Congressman Rumsfeld on the Draft
By David Henderson
I first heard of Donald Rumsfeld in 1969, when I became a strong opponent of the draft and wanted to get more information. I picked up a copy of Sol Tax, ed., The Draft: A Handbook of Facts and Alternatives, University of Chicago Press, 1967, and read it cover to cover. It’s a transcript of all the papers given and discussions after the papers from the famous 4-day conference on the draft at the University of Chicago. It took place from December 4 to 7, 1966. It was this conference that Milton Friedman stated, in his joint autobiography with Rose Friedman, Two Lucky People, was an important step toward ending the draft.
Four people from Congress attended: Democratic Senators Edward M. Kennedy from Massachusetts and Maurine Neuberger from Oregon, Democratic Representative Robert W. Kastenmeier from Wisconsin, and Republican Representative Donald Rumsfeld from Illinois. Kennedy was pro-draft, and Kastenmeier and Rumsfeld were anti-draft. Neuberger’s position was difficult to discern from the discussion: she didn’t say much and her comments tended to be questions about how things would work. I got the sense that she was pro-draft, but I’m not sure.
Rumsfeld was quite active in the discussion. Here’s my favorite of his comments:
What bothers me is that I came here with a belief that a voluntary system was possible. Professor [Geoffrey C.] Hazard, in following through these four questions, dismissed it very quickly by suggesting that really, after all, none of us would want to live in a society where there were a sufficient number of people who would voluntarily serve in the military, and that this sort of desire on the part of American citizens would be sufficiently distasteful that we really shouldn’t want to have a voluntary system because it might encourage people to be of such a mind. The subject of policemen and firemen was raised here, and there is an analogy. People in the law, very few actually, send people to the electric chair. Very few of the military actually are involved in combat; very few policemen are actually arresting individuals. [DRH comment on the policeman point: Really?] It would be helpful to me to discuss here a bit, if Professor Hazard would, why he so easily concludes that we would not want a voluntary system because we wouldn’t want a society where people would want to be in the military. Why is compulsion a better value for a society than voluntarism? (p. 298)
Here’s my second favorite comment by Rumsfeld, one that I marked up when rereading the book decades later after I had become more interested in foreign policy and more skeptical about giving the executive branch the power to make war without a Congressional declaration:
Congress has voluntarily, on a piecemeal basis, over many decades, yielded up what amounts to something approximating total authority to the Executive to function in the foreign policy and national security decision-making area in practically any situation ranging from total war to total peace. The words “declaration of war” are almost meaningless. It’s not useful any more. And the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress, notwithstanding recommendations by me and others that they give attention to this question, refused to give attention to this question. We must see if there are different degrees of authority that the Executive should have in the differing types of emergency situations that the country finds itself in. They’ve not done this and they should do this. Certainly the academic community and the rest of our society should bring enough pressure to bear on the Congress to see that it does give attention to deciding what the desirable degree of involvement by the legislative branch should be in the foreign policy and national security decision-making process. I don’t know precisely what it should be. I do know that it’s wrong to have arrived where we’ve arrived without giving systematic thought and attention to where we were going. I recognize that the Executive does need greater flexibility in emergency situations. Because of excessive Executive power, we are presently denying the areas of foreign policy and national decision-making the benefit of that check between branches of government which is built into our system, and we’re denying it unnecessarily and unwisely. (p. 376)
This is not a strong endorsement of Congressional control but it’s better than what we’ve seen from most of Congress.