On October 5, Representative Charles Rangel's proposal for a
draft was brought to the floor of the House of Representatives
under a procedure that bypassed the normal legislative committee
process and gave little advance notice. Members of the House voted
402-2 against the bill, and even its author voted to defeat it.
What makes this move especially interesting is that no one close
to the issue felt that the proposal was ever going to go anywhere,
and even Rangel (D-NY) had said that he was not pushing his bill.
Yet this issue is so explosive that merely having such a proposal
sitting dead in the House Armed Services Committee was enough
to create a wave of public concern that threatened to undermine
the presidential campaigns of both major political parties.
Ever since November of 2003, articles and email messages had
been spreading on the Internet about so-called proof of a plan
to bring back the draft soon after the presidential election.
The fact that much of the information being circulated was factually
incorrect or based on misinterpretations of facts by people uneducated
on the issue did not slow down the almost hysterical response
drawn from the public.
Ironically, little attention was paid to the calmer voices of
anti-draft activists who have been monitoring draft-related legislation
and developments in the Selective Service System for many years
and who could have corrected the misinformation. Some of us in
that category also felt that the chances of a draft were being
very much overstated, that the rhetoric had risen to the level
of fear-mongering, and that the hysteria it was creating was diverting
attention from the very real, immediate problem of aggressive
military recruiting and expanding militarism in the K-12 school
There has long been a tendency for more affluent individuals
and families to become temporarily concerned when there is a threat
of a draft but ignore the fact that there is, essentially, an
ongoing poverty draft that disproportionately affects working-class
youths and people of color. The challenge for counter-recruitment
activists has been to convince people who are worried about being
personally affected by draft legislation which is only
a speculative danger -- that they should also act to confront
the current harm that is being done to others by militarization.
This has been no easy task in a culture that puts so much emphasis
Clearly this mode of thinking was at work in the rapid proliferation
of rumors about a planned draft, and in the way that partisans
for the Republican and Democratic parties responded to escalating
concerns. In an effort to exploit the issue for votes, supporters
of both Kerry and Bush each asserted that the other candidate
would be most likely to bring back conscription if elected, and
Ralph Nader jumped on the bandwagon as well with his own claim
of an impending draft. As soon as Rock the Vote launched a major
campaign using fear of a draft to mobilize the youth vote, the
Republicans apparently decided that they had to take more decisive
action to convince people that they were antidraft. Calling up
the Rangel bill so it could be voted down was a tactical move
designed to make that point and, at the same time, eliminate one
of the "proofs" of an impending draft that was being
cited in the rumors.
For many people it hasn't laid the issue to rest because of negative
predictions about future recruiting problems and the course of
the war in Iraq. It is also the case that no new legislation would
be needed to begin drafting other than approval of the necessary
funding and a resolution passed by Congress to authorize the president
to begin inducting individuals under the current Military Selective
Opinion about whether or not that is likely to occur during the
next few years is very divided even within the anti-draft movement.
However, the very adamant and unequivocal denials of any need
for a draft coming before the election from the Bush administration
and Democrats would now make the resulting shock and political
upheaval even greater if they reversed their position. As long
as the threat of that backlash remains, I believe the chances
of not having a draft are very good.
Information sources: San Francisco Chronicle, October
6, 2004; Los Angeles Times, October 6, 2004. Also,
see "Forecast: Decreased Likelihood of Draft," Nonviolent
Activist, May-June 2004, http://www.warresisters.org/nva0504-3.htm.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter
of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org)