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From Draft NOtices, March-April 2002

Alarm Over House Draft Proposal Misses the More Immediate Problem

— Rick Jahnkow

A Universal Military Training and Service Act (HR 3598) was proposed in the House on December 20, 2001, generating some concern about a possible draft. If passed, the legislation would require young males to report for 6-12 months of training and "education" in the military. Even conscientious objectors would be required to report for non-combat training in the military, a departure from previous drafts that allowed some war objectors to qualify for civilian alternative service.

It is important to know that the consensus among those who follow draft-related legislation is that this particular bill has very little chance of going anywhere. It is poorly designed and not something the Pentagon would want — at least, not in the short term (more on this below). Of course, its introduction may be used to promote a more viable proposal for some form of conscription in the future, and for this reason we need to express our opposition, even to this unrealistic bill. However, if we focus only on HR 3598 and ignore more immediate related developments, we will miss the real point, which is revealed in the details of the bill and the larger context into which it fits.

That context is the growing, and increasingly successful, effort by the Pentagon and others to militarize civilian society through youth indoctrination programs — an effort that has received almost no notice from the general public and, unfortunately, very little attention from political progressives and the general peace movement.

There is a tendency for many people, especially middle-class parents and young people, to become upset about HR 3598 because they are imagining a return to the draft of the past. In fact, however, the primary thrust of HR 3598 is not to provide a direct flow of combat-ready troops to the Pentagon. Those who would be drafted under HR 3598 would be given training and "education" while on active duty in the armed forces for only 6-12 months, a time period that is not long enough to fulfill the traditional role given to regular soldiers.

Such a short period of duty and high turnover rate would be extremely costly and inefficient and is not what the military establishment would desire. Another reason the Pentagon would not want HR 3598 is that its present facilities can barely handle training people for the current missions the military has already been given.

The real object of HR 3598 is to subject hundreds of thousands of young people to indoctrination and then channel them back into civilian society. As the bill states, the basic military training and education given to draftees would include instruction in "international relations, military tactics, homeland security, United States and world history . . . and such other topics as the Secretary [of Defense] considers appropriate."

In principle, the Pentagon is not averse to using massive youth indoctrination to extend its influence. However, the key for it to succeed in this is to be embraced and supported by civilian society, not hated by it. A draft would risk generating more hate.

So for the last two decades, the military establishment has pursued a more subtle, "benign" approach to indoctrinating young people (and the general population). High school JROTC, military academies in public schools, military partnerships with elementary schools, middle school programs like the Young Marines, military aptitude (ASVAB) testing in high schools, offering Army recruiters as youth mentors, helping to produce movies that idealize the soldier — these are the preferred and most effective ways to extend the Pentagon's influence. (Incidentally, they also prepare the ground for a future draft in case the war planners ever feel they need it.)

The problem is that young people and parents don't get as excited over this subtle form of militarization as they do over the idea of a draft, which has a lot to do with the self-centered value system of our society. Many parents and youths don't become alarmed by a threat until they feel it personally, and as long as it's someone else's kid succumbing to the tactics of a recruiter, as long as it's mostly nonwhite or low-income kids who are affected (or faceless people being bombed in another country), the alarm bells are muted and have little effect.

The Pentagon knows this, which is why it prefers expanding its presence in schools rather than instituting a general draft. That is also why its approach to fighting wars has changed to emphasize heavy, high-altitude bombing and other low-risk strategies and tactics. Clearly the U.S. military has adapted since Viet Nam.

Unfortunately, much of the peace movement has not. As the military is guaranteeing its future influence by assuming greater control over institutions of socialization, most of the peace movement is still focusing on the same old manifestations of militarism (i.e., individual weapons systems, the current armed intervention, etc.). It's as if we're watching the front door for the burglar while, in the meantime, he has walked through the open back door and is helping himself to everything in the house.

Our only hope is to help more progressive individuals and organizations to understand this trend and its very broad, dangerous implications, and to get them to join us in actively resisting it. Youth education and counter-recruitment work is a logical strategy for that resistance.

Groups that provide resources for counter-recruitment work:

AFSC Youth & Militarism Program
1501 Cherry St., Philadelphia, PA 19102; 215-241-7176

Center on Conscience & War/NISBCO
1830 Conn. Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20009; 202-483-2220

Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors
630 20th St., #302, Oakland, CA 94612; 510-465-1617
1515 Cherry St., Philadelphia, PA 19102; 215-563-8787

Committee Opposed to Militarism & the Draft
P.O. Box 15195, San Diego, CA 92175; 619-265-1369

Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities
P.O. Box 230157, Encinitas, CA 92023; 760-634-3604

War Resisters League
339 Lafayette St., New York, NY 10012; 212-228-045

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


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