The Case Against Conscription

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When Samuel was warning the people of Israel about what would happen if they obtained a king “like the other nations,” one of the central problems he said would arise was the fact that such a king would start the odious practice of conscription.

The problem is that he will think that he owns the people, and he will consequently take from the people.

“And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.”

1 Samuel 8:11 (KJV)

These great ones think that they have a high and lonely destiny, moving men around on the chess board of their supreme plans, answering to no one.

“I had forgotten that you are only a common boy. How should you understand reasons of State? You must learn, child, that what would be wrong for you or for any of the common people is not wrong in a great Queen such as I. The weight of the world is on our shoulders. We must be freed from all rules. Ours is a high and lonely destiny.”

C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew

The Biblical Pattern

How then is an army or a navyto be raised? We currently rely on all-volunteer forces, but we still have the draft held in reserve—in case of emergencies. But recent events should have demonstrated for us all how easily the authorities can whistle up an emergency. Perhaps we should be a little more dubious about that kind of thing. If the government can have extraordinary powers during emergencies, does this not incentivize them to be constantly in a state of emergency?

So how did ancient Israel raise their army when it was in fact necessary to fight? The short answer is that the mustering of the troops was obligatory, but the actual service—the going to war—was not obligatory. Or, to use our terminology, the registration was required, but deferments were easy to come by. They could simply be had for the asking.

First, the mustering:

“And the Lord spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of the congregation, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying, Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers, with the number of their names, every male by their polls; From twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies. And with you there shall be a man of every tribe; every one head of the house of his fathers.”

Numbers 1:1–4 (KJV)

A young man was eligible for combat service when he had reached the age of twenty-years-old. They gathered together in order to be counted. In this case, they were all mustered together in response to the word of the Lord. Showing up was not optional.

But it is quite striking that actual military service was not required. The deferments were available and extraordinarily broad. For example, a man was exempted if he had planted a vineyard, but had not yet enjoyed the fruit of it. If a man was betrothed to a woman, but they had not yet married, then he was exempt. And on top of everything else, the officers would then just open the door for anyone who was fainthearted. Such men could just go home. The only penalty they would face would be the derision of their peers. No one was forced into combat at the point of a spear.

“And what man is he that hath planted a vineyard, and hath not yet eaten of it? let him also go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man eat of it. And what man is there that hath betrothed a wife, and hath not taken her? let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her. And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren’s heart faint as well as his heart. And it shall be, when the officers have made an end of speaking unto the people, that they shall make captains of the armies to lead the people.”

Deuteronomy 20:6–9 (KJV)

In addition to all of this incredible open-handedness, if a man was newly married, he was exempted from military service for a year.

“When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken.”

Deuteronomy 24:5 (KJV)

As I read these passages, the men who were exempted because they were just starting their farm, or had gotten engaged, or had just been married, received their deferment without prejudice. This was given to them as only good and right. And in the case of the deferments that would be accompanied by jeers—i.e. for the fainthearted—it is striking to me that this standard for an all-volunteer force was a standard that was argued for in terms of military efficiency. It is acknowledged that faintheartedness is contagious, and you didn’t want that kind of thing fomenting in the ranks.

Now from all this I would draw out an a fortiori argument. If God’s chosen people were this way, if a people who still had prophets speaking to them in the name of Jehovah had this standard, and they were an armed force defending a land that had been given to them by God Himself, how much more should other nations imitate this—when at best they can only summon their men to fight in the name of man. Even when our causes are just and right, we cannot speak with the same authority that God in Israel did, and so perhaps we ought not to lay grandiose claims on the citizens, claims that God could have easily made, and did not.

This would be a great example of how we should follow the general equity of the Mosaic law. The laws concerning conscription in ancient Israel were for ancient Israel, and do not apply to us today—except as the general equity thereof may require (WCF 19.4).

Please note that I am not speaking to the issues raised by the pacifists. The issue is not whether it is ever lawful to fight. Of course it is.

“Blessed be the Lord my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight.”

Psalm 144:1 (KJV)

The issue rather is whether it is just to point a gun at a young man’s head, and tell him that it is his bounden duty to sail over the seas in order that somebody else can point a gun at him also . The issue is whether it is lawful to impress men into combat duty against their desires. And the answer to that question is that it is utterly unlawful. This is not a prerogative that the magistrate has. This is a just and equitable standard.

So compare it to what we think is just and equitable. When you consider that failure to send in your registration card (under current law) is punishable by a fine of up to $250K, or five years in the slammer, what this amounts to is your friendly reminder that we do not currently live in a just law order. Do we have our act together? No, we do not.

Bad Enough & Quite a Bit Worse

Drafting men to fight is bad enough. Conscription is not lawful. And I would argue that conscription is not even lawful when a nation is a comparatively decent one, and has a cause that is relatively just. A nation’s leaders might work through Augustine’s criteria for determining that their cause is just, but if they then resort to conscription to fill up the ranks for their just cause, then they are failing to do right.

But while it is a sin to kidnap, it is not a sin to be kidnapped. Say the cause was a just one, and a young man had decided that he was going to go join up next week. But the day after he made that decision, he got his draft notice in the mail. Under those circumstances, he might think, “Oh, well. I was going to go anyway.” That would be fine, albeit somewhat irritating. He was going to enlist, but then they had to go and wreck his credit in Heaven.

But with that noted and acknowledged, what do we do when the conscripting nation is radically diseased, and their wars are demented? Now what?

The top brass at the Pentagon currently have one or the other of two problems. Either they have lost their minds, along with all the other poobahs running this madhouse, or they see how crazy it is but have chosen to say nothing because they have lost their nerve. They have opted for the policy of keeping their heads down. They are warriors, who were sworn to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and what they have wound up doing instead is attending numerous committee meetings, cheek by jowl with these domestic enemies of the Constitution. To their great credit, they occasionally abstain when some new outrage is voted on.

General Issue Abominations

Our armed forces today are an experimental Petri dish of various woke diseases. The first one that needs to be listed is the abomination that puts women into the line of fire.

“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.”

Deuteronomy 22:5 (KJV)

“That which pertaineth to a man” is keli geber, or gear of a warrior. A man is forbidden the kinks of cross-dressing, and a woman is required to not suit up for combat. A Christian officer cannot in good conscience send women into battle, and should not lead them into battle himself. Incidentally, he should also not wait until ten minutes before the assault is to start to suddenly announce his scruples to a startled superior.

Women in combat is the most glaring example, but there are a host of other issues that make the armed forces a hostile environment for a faithful evangelical Christian. Because of the way the whole Pride thing has unfolded, it is not the case that a Christian is now being forced to serve alongside someone who is sexually immoral. That has always been the case. There is nothing new there. The problem lies with the banners and flags.

Every Christian who has ever served in the American armed forces has fought alongside other men who would regularly resort to the camp followers. The military has never been a bastion of personal righteousness. The difficulty arises when the Pentagon mandates unit-wide celebration of vice. The problem is when you are called upon to go to war with a Pride flag fluttering over you. In such a situation, the Christian needs to say, “Deal me out.” No sane believer wants to go off and fight in order to make some Third World country safe for sodomy and accessible abortions.

When I was in the Navy, my shipmates were free to be immoral, and they frequently were. But I was absolutely free to witness to them, and to confront to them about what they were doing. They were free to listen or not. They were free to be open pagans, and I was free to be an open Christian. This is no longer the case.

The culture of our military has been thoroughly compromised, and the weight of military discipline is now thrown behind all manner of grotesque immoralities. And so if anybody gets disciplined in this strange new world, it will be the Christian who protests the vice.

The Current Recruitment Woes

A current blessing, albeit a somewhat threatened one, is that our military is still an all-volunteer force. But because of the extreme folly exhibited by our generals and admirals, they are in real trouble, and for a number of reasons. Their ability to continue to function on an all-volunteer basis seems dubious to me at best.

First, the trouble. With the exception of the Marines, the armed forces are nowhere close to hitting their recruitment numbers. They are not bringing nearly enough men in, and they are also—for some reason—vigorously engaged in trying to hound good men out. They have made the military a hostile environment for the kind of people they used to recruit, and those who already joined are being badgered with DEI training, vaccine mandates, and various other wokeries. On top of that, the pool of qualified candidates from which they need to recruit is shrinking radically. The disqualifying problems would be things like lack of a high school diploma, criminal records, obesity, drug use, and so on. It turns out that immoral and dissolute lifestyles have consequences everywhere, and not just in the ranks. And in the middle of all this meltdown, they have actually resorted—or at least the Navy resorted—to a Bud Lite recruiting appeal. Oh, good. Why don’t you try that?

As I said earlier, it is not a sin to be kidnapped. But my encouragement to young men of military age is that they not join up. If they are in already, they need to wake up every morning prepared to wreck their military career on that day. And if you take my discouraging word to the young men, multiply it by 12 or so, you would have my views on young women joining up. If you are in, get out. If you are out, stay out.

And as you see the prospect of conscription looming, continue to pray. And I would encourage you to encourage your local pastor, or your presbytery, or your denomination, to hammer out a statement of conscientious objection to the practice of conscripting young Christians into an environment where mandatory celebration of vice has been made an essential part of the military regimen.