In the mid-1960s, a handful of individuals from Ayn Rand's inner circle set out to end the draft. Few know the story of their activism. Just how powerful was their influence over Nixon?
IT WAS NIGHTFALL IN BOSTON; April 16, 1967. A wet, icy wind blew off the Charles River and howled down the wide channel of Massachusetts Avenue, gusting into narrow alleyways, and rattling the windows of Jordan Hall on Gainsborough Street. Inside, anticipation was building as the murmuring crowd took their seats on rows of white, wooden benches. Then she appeared; America’s most controversial individualist: Ayn Rand. People leaned over the balconies to catch a better glimpse of the best-selling novelist and diminutive philosopher who stood at the podium. Applause broke out; Rand took in the scene, scanning the room. Her penetrating gaze drifted up to the second level balcony, past the large, gilded clock which faced her. She began in earnest: “The question of the draft is, perhaps, the most important single issue debated today,” Rand said, “but the terms in which it is being debated are a sorry manifestation of our anti-ideological'mainstream.’… A volunteer army is the only proper, moral—and practical—way to defend a free country.”
Ayn Rand's speech, called “The Wreckage of the Consensus,” was her first sustained look at the Vietnam War and the draft. Just one week later, Dr. Martin Luther King would stand at the same podium. And four months prior, General Lewis B. Hershey, the long-time head of Selective Service and the public face of the draft, addressed the forum.
Rand opposed the draft because it was a statist infringement on the right of the individual to own his own life.
Ayn Rand's position on the draft, like so many of her ideas, was a contrast to both Left and the Right. Rand opposed the draft because it was a statist infringement on the right of the individual to his own life, and because it relied on an ethic of duty and sacrifice. Rand’s philosophical system, Objectivism , which grounded man’s right to life in his faculty of reason and the conditions of his survival, provided a context for consistent, integrated arguments against the draft.
The young intellectuals in Rand’s inner circle—students of Objectivism , at the time—often used the context of her philosophy as the basis of their own activism. And it was now that they began to ask themselves, “What will it take to end the draft?”
Persuasion and the Law
Because of Henry Mark Holzer, Objectivist philosophy became part of America's permanent judicial record.
Persuasion published a number of articles opposing the draft, such as “Posse Comitatus” by David J. Dawson, which traced the origins of the draft through European feudalism back to Roman patronage. Henry Mark Holzer and Erika Phyllis Holzer published an article in The Objectivist called “The Constitution and The Draft,” detailing Henry’s use of the Ninth Amendment for his arguments in the Katz case (October 1967).Holzer argued that the Ninth Amendment opened the Constitution to The Declaration of Independence and thus to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The Ninth Amendment reads: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
“But of course for a court to understand, they would have to know what rights were, which is a tall order,” Holzer notes wryly in an interview with The New Individualist (TNI). And so, to explain to the court what rights were, he included in the Supreme Court brief an appendix containing three of Ayn Rand's essays from The Virtue of Selfishness:“Man’s Rights,” Collectivized Rights,” and “The Nature of Government”—“by special permission, in their entirety” (Persuasion). Holzer’s is an often overlooked achievement in the course of ending the draft: because of him, Objectivist philosophy became part of America’s permanent judicial record.
“I own my life.”
Holzer also represented a young man named David Bradley Wood in 1966, with the support of the Metropolitan Young Republicans and Persuasion. David Wood had received his draft card and appeared at his local army base in Boston, Massachusetts. But once he arrived, he told the clerk there that he would not serve. Officials took him into custody and he was threatened with a prison sentence of up to 5 years and a fine of $10,000. The judge for this case was Charles Wyzansk,
"So he did a year at Allenwood cutting grass or making license plates instead of getting killed."
“Holzer recalls, “[He] let me put [Wood] on the stand, and let him make a speech. [Wood] was an Objectivist… And he stated,'I own my life,’ you can imagine what he said” (OHP 2005). But the case was “prima facie,” or, “at first sight,” for the judge and the jury. It was against the law to refuse induction; David Wood had broken the law. The court called the clerk as a witness and he provided the order report from Wood’s file. Holzer argued Wood’s sentence down to two years (with parole after the first), the same amount of time that the Selective Service Act required from its draftees in 1966. David Wood went to Allenwood Prison, “which is really Club Fed,” Holzer explains to TNI, “So he did a year at Allenwood cutting grass or making license plates instead of getting killed.”
The Service Act required two years of active service in 1966, with up to six subsequent years in the reserves. Draftees accounted for approximately 30% of the 58,193 total American deaths in Vietnam, according to the National Archives. David W ood carries the felony on his record. Henry Mark Holzer carries a small gift from his client, a green campaign button that reads “F**k the draft.”
A Growing Influence
The extensive publicity that The Metropolitan Young Republican Club and Persuasion brought to the Katz and Wood cases reflected back on the organizations. On February 2, 1967, The Village Voice featured the Committee for the Abolition of the Draft on its front page, explaining that the club represented “The New Right.” The reporter described the club’s belief that “…man is a rational animal who can control his actions through reason, rather than an irrational animal who is driven by emotion, fears and needs. They believe that man has free will and is not simply a helpless product of social and psychological determinism.” The reporter deduced that “behind this conclusion is a set of premises that add up to a more flattering view of man than that held by the humanists [of the New Left].”
By 1967, the Village Voice was calling the Objectivist group "The New Right."Another step in the club’s rising status in was its participation in Response, an annual weekend event sponsored by Princeton University’s Symposium on World Affairs. Response 1967 took place on April 14-16, with an audience of thousands. The theme was “Man in the Maze of the Masses”—“the plight of individual identity and freedom in the context of the mass society.” David Dawson participated in a panel discussion of the draft which included George Reedy, who was press secretary to President Johnson and a member of the President’s National Advisory Committee on Selective Service.
In June, Congress passed the Military Selective Service Act of 1967, rejecting the idea of an all-volunteer force as it was presented in a 1964 Pentagon Draft Study. (The Pentagon study relied on economic projections from a Department of Defense Survey.) Illinois Congressman Donald Rumsfeld was one of the voices against the long-term continuation of the draft—although he advocated a two year extension of the act, he urged the Senate Armed Services Committee to commit to establishing an A ll-Volunteer Force. Economist Walter Oi was another dissenting voice—in 1967, he wrote “The Economic Cost of the Draft,” criticizing the Pentagon Draft Study’s methodology and arguing that an all-volunteer army was not as expensive as they had put forth. Oi called even more strongly for an end to the draft.
The National Conference
“Despite the fact that the draft had just been extended for four more years,” Persuasion explained, and heartened by the Princeton Symposium, The Metropolitan Young Republican Club hosted its own conference on the draft, called The National Conference on Forced Service. It was on June 23, 1967 at Hotel America in Washington D.C. The conference held an opening banquet the evening beforehand and lectures throughout the day on Saturday the 23rd. The conference unexpectedly extended into Sunday morning when enthusiastic attendees stayed to listen to tape recordings of the sessions they had missed.
The National Conference on Forced Service featured five speakers. David Dawson spoke about effective argumentation against the draft. “Isn’t it a little late to express opposition?” he asked. “No, it is just the right time… we will need all thes e four years—and very possibly more—to mount a full, intellectual opposition to the draft.” Robert Hessen, an economics professor at Columbia University, examined proposals to use the draft for non-military services, “showing how they were all logical extensions of the principle of the draft itself.” Leonard Peikoff presented on the philosophy of the draft. Henry Mark Holzer spoke about the ins and outs of the Selective Service Act and offered tips on how citizens might exploit certain provisions and the appeals procedure to their advantage—essentially giving the 120 attendees some of the legal advice he offered his clients.
The fifth speaker at the conference was Martin Anderson, a colleague of Hessen’s at Columbia University. Anderson “gave a seminar on the economics of the draft, in which he showed that the Department of Defense had analyzed its own statistics as to the feasibility of a volunteer army somewhat misleadingly, and that such an armed force would not be exorbitant in cost” (Persuasion).
The Tide Turns
On November 17, 1967 Anderson accompanied Richard Nixon on a flight out of Washington. A New York Times reporter pressed the Republican presidential nominee on the draft. Nixon had remained ambiguous about the issue up to this point, but the question, his convictions, and his ambition aligned: Nixon stopped mid-non- committal answer, paused, and said “No—I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. We’re going to end the draft.”
“In the beginning it was what I wrote that started it,” Martin Anderson says matter-of-factly in an interview with TNI. His gruffness is belied by a cheerful undertone: “Nixon had been studying something I gave him.”
What Nixon had been studying was a 27-page paper Anderson wrote, entitled “An Analysis of the Factors Involved in Moving to All-Volunteer Force,” Anderson sent the paper to Nixon on July 10, 1967—just one month after the National Conference on Forced Service.
"Damn it. That's good. We're gonna do that."
-Richard Nixon, deciding to make ending the draft the focus of his last campaign radio address.
Nixon had become aware of Anderson after reading his book, The Federal Bulldozer, an extended criticism of urban renewal which also demonstrated the author’s talent to analyze the federal budget and national economy. Nixon’s first glimpse of the ideas in “Analysis of the Factors Involved” would have been earlier in the year, in April, when Martin Anderson sent him a 17-page outline of the paper as a precursory memo. Anderson’s paper analyzed some of the statistics from the 1966 Department of Defense Survey and quotes from key players in the controversy surrounding the research.
Nixon hired Martin Anderson as a consultant and sent his paper to several people on his team, a handful of political intellectuals, and some members of Congress. Anderson, ever goal-oriented, followed up by giving Nixon another revision of his paper along with related articles by Milton Friedman and his recommendation of a book in progress called How to End the Draft. Nixon became increasingly engrossed by the idea of an all-volunteer army, and in November he announced his intention to end the draft after the Vietnam War. By August of 1968, this plan was a key selling point in Nixon’s campaign.
A month before he was elected, Nixon consulted his advisors, including Martin Anderson, about an upcoming speech for the CBS Radio Network. In an interview with TNI, Anderson recalls the meeting: “He was talking about,'In the next ten days I want to put out something powerful and new so that people know what my presidency is all about.’ I said,'Well, how about the all-volunteer army that you’ve been speaking about?’ He said,'Damn it, that’s good. We’re gonna do that.’” This dynamic became characteristic of Anderson and Nixon—in his own accounts and others, Anderson rarely missed an opportunity to push the issue of the all-volunteer force, and his encouragement seemed to be a kind of super-spinach for Nixon, who would quickly become enthusiastic, then adamant about his decision to take the next steps towards ending the draft. Nixon delivered his address to the CBS Radio Network on October 17, 1968. The address, “The All Volunteer Force,” was written by Martin Anderson and Nixon’s senior speech writer Ray Price.
“We have lived with the draft for so long,” Nixon said, “...that too many of us now accept it as normal and necessary…I say it’s time we took a new look at the draft—at the question of permanent conscription in a free society.” Nixon ended his speech on a firm note: “So I say it’s time we looked to our consciences. Let’s show our commitment to freedom by preparing to assure our young people theirs.”
From Debate to Reality
Nineteen days later, a somber America went to the polls to elect the 37th president. Voters had witnessed the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, widespread protests against the Vietnam War, race riots, and violent demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention.
Nixon’s campaign strategies paid off; he narrowly defeated Hubert Humphrey, winning by just one percent of the vote. “The all-volunteer army was no longer simply an issue for debate among intellectuals,” Anderson wrote. “It was now a major commitment of a newly elected president.”
Nixon hired Martin Anderson as part of his transition team. The team developed a plan for Nixon’s upcoming administration which included the implementation of his campaign promise to establish an all-volunteer force. Nixon assigned his designated secretary, Melvin Laird, to form a commission to study the economic feasibility of ending the draft. Laird blanched at the timing of the proposal, since current studies already in progress at the Pentagon were not yet ready to be reviewed by a commission, and because he worried that Nixon’s senior staff would not provide an objective analysis. Anderson opposed Laird’s reaction, and again encouraged Nixon to move forward, even going so far as to write a response to Laird for Nixon to sign. Nixon insisted that Laird provide him a recommendation of who should be on his special president’s commission, and Laird gave the name of former Secretary of Defense Thomas Gates, Jr. The President’s Commission on an All-Volunteer Armed Force, or “The Gates Commission,” was born, assigned by Nixon to “develop a comprehensive plan for eliminating conscription and moving toward an all-volunteer armed force” as “a matter of high priority.” Gates began as a somewhat unwilling custodian—he told Nixon, “I am opposed to the whole idea of a volunteer force.” Nixon replied, “That’s exactly why I want you as the chairman” (Rostker 2006). Nixon overruled Laird’s objections, but took to heart his concerns about objectivity. He chose the members of the commission from a wide range of expertise, many of them opposed to ending the draft, in the spirit of the most rigorous decision-making possible.
The Gates CommissionThe Gates Commission was composed of 15 prominent intellectuals, split nearly evenly between 3 positions: keep the draft, abolish it, and undecided. The commission included Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan, 2 of many classical liberal economists involved in the project.
Given the diverse backgrounds of its members it was surprising that by the time The Gates Commission issued its report in February 1970, about 9 months after their first meeting, the members had reached a unanimous recommendation: that “the nation’s interests will be better served by an all-volunteer force, supported by an effective stand-by draft, than by a mixed force of volunteers and conscripts … that steps should be taken promptly to move in this direction; and that the first indispensable step is to remove the present inequity in the pay of men serving their first term in the armed forces.”“Marty Anderson deserves the major credit for conceiving the idea [of the all-volunteer army] and implementing it…”
--Richard Nixon, in a letter to John C. Whitaker
In January of 1970, anticipating the decision of the Gates Commission and Nixon’s response, Martin Anderson drafted Nixon’s proposal to Congress. In March, the National Security Council met to discuss reforms to be made to the existing draft laws until the time came for the draft to end. (TNI obtained the recently declassified memo from Anderson.) The meeting addressed various topics such as compensation for military enlistees, budget changes, and cutting deferments. For all of the justice of implementing the all-volunteer army, the discussion of how to carry the existing draft through the next two years reveals its innate conflict with a free society, as members of the meeting discuss who will remain safe and who will not, who will get to continue the course of his own choice and who will be tapped by the government for its purposes:
RN: Agricultural deferments—of course they go. We need less farmers rather than more.”
Nixon delivered his special address to Congress on April 23, 1970. He called for eliminating draft calls according to a plan developed by the Department of Defense, increasing pay for enlisted men, and a number of reforms to the existing draft protocol—including phasing out deferments based on employment and paternity. However, Nixon advised Congress to extend the authority to draft soldiers and doctors for two more years beyond its expiration in July of 1971. By September of 1971, after a number of setbacks, the House, Senate, and President Nixon agreed on the basic content of these terms and passed Law 92-129. In June of 1973 the two year extension of the Selective Service Act expired and was not renewed. A provision for re-instating the draft in a time of national emergency remains today.
The draft was over. Years later, Nixon reflected on the project in a letter to John C. Whitaker, obtained by TNI: “Marty Anderson deserves the major credit for conceiving the idea [of the all-volunteer army] and implementing it…”
“In the beginning it was what I wrote that started it,” Martin Anderson told TNI, “And by the way, it worked beautifully.”
Were Objectivists Key?
Because Martin Anderson had associated with Objectivists, and spoke at the National Conference, some Objectivists have concluded that crediting Anderson with being the key player in ending the draft is tantamount to crediting the Objectivist movement. They at least saw a traceable connection. In recent years Objectivists have been described as playing a “pivotal role” (Duncan Scott, interviewing Joan Kennedy Taylor, Objectivist History Project, 2005.) Taylor, in describing the National Conference, recounted Anderson’s work as a “side issue” to the conference, and credited him fully for the establishment of the volunteer army. (OHP 2005). Scott interrupts: “So actually, the abolition of the draft really came about as a result of Objectivists…” Taylor cuts in and says, “Yes. We can trace it, yes.”
It would be an overstatement to say that Objectivists actually ended the draft, or that Objectivism , specifically, was considered at the level of national policy.
In 2005 Don Hauptman along with Henry and Erika Holzer traced that same lineage in a short article titled “How Objectivists Helped End the Military Draft”: “Anderson became so interested in the issue that after the conference ended, he phoned Hank and they met several times.” They added that the role of Objectivists in ending the draft was “a remarkable true story…” and an “overlooked facet of American history.”
With the Holzer’s short article, and Taylor’s brief interview circulating for the past five years, Objectivists have sought more information on the role Objectivists played in opposing and ending the draft.
Objectivists certainly played a significant part in opposing the draft, and their activism reached prestigious levels of cultural and political influence. Walter Oi said that members of the Gates Commission were influenced by Rand’s Ford Hall Forum lecture, “The Wreckage of the Consensus.” And David Dawson’s participation in Princeton University’s Symposium was a notable milestone in Objectivism's history: The forum exposed Dawson to White House intellectuals who were also on the panel. Joan Kennedy Taylor, David Dawson, the members of Persuasion and The Metropolitan Young Republican Club helped to bring Objectivist ideas to the political stage by their endorsement of candidates and education and funding for national court cases. Henry Mark Holzer facilitated these court cases and brought Objectivism to bear on the practical application of laws. Additionally, court cases like Holzer’s, in which the government had to spend money on persecuting men who resisted the draft, were cited by the Gates Commission when they analyzed the costs involved in maintaining the draft.
However, it would be an overstatement to say that Objectivists actually ended the draft, or that Objectivism , specifically, was considered at the level of national policy.
The key connection is Martin Anderson, who attended the National Conference on Forced Service and went on to the Nixon administration. It’s been established beyond question that Martin Anderson was a key player in ending the draft, and it’s been confirmed that he was known in Objectivist circles and participated in The National Conference on Forced Service. In her recent biography of Rand, Goddess of the Market, Jennifer Burns explains “Once a regular at [Nathaniel Branden Institute] lectures and a visitor to Rand’s private salons, [Anderson] had been swept out of the Objectivist orbit when he joined Richard Nixon’s first presidential campaign.”
So is Martin Anderson an Objectivist? Hank Holzer tells TNI this is something circulated “literally, in the circles” and he worries that “it’s going to become gospel” in the Objectivist community. Holzer did believe that Martin Anderson’s position against the draft came from the paper he created for the National Conference on Forced Service. But Anderson denies that he developed his ideas because of the National Conference. He also denies that he and other members of the commission were deeply influenced by Rand’s ideas.
Anderson told TNI, “It didn’t work that way, she was not running things. These people knew what they thought. They agreed with her, she agreed with them. But that doesn’t mean she told people what to do and how to do it. It didn’t work that way.” This would also apply to Alan Greenspan, whose association with Ayn Rand is widely known. Like Anderson, Greenspan established his career and his credibility as an economist before he met Rand, an achievement that helped him to relate to Rand as an equal, and earned his position on the Gates Commission.
Even if one were to make a case that Anderson wanted to play down Rand’s influence (he did not say this), to avoid some of the stigmas that come with Objectivism , evidence from the timeline of events would confirm that Anderson worked through the ideas on his own time. Anderson sent the conclusions of his initial paper to Nixon in April of 1967, the same month that The Metropolitan Young Republican Club attended the conference at Princeton. Martin Anderson would not have been invited to the conference, researched his paper, reached a radically new conclusion, and sent it to Nixon in the course of two weeks. When I pointed this out to Henry Mark Holzer, he was mildly surprised and said, “Oh, I thought [his presentation for the conference] was a first look for him.” So it’s likely that because the other speakers had thought of their intellectual work on the draft as being within the scope of their Objectivist activism, they assumed the same of Martin Anderson.
Beyond whether Martin Anderson or anyone on the Gates Commission identifies as Objectivists or not, the commission’s report does not contain any of the philosophical consistency which is the marker of Objectivist philosophy, namely, its principled self-interest. Although primarily a research document about the economic feasibility of an all-volunteer army, it contains references to various desirable ends: the good of the nation and society, the U.S. tradition of freedom, appeals to equality and fairness, military efficiency, national security, and economic growth. However, there are no arguments which, at root, oppose statist interference in an individual’s life. Not surprising, given that it’s a government document written for Congress by a committee of people on a wide political spectrum. But it’s definitely not Objectivism.
If Martin Anderson called himself an Objectivist intellectual, if he had made an Objectivist moral case against the draft, if Nixon and the Gates Commission had been convinced on these terms, then there would be a strong case for saying that Objectivists ended the draft. But these things are simply not true. The end of the draft was a goal for Objectivists, but not their doing. The success of the all-volunteer army is a validation of an Objectivist tenet—that the moral is the practical—but it isn’t Objectivism's victory.
The Draft is in the Air