January 22, 2004
BUZZFLASH GUEST COMMENTARY
Irony of ironies, longtime liberal, antiwar congressmen, and various antiwar pundits are leading the charge to revive the draft.
Democrats such as Rep. Charles Rangel believe that if our young -- male and female 18-26, with no exemptions for college students or conscientious objectors -- were forced to serve in the military there would less willingness to go war. Not only is that absurd, but it's also wrong. A draft was in effect before the Korean and Vietnam wars and never deterred Washington from going to war -- the more potential cannon fodder conscripted, the more savage the war and more profits for our home front "merchants of death."
Another reason why Rangel and his liberal allies have endorsed a draft is that allegedly it would make the military more racially equal. Other than possibly World War II, the draft has never been fair. In fact, today's military is more racially and ethnically integrated than any other American institution and more black officers and NCOs are today giving orders to white troops than ever before. African Americans are slightly over represented in the armed forces and in the officer corps (but not Hispanics) but overall the army is basically middle class, as proven by their educational levels and social backgrounds, though popular misconceptions claim otherwise. In its year-end 2003 issue, the unofficial but authoritative Army Times published photos of 471 of the 506 American soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. The dead, noted the newspaper, "represent[s] the full, rich face of American diversity...They came from all walks of life, from every race and creed." Racism and the lack of opportunity in civilian life certainly causes many minorities to enlist -- and others too, including whites -- but a draft will never alleviate the barriers they may have faced as civilians that led them to the recruiting station.
If you listen to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon, the answer as of now is emphatically "no draft." That can change in a political nanosecond. Still, believe them or not, Rumsfeld has said that he is fervently opposed to a revival of conscription. A draft, he and the Pentagon recognize, would mean short stints for distrustful and reluctant draftees without the technical skills or dedication needed in post-modern warfare. And, of course, another draft raises the distinct threat of a revival of bitter opposition at home.
American forces are now posted in more than 150 countries and there are genuine fears that the Bush administration's adoption of preemptive war will inevitably lead to a manpower shortage requiring a draft. Many experts, however, remain ambiguous. Ned Lebow, a perceptive military manpower specialist who teaches at Dartmouth College (quoted in Dave Lindorff's thoughtful piece in Salon) believes "The Government is in a box." Overextended reservists and National Guard troops, the deep difficulties of Iraqization, (not to mention neocon hawks already salivating over Iran and Syria) the reluctance of other nations to send in substantial reinforcements, lead Lebow to conclude, "So, that leaves the draft." With, however, Lebow's caveat: But, "it's hard to imagine Congress passing such a bill, but then, look how many members of Congress just rolled over and played dead on the bill for $87 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan."
Still, many pro-draft conservatives are also waiting the coming post-election period when another effort will surely be made to reintroduce the draft. More than likely they are only awaiting a green light from the White House. For too many "conservatives" another draft means recapturing the mythical ethos of WWII and the pre-Sixties period. In that imaginary Eden, there was no racial or religious discrimination, women knew their place, support for tyrants abroad was justified in the name fighting Communism and young men called to the colors went willingly and patriotically to proudly serve God and Country.
The truth is, no draft is fair. No congressional son was drafted during Vietnam and today only one congressional son is an enlisted man. 0ther than tempting Washington's hawks, the same favoritism and deference to influence and wealth will certainly prevail in a future draft. Anyone with political contacts and family connections will always be able to avoid active military duty, or if not, receive plum jobs.
Since World War I the world has experienced continuous bloodletting,
almost always enhanced by conscription. We Americans rightly despise
conscription because it tramples on our freedom, which should never be
sacrificed for endless wars and imperial dreams.
A BUZZFLASH GUEST COMMENTARY
Murray Polner, an army veteran, wrote No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran.
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