Is compulsory national service on the horizon?

Both John McCain and Barack Obama spoke about introducing some form of “national service” if elected President. That prospect is increased now that President-elect Obama has chosen Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff in his incoming administration. Emanuel is co-author of a book, The Plan, which calls for, among other things, compulsory service for all Americans ages 18 to 25.

Talk about any form of compulsory “national service” should be troubling to all liberty-loving Americans. Recall that it was Milton Friedman who helped convince President Nixon to end the military draft. Both Friedman and Gen. William Westmoreland were on a panel examining whether to abolish the draft. At one point, Westmoreland declared that he did not want to command an army of “mercenaries.”

Friedman shot back, ‘General, would you rather command an army of slaves?’ Friedman later recalled, “He drew himself up and said, ‘I don’t like to hear our patriotic draftees referred to as slaves.’ I replied, ‘I don’t like to hear our patriotic volunteers referred to as mercenaries.'”

Friedman won that debate; the draft was abolished, and has not returned. It should not return, even with a softer face, in an Obama administration.

Steve Buckstein is founder and senior policy analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market research center.