by Randy Wilson, SPAN Coordinator
As NY Representative Charlie Rangel renews his call for a universal draft of American youth, we have to ponder the repercussions of a draft. Even if the ‘national service option, mentioned only in passing, were to materialize and create an alternative for nonmilitary service such as teaching, community volunteering and other Americorps-like projects. Heck, even the New York Times thinks its a bad idea.
Some argue that a universal draft will galvanize opposition to the war, since the existing poverty draft that fuels the ‘all volunteer’ forces doesn’t affect U.S. society uniformly. Instead, our current ‘volunteer’ recruitment efforts target the most disenfranchised and repressed young people in America. The idea is that by threatening people’s own children/friends/community with joining the military (and possibly forces in Iraq), we could increase society’s engagement in stopping this and future wars. The American public can still largely ignore the war because the poverty draft and the U.S. government’s sly increases to the national debt so no notices the real economic cost of the war prevent them from feeling affected or involved, reducing their urgency to stop it now.
Historically, drafts have neither promoted equality or discouraged the progression of war. During early U.S. wars like the War of 1812 and the Civil War the government instituted a draft, but the wealthy could buy an exemption or pay someone to go in their place. In 1940 a draft was designed to build up forces in the event of our joining WWII, which we did at the end of 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor. A long-term ‘peacetime’ draft started in 1948 helped fuel the Cold War and did nothing to prevent nor create opposition to the Korean War. The draft kept a steady supply of young, unfortunate Americans flowing to the Vietnam War, where privilege allowed deferments for those enrolled in college, and there was no substantial public outcry until several years into the war and tens of thousands of U.S. troops killed (not to mention the millions of Vietnamese civilians killed). A draft neither forces a conscience nor sense of responsibility upon the American people, nor does it diversify who fights and dies for the war.
On the other hand our military is on the verge of breaking (if not already broken) due to the strain of repeated deployments, overwhelming and unreasonable goals, lacking safety equipment and armor, and sub-par physical and psychiatric care – where doctors ignore injuries and trauma in order to certify troops and return them to war. At the same time the Bush Administration is pushing hard for war on Iran and posturing to North Korea as if a continuance of our intimidation policy will suddenly make them not feel threatened. This is not an administration that enjoys listening, whether it’s about tangible terrorist threats in 2001 or a ‘focus group’ of millions worldwide opposing war on Iraq; a draft would only supply them with the necessary troops to expand the ‘war on terror’ for at least a few more years (at least until troop resistance increased to a level where the government fears for its own safety, as happened during Vietnam), since lying to get recruits isn’t helping the numbers enough.
Also, apparently the word on the street is that required national service, military and nonmilitary, creates a more engaged and egalitarian society (just like Jefferson envisioned, you know, when he wasn’t raping his slaves). This almost makes sense, until you look at all those funding cuts to education and the Americorps program, and then you wonder what sort of nonmilitary service alternatives are left.
What we need is a less militarized society, not mandatory militarization of youth. A draft is a waste of time and resources that should be spent ending war.
As young people, what does this mean for us? Whether or not the government institutes a draft, it is our responsibility to end war. War affects us every day and we will continue to feel the effects of the Global War on Terror for decades and generations to come, even if it stops tomorrow, just as we continue to face the implications of the Vietnam War. Flunk the War Machine today and our children won’t be facing these same issues; now that’s national service.
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