Thursday, November 20, 2003

I feel a draft

As the US gets further bogged down in Iraq and concerns are expressed about military forces being "stretched thin," old arguments are being dragged out and rehashed in support of re-instituting the draft.

One of the main voices for this right now is Charles Rangel, who has long been a supporter of the idea. Back in January, he introduced a bill to bring back the old days. The intention was hidden under the more liberal-friendly title of "Universal National Service Act," but it's actually just plain old military conscription.

According to the bill, "It is the obligation of every citizen of the United States, and every other person residing in the United States, who is between the ages of 18 and 26 to perform a period of national service" as described in the legislation. But "perform a period of national service," which the bill suggests would be two years, proves to be a euphemism for "provide more cannon fodder:"
Sec. 2(d) SELECTION FOR MILITARY SERVICE - Based upon the needs of the uniformed services, the President shall--

(1) determine the number of persons covered by subsection (a) whose service is to be performed as a member of an active or reverse component of the uniformed services; and

(2) select the individuals among those persons who are to be inducted for military service under this Act.

(e) CIVILIAN SERVICE - Persons covered by subsection (a) who are not selected for military service under subsection (d) shall perform their national service obligation under this Act in a civilian capacity pursuant to subsection (b)(2).
Subsection (b)(2) being that which defines "civilian capacity" as one that "as determined by the President, promotes the national defense, including national or community service and homeland security."

In other words, the military gets first pick on everyone between 18 and 26 and when they're done taking as many as they want, those left over have to work for two years to "promote the national defense" in a manner "as determined by the President." I'm sure things like organizing low-income communities to fight for better services will be high on that list.

Exemptions are almost nonexistent; most are merely short-term postponements. Perhaps most shockingly, the bill makes no provision for a conscientious objection exemption to military service but only to combat service. (Under the old draft system, that status was called 1-A-O and most of those people became medics, often saw more combat than regular soldiers, and despite their status were still required to be trained in and carry sidearms.)

In recent days, Rangel has been talking up a renewed draft, noting that the casualties among American forces in Iraq are disproportionately minority. However, those of us with memories that can stretch back to Vietnam days - as surely Rangel's can - should be able to recall that the same thing was true then, and that was with a large-scale draft. Why should it be different now, especially since, under Rangel's own bill, volunteers are taken first and people are only drafted to make up for any shortfalls? Are we supposed to imagine that the people now volunteering will stop if a draft is imposed? That would be a very bizarre argument, especially since, again back under the old system, it was claimed that ending the draft would cause a drop-off in volunteers, because many people enlisted only because that seemed preferable to being drafted!

I would suggest, contrary to the reasoning of some "liberals," that if the military is stretched "too thin" it's not because we need a bigger military but because we're trying to do too much with what we have. Such as occupying Iraq.

Footnote: Back in the dim past - 1980 to be exact - I was running for Congress as an independent. Claims that the then-relatively new all-volunteer Army had "failed" were abroad and then as now, there were those who urged bringing back the draft. I was asked my position.

"I am," I said, "opposed to military conscription at any time, in any form, by anyone, for any purpose.

"I think that about covers it."

I still stand by that.

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