During the days of the anti-Vietnam War movement, I remember
hearing of a tactic that some people used to try to bring home
to the public how completely twisted our values had become. As
I recall, a news release and fliers would be circulated inviting
people to gather at a specific time and place to witness a live
animal (usually a dog) being immolated with homemade napalm. Immediately,
there would be vigorous debate and loud outcry against the idea
of such cruelty. Then, at the appointed time and place, fliers
would be handed out to the media and any outraged individuals
who showed up, telling them that there would be no immolation
of a dog, and that the purpose of the hoax was to demonstrate
how hypocritical it was for the public to be so completely incensed
by such an act while the same thing was being done everyday, in
our name, to men, women and children in Southeast Asia. The hope
was that this lesson would turn more people against the war.
I'm reminded of this by the proposal to bring back the draft
introduced on January 7 by Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY)
only in this case, he's essentially promising to place
our sons and daughters, instead of a dog, in harm's way in order
to make a similar point. Another difference is that, even though
his proposal doesn't have a chance of passing right now, Rangel
is serious about it and is not declaring it a hoax.
Titled the "Universal National Service Act of 2003,"
Rangel's bill would require that all males and females between
the ages of 18 and 26 perform two years of "service."
The Pentagon would have first dibs on draftees, and anyone not
needed by the military would be assigned to a civilian job that,
"as determined by the President, promotes the national defense,
including national or community service and homeland security."
A similar bill was introduced in the Senate on January 9 by Senator
Ernest Hollings (D-SC).
Rangel, who is generally regarded as a strong peace and justice
advocate in Congress, gives several justifications for bringing
back the draft that are very flawed or contradictory. He says
we need a draft because "a disportionate number of the poor
and members of minority groups make up the enlisted ranks of the
military, while most privileged Americans are underrepresented
or absent." He also notes that members of the U.S. Congress
have very few sons or daughters in the military, yet a Congressional
majority voted to authorize war in Iraq. Rangel says, "I
believe that if those calling for war knew that their children
were likely to be required to serve and to be placed in
harm's way there would be more caution and a greater willingness
to work with the international community in dealing with Iraq."
Basically, Rangel is implying that: (1) a draft would make U.S.
combat forces more representative of society as a whole; and (2)
having more middle-class and affluent young people in the military
would compel greater opposition to war.
But Rangel has his facts wrong. The draft has never made the
pool of people used in combat more representative. In past drafts,
better educated men and those with more money were able to use
their resources to increase their chances of being deferred or
exempted, and even though some of the past draft loopholes that
were exploited have been eliminated, people with better education
and financial advantages will still find it easier to secure conscientious
objector status and be able to document claims for medical deferments.
Those in this more privileged category who don't manage to stay
out of the military entirely will be more likely to get less risky
noncombat jobs, especially in the more technological military
of today. The poorer kids who don't have private doctors' letters
and x-rays to submit, or who never got a college education, will
wind up disproportionately in the infantry.
With regard to the draft acting as a brake against war, there
is no historical evidence to support Rangel's theory. The U.S.
had a draft in place before both the Korean and Vietnam wars,
and it didn't keep us out of those conflicts. Indeed, it was the
blank check for cannon fodder provided by the draft that enabled
the U.S. to wage a 10-year war in Southeast Asia that left millions
of people dead or injured.
Rangel gives another puzzling reason for bringing back the draft.
He says we need it because "war against Iraq will severely
strain military resources already burdened by a growing number
of obligations. . . . The administration has yet to address the
question of whether our military is of sufficient strength and
size to meet present and future commitments." So, first Rangel
argues that we need a draft to inhibit military adventurism and
war, then, in almost the same breath, he says we need it to ensure
that we have the resources to pursue military expansion and fight
a war with Iraq. Clearly, Rangel is not thinking consistently.
Fundamentally, though, Rangel is really basing his strategy on
the belief that by jeopardizing more people's children (including
kids of parents who are already antiwar), he will stimulate the
necessary outrage to stop a war (i.e., like threatening to immolate
the dog). But even if you accept such a hostage-taking strategy
in principle (which I do not), it can't work now. Congress has
already authorized war against Iraq, and it would be absolutely
crazy to follow that up with giving Bush a blank check for cannon
fodder that would be used to pursue this and future wars!
In reality, no draft proposal introduced at the moment is going
to be viable, in large part because the Pentagon doesn't want
it. Since the last draft was terminated, the military establishment
has made huge gains in its ability to command influence over civilian
society by expanding its presence in institutions of socialization,
especially schools. The draft would bring back a level of opposition
and hostility that would greatly undermine these gains. There
would have to be a more severe strain on military resources than
presently exists before the benefits of a draft would begin to
outweigh the liabilities for the Pentagon.
On the other hand, if the military is allowed to continue expanding
its influence in schools and our culture, it will condition more
people to be accepting of soldiering and militarism and thus pave
the way for a future draft. Unfortunately, Rangel's proposal,
and his fallacious arguments that are getting a lot of airplay,
are going to make this end result more likely.
What we really need, instead, is to curtail the U.S. military's
size and mission, to get the Pentagon out of our civilian classrooms
and schools, and to have no more talk about bringing back the
draft. We need less military influence in this country, not more!
Information sources: New York Times, December 31, 2002;
Associated Press, January 7, 2003. Also, see "For
Those Who Believe We Need a Draft," Draft NOtices, September-October
2002, at www.comdsd.org.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter
of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (www.comdsd.org)