may yet be a military draft in your future if youll be turning
20 in 2001, once the elections are out of the way.
late July of this year Newsday published a Los Angeles Times
dispatch reporting that, key members of Congress military
committees, for the first time in a generation, are discussing revival
of the draft. Asserting that not enough young people are enlisting
and with the nations commitments abroad growing constantly, the
chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on readiness was quoted
as suggesting that, sooner or later, there may be some form of
before Kosovo, trial balloons were already being floated by some largely
Washington-based pundits, politicians and press, supposedly because
the military is having a hard time filling its quota of recruits. Last
September, following a House subcommittee session on military
readiness, the Cincinnati Enquirer quoted a Republican
congressman saying, There are benefits to a draft, and a
Democrat saying, theres a possibility that thats going
Ever since the draft was abandoned during the Vietnam War in 1973 by
the Nixon administration, there have been occasional though ignored
calls for its restoration. The Pentagon is generally supportive of a
volunteer military and opposes a renewed draft, fearful that it would
reduce the quality of its current volunteer force. But now that the
economy is doing so well, and most young men prefer civilian to military
life, fewer are joining up, while the United States, marooned
in the Cold War to quote the analyst Mark Danners
perceptive observation the worlds sole superpower, seriously
unchallenged in its economic and military power, remains frozen in its
Cold War stance. With an extraordinarily extravagant military budget,
its constant military and non-military interventions around the world,
and its triumphalist claims following the war against Serbia, we have
become the American Imperium as one prominent neo-conservative
put it two years ago in the Wall Street Journal. An empire, I
dare say, which will be driven to intervene overseas for years to come.
Left to the foreign policy elite and heavily-subsidized
ideological special interests, and absent any national debate on whats
essential and what isnt, this Administration, this country, lurches
along, unable and unwilling to fashion, let alone consider, a less militarized
and far less interventionist approach.
too many liberals, a draft means, among other things, democratizing
the military by inserting ordinary Joes into barracks, removing
the distance between a professional military and civilians which, they
speculate, with no evidence, is a potential danger to American democracy.
(As a drafted army veteran myself, I cant recall many examples
of democracy in the military.) They are also anxious to
transform the military into a prep school-job center for this countrys
have-nots (while their own sons matriculate at a university). Then again,
there is another breed of pro-draft liberal and conservative as well:
wannabe vets who escaped military service for one reason or another
but now believe they missed something heroic in their lives. A draft
might help fill their personal gap but would they be willing
to send their own sons and grandsons?
many conservatives, it means recapturing the mythical ethos of the Second
World War and the fabled postwar pre-sixties era. In that imaginary
Eden, there was no racial or religious discrimination, no equality for
women, no wartime profiteers, no Joe McCarthy, nor support for a variety
of despots and thugs abroad in the name of national security.
And when young men were called to the colors they supposedly went willingly,
eager to fulfill their patriotic obligation to fight in the Korean War.
whats behind all this talk of another draft? Mainly, the principal
problem is neither too few recruits nor a lack of military readiness.
Thats the spin. The primary reason is the excessive number of
warm bodies required to fulfill the nations antiquated and ineffectual
2-war strategy, namely, the ability to fight two major wars at the same
time, an overreaching, grandiose design that allows the Pentagon and
especially Congress greater opportunities to grab ever more money for
their insatiable pork barrel projects while manipulating the public
and an indifferent media into believing that they are enhancing
again national security.
few years ago, a group of retired officers and civilian specialists
were asked by Congress to study the 2-war strategy. Called the National
Defense Panel, its late 1997 conclusions were entirely unexpected and
therefore unwelcome and thus disregarded by Congress, the Pentagon
and the White House. Fighting two large wars simultaneously, the very
foundation of U.S. military planning was more and more obsolete, the
panel argued, and a means of justifying the current force structure.
But they went much further in arguing that, rather than always responding
militarily, diplomacy was the most effective tool for resolving
conflicts around the world. The current approach to addressing
national security engages the Department of Defense and services too
often and too quickly in conflicts that might otherwise be worked
out peacefully, it concluded.
as it may seem, imagine fighting two wars against, say, North Korea
and China while simultaneously involved in Colombias three-decade
old civil war? To carry out its self-assumed, worldwide and seemingly
endless commitments, this country is going to need a steady supply of
warm draftees to serve as its global gendarmes.
and when a draft is enacted, college students will no longer be deferred
past their current semester and if chosen in a lottery would be headed
for basic training camp in the year they turn twenty.
A draft would cost billions and possibly give rise to unfairness, renewed
social strife and discord at a time when there is absolutely, positively,
no credible enemy in sight.
Murray Polner wrote No
Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran (Holt, Rinehart
& Winston) and co-authored (with Jim OGrady) Disarmed
and Dangerous: The Radical Lives & Times of Daniel & Philip
Berrigan (Basic Books/ Westview Press).