I have, in the past, expressed ambivalence regarding the government of Oleksandr Turchynov and Arseniy Yatseniuk in Ukraine, but that government’s decision on May 1, 2014, to impose military conscription for men aged 18 to 25 clearly reveals it to be evil and unworthy of even verbal support, not to mention the material assistance and economic bailouts currently lavished on it by Western governments and the International Monetary Fund.
As I wrote in 2008 in “Why Freedom is Free and Rights Are Right: The Case Against Conscription, Compulsion, and Confiscation,” conscription is murder by lottery: “By fielding an army of conscripts, a government necessarily guarantees that some of those conscripts will be killed—although nobody knows in advance who will die. In effect, this is no different from selecting a large number of fit young men, assigning numbers to each of them, and picking a few of the numbers out of a hat—whereafter those whose numbers have been picked will be shot. Conscription is just such a murder by lottery—except that the picking of numbers is performed by the vicissitudes of the battlefield rather than the luck of a draw. The responsibility for the deaths of millions of young men from conscripted armies throughout world history lies solely on the shoulders of the governments who conscripted them. The enemy soldiers who killed them were mere instruments of murder; they were likely only following orders—and were likely themselves under compulsion to do so. The government officials who drafted the men, however, did so of their own free will and even with enthusiasm.”
It would be a complete contradiction of the principles of liberty and peace to support any government that conscripts its young men to become cannon fodder—disposable pawns in the power struggles of older, powerful leaders who will not themselves bear the physical costs of their desires to dominate over one group of people or another. Vladimir Putin’s regime is evil, too, and so are many of the militants aligned with it, as I have acknowledged previously. But supporting one evil just because it is arrayed against another is neither moral nor effective. American foreign policy engages in this support for the “enemy of the enemy” at almost every available opportunity, and this always comes back to hurt Americans in both the long and the not-so-long term.
Ironically, it was the overthrown Viktor Yanukovych who had abolished conscription in 2013—perhaps the only good and liberty-friendly decision he made. Yanukovych deserved to be overthrown for instigating the killings of his own people, but this new government of thugs is no better. Indeed, it has managed to undo the one good legacy of Yanukovych’s reign! And yes, it is a government of thugs. This March 5 article from Channel 4 News in the United Kingdom—no Putin mouthpiece!—explains how many of the top posts in the Ukrainian government are occupied by leaders of Svoboda and Right Sector, two ultra-nationalist groups that grew out of explicitly fascist movements that use explicit Nazi symbols such as the Wolfsangel. Here are two images: at the top, Svoboda’s Oleh Tyahnybok delivers a Nazi salute; at the bottom, he poses with arch-interventionist and neoconservative warmonger John McCain. Right Sector’s leader Dmytro Yarosh is Ukraine’s Deputy Secretary of National Security—security, that is, for those who meet Yarosh’s standards of ethnic and linguistic “purity.”
Neither side in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine is just or right, or anything but destructive to the interests of the only innocent parties in the mix—civilians who seek to live and work in peace. No principle, no signal, no feverish nationalistic pride, no set of lines drawn on a map is worth the life of a single human being. As Voltaire poignantly and perceptively expressed it in his Philosophical Dictionary, “It needs twenty years to lead man from the plant state in which he is within his mother’s womb, and the pure animal state which is the lot of his early childhood, to the state when the maturity of the reason begins to appear. It has needed thirty centuries to learn a little about his structure. It would need eternity to learn something about his soul. It takes an instant to kill him.” No worthless, ephemeral power struggles and posturing can ever justify sacrificing the existence of the rich individual universe—the incomparably intricate and sophisticated mind and body—of any actual human being.
The Ukrainian government is forcing young men to kill their fellow Ukrainian and Russian young men, against whom they have no individual grievances. This is vile and reprehensible, and the Ukrainian government deserves to fall. It would be easy for it to fall and would not require active external intervention; the West would just need to withdraw its support and let the situation unfold as it would with only the involvement of local actors. If the West continues to prop it up with aid, this would only prolong the spree of destruction engaged in by people who should never have had a chance at high office in any civilized society, who should have been marginalized much like the Ku Klux Klan and various neo-Nazi parties are treated in the United States today. No government that uses its own people as cannon fodder against their will deserves to exist; no country whose “territorial integrity” must be maintained by a conscript army deserves for its territory to remain intact.
As to the young Ukrainian men about to suffer under the yoke of military conscription, my advice to them can be found in my poem “The Draft Dodger,” written in 2004 but still just as relevant ten years later. As one who proudly escaped Alexander Lukashenko’s Belrusian military conscription myself (I have subsequently become a US citizen—so I am thankfully safe from that particular tyranny), I wish these innocent young men all the best in finding peaceful, prosperous lives outside the heinous havoc which they did not create.
The Draft Dodger (2004)