If you were thinking "relief" is spelled K-E-R-R-Y,
think again. John Kerry could be just as bad on the issue of militarism
more specifically, the militarization of young people
as the previous several administrations.
Besides the fact that Kerry advocates enlarging the military
(imagine spending more on war making than we already are!) and
supports continuing the occupation of Iraq, Kerry has a plan for
national service that could be an intermediate step in the direction
of mandatory civilian/military service.
Over the years, various organizations and politicians have unsuccessfully
championed the idea of universal national service, where people
would have to choose between military and civilian duty. Military
conscription alone has been used in this country during the Civil
War, WWI, and most of the WWII-Vietnam period. Attempts to have
the Supreme Court declare the military draft unconstitutional
never succeeded, and the last draft was ended by Congress mostly
because it was helping to fuel a more general social and political
rebellion during the Vietnam War. The idea of a draft for civilian
service has been even less popular and has never picked up enough
support to make it through Congress.
The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), which was formed in
1985 to move the Democratic Party in a more conservative direction,
is one organization that has promoted the idea of universal military/civilian
national service. It claims to support only voluntary national
service, but in its 1988 Blueprint, the DLC proposed making all
existing federal financial aid for students contingent on them
doing one or two years of military or civilian service "at
The danger of such plans is that they are the starting points
on a path that could lead to mandatory military/civilian service.
The general strategy would work like this:
1. First you campaign to get the public used to the idea that
they have an obligation to "serve," with little distinction
being made between serving the government and serving humanity.
2. Next, you gradually make college financial aid and other "privileges"
(like health care, low-income housing, etc.) contingent on doing
government-dictated work assignments.
3. Finally, after getting people acclimated to the above, you
introduce a universal civilian/military draft where "service"
is no longer voluntary.
John Kerry, a member of the DLC, has been promoting a national
service plan in his presidential campaign that seems to be following
the first two steps described above. Following are excerpts from
Kerry's plan that illustrate his thinking on the subject. Note
that he includes the forcing of colleges to accept ROTC in the
context of a "voluntary" national service program. (Full
text is available at http://www.johnkerry.com/issues/natservice)
(II) A MANDATORY HIGH SCHOOL SERVICE REQUIREMENT. As President,
John Kerry will ensure that every high school student in America
does community service as a requirement for graduation. . .
. Knowledge of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship
including the duty to serve your community are
as important to American adults as knowing how to read and do
math. Combined with a curriculum that teaches students about
democracy, citizenship and civic participation, this high school
service requirement will be a rite of passage for every young
person in the country. . . .
(VI) RECRUIT MORE AMERICANS TO THE MILITARY. The highest form
of service is military service. America's military is having
trouble recruiting and is increasingly relying on the reserves
for active duty. John Kerry believes we must change that. The
complicated missions we face and technologies we use depend
on it. In a Kerry Administration, no university that receives
federal aid will be allowed to ban the ROTC from their campus,
except for religious reasons. And the ROTC scholarship program
will be adequately funded so that students can attend the college
of their choice. John Kerry will also make modernizing our GI
benefits a top priority, because no program has been more successful
increasing educational opportunities for veterans while also
providing an incentive for the best and brightest to make a
career out of military service.
Kerry's plan also proposes paying for 2-4 years of college tuition
if high school graduates choose to do 1-2 years of national service.
For the most part, this would be made possible by expanding the
existing civilian service agency, AmeriCorps, and presumably,
getting Congress to pass a very large increase in the AmeriCorps
education benefit (currently under $5,000).
On the surface, expanding AmeriCorps and enlarging the education
benefit for voluntary service is not a bad idea, but it's highly
unlikely that the military would stand for this if it would create
competition for recruiters. When AmeriCorps was established years
ago, the Pentagon complained about the size of the education benefit
that was proposed and succeeded in getting it reduced substantially
to an amount that could not compete with the GI Bill.
In order to expand "voluntary" national service and
not run afoul of the Pentagon, I believe Kerry would be more likely
to resurrect the DLC's original proposal to make all federal student
aid contingent on doing either military or civilian service. This
is the intermediate step toward eventual universal, mandatory
Even if a combined civilian/military draft were not the result,
it's clear that Kerry is aligned with those who would impose militarism
on schools and who believe that people have a duty to serve the
state, as opposed to the other way around. If elected president,
he could very well be the person who will sign a military draft
bill if recruiting does not provide enough personnel for expanded
military missions and a larger force size over the next few years.
When Democrats Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were elected, many
people thought the "bad guys" were no longer in office,
and we saw the typical phenomenon of peace and social justice
activism losing strength and intensity. This is part of an unfortunate
cycle that helps render our movements ineffective over the long
term and results in more of the same crises that we strive to
prevent (more wars, loss of ground on affirmative action, erosion
of women's reproductive rights, increasing economic class disparity,
The lesson is this: vote for anybody-but-Bush if you wish, but
no one should have any illusions about Kerry or the Democratic
Party. Our only hope is that enough people realize that no matter
what happens this November, we must commit to increasing
not decreasing our activism!
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter
of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (www.comdsd.org)