virtues. The people in support of a draft and our military realize that a person’s desire to avoid his own injury or annihilation is indeed something very natural to even the most ideologically excited of men.
When the means of maintaining peace are considered in light of our basic way of reaching goals as a nation, it is evident that a policy of deterrence is preferable because of the constant quality in men on which it is based. This might be a compromise as far as realizing Utopian ideals is concerned, but it is one made in the interest of a workable policy to secure peace. The policy is workable because it is based on human nature, something the David Waytes of this world seem to forget.