E.J. Dionne, in Monday's Washington Post, criticizes the Bush administration for extending the enlistment period of U.S. soldiers; Dionne says that this practice is conscription.
I don't know the details of the contracts between Uncle Sam and his soldiers. If the contracts reasonably are read to allow the Pentagon to extend enlistment periods, then no conscription is taking place. This question is one of fact: what are the terms of the contracts?
Let's assume, for argument's sake, that the contracts do not permit Uncle Sam to extend enlistment periods -- that he's extending enlistment periods unilaterally. If this is so, then this practice is indeed a species of conscription and Dionne is right to condemn it as unfair and unjust.
But Dionne goes astray by suggesting that fairness would be achieved with full-fledged conscription. If it’s unfair to conscript one subset of people, it's equally unfair to conscript any other subset.
Amazingly, advocates of the draft hoodwink themselves into believing that full-fledged conscription would affect everyone more or less equally. In fact, only able-bodied young people would be drafted. Everyone over the age of, say, 35 would be exempt. And although many such people have children who would be drafted, not all do.
The actual effect of conscription is to relieve taxpayers of the need to pay wages sufficient to attract enough people into the military. Far from spreading the burdens of war, conscription concentrates them cruelly on those who are forced to serve.