99th anniversary of Milton Friedman’s birth (Part 10)

Milton Friedman was born on July 31, 1912 and he died November 16, 2006. I started posting tributes of him on July 31 and I hope to continue them until his 100th birthday.

Young Man, You Owe Milton Friedman a Thank You

By Andrew Kaluza

Every young man living after 1973 owes his life to Milton Friedman. In that year, Friedman, became the intellectual father behind ending conscripted military service. He wasn’t the first person to voice his opposition to the draft, but he was the first to communicate his ideas effectively enough to change the public mindset on the issue.

Ideas lay the groundwork for a philosophy and provide the foundation for a society. As Peter Kreeft said, “Philosophy is just thought, but sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny. This is just as true for societies as it is for individuals.” Given that ideas guide our every action, we must look to have not just valid ideas, but ones that are intellectually grounded and sound.  Ideas must be communicated, compared and pieced together in order to create even better ideas. Communication is particularly important, as the better the communication, the more accessible and understandable ideas become. Fortunately, Friedman was a great communicator. His ability to communicate the message of liberty and free choice in regard to the draft kept young American males out of compulsory military service.

What was he able to communicate about the draft? When making a case for the draft, advocates claimed that if soldiers enlisted for pay, it would create an army of mercenaries.  They argued that a paid volunteer army would not be a virtuous army, because the soldiers would join for monetary desire and not for patriotic duty.  Milton Friedman rebutted this by pointing out that mandatory conscription hypocritically fails this patriotic test, since forced servitude, rather than inner volition, causes individuals to serve.  Friedman believed that incentives are the foundation of each individual’s action, and therefore, it was inappropriate to attribute unpatriotic motives to paid army volunteers.

Friedman’s repudiation of such mercenary concerns are illustrated in a famous confrontation with General William Westmoreland:

 In the course of his [General Westmoreland’s] testimony, he made the statement that he did not want to command an army of mercenaries. I [Milton Friedman] stopped him and said, ‘General, would you rather command an army of slaves?’ 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.’ But I went on to say, ‘If they are mercenaries, then I, sir, am a mercenary professor, and you, sir, are a mercenary general; we are served by mercenary physicians, we use a mercenary lawyer, and we get our meat from a mercenary butcher.’ That was the last that we heard from the general about mercenaries.  

This example highlights the importance of communicating ideas effectively. By doing so, Friedman successfully convinced people of the ills of conscripted military service and persevered in the all-important court of public opinion. Friedman changed the landscape of modern war — and along with it the destiny of young Americans everywhere.

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