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From Draft NOtices, November-December, 2004

Draft Legislation Voted Down in Political Chess Game

— Rick Jahnkow

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 system.

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 on self-interest.

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 Service Act.

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,

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (


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