A Draft After the Elections?

While President Bush has thus far never said whether or not he would bring back the draft (Sen. John Kerry stated that he opposed a draft on Sept. 22, 2004 in West Palm Beach, Fla.), there are increasing rumors and speculation that it will be reinstated after the election, perhaps as soon as 2005. There is no hard evidence that this is so nor that it is imminent, but lots of people on both sides of the political aisle are rightly concerned.

Obviously, Iraq has not been a "cakewalk" as was widely trumpeted by its neocon promoters in the months leading up to the American invasion. And if, as Donald Rumsfeld once said, Iraq turns out to be "a long hard slog" (it has), who then will be called on to do the slogging?

It is fair to ask how many wars our imperial nation can fight with its hard-pressed volunteer forces, many of whom are now forbidden to leave when their enlistments run out. Or, when they are finally released, how many will re-enlist. The National Guard, for example, failed to meet this year’s quota of 58,000, recruiting 5,000 less people. A more pressing question is, how many Americans will be forced to fight, perhaps die for the crazed imperial dreams concocted by a small clique of extremely influential and well-funded neoconservatives, virtually none of whom ever bothered to serve in the military they so profess to love? And among Americans (the late Neil Postman once described them as "amusing themselves to death"), unless their immediate family members are in the military, how many Americans will care if a draft is reinstated and more GIs must die fighting Iraqis and Iranians who have never attacked us?

And even more ominously: There is increasing chatter in Washington among neoconservatives and their pet columnists of ever more wars ahead. They call it spreading their version of democracy; I call it aggressive and unjustifiable wars. Israel, America’s client state, is now hinting at an attack on Iran while neocons here are suggesting that America’s next target should be Iran. Unanswered is what happens if Iran strikes back at Israel and U.S. forces in Iraq? In fact, the issue of Iran is now being discussed behind closed doors at the White House. How many dissenters do you think are present at these sessions?

This time Selective Service System (SSS) regulations have been changed. This time, as SSS states, "a college student could have his induction postponed only until the end of the current semester. A senior could be postponed until the end of the full academic year." Canada will no longer welcome anti-draft people. A new SSS plan, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer last May, proposes raising the age of draft registration to 34 years old, up from 25, and possibly including women as well. People with special skills, such as computers, foreign languages, medical training and the like, will also be subject to being drafted. In effect, if approved, it will be a universal draft where everyone, including the kids of the rich and powerful, will allegedly be eligible to serve in the military.

But remember this: No congressional son was drafted during the Vietnam War and today there are virtually no congressional sons or daughters serving as enlisted combat personnel in Iraq. Since 9/11, it is almost impossible to name a single prominent pro-Iraq war activist, those who demand an all-out war against terrorism, whose son or daughter has enlisted for active military duty.

The truth is, no draft can ever be fair. Other than delighting America’s living room hawks, the same favoritism and deference to influence and wealth – the well-documented kind George W. Bush received when he was granted a hard-to-get slot in the Texas Air National Guard because of his father’s influence – will certainly prevail in any future draft. Anyone with political pull and family connections will always be able to avoid active military duty, or if not, receive plum, safe jobs.

All a draft can do is help transform yet another generation of Americans – your kids – into potential cannon fodder. It also contributes to the further militarization of this country. "How many men and women," rightly asked Father Andrew Greeley, the Chicago Sun-Times columnist, "will be required to pacify Iraq and turn it into a freedom-loving democracy? How long will it take, how many lives must be sacrificed … ?"

Since World War I, the world has experienced continuous bloodletting, almost always enhanced by conscription. The Korean and Vietnam wars were both sustained because of the continual supply of new draftees, at least until the system broke down in the late sixties when it became clear to our centrist elites that the United States had been defeated at a cost of 58,000 GI lives, hundreds of thousands of others wounded in body and mind, and some three million Vietnamese – mainly civilians – dead.

And who bore the brunt of our recent wars? Draftees did.

The two world wars, Korea, and Vietnam were largely fought with drafted soldiers who were killed or wounded in combat in far greater numbers than better-trained regulars. The lesson is clear: The more potential cannon fodder Selective Service can impress into the military, the more savage the war becomes, the longer it goes on and the greater the number of casualties. Another draft will allow policymakers to rely even more on war rather than diplomacy. It would certainly mean more military adventures abroad, more military and civilian deaths, and ultimately more unrest at home.

Many pro-draft politicians are doubtless waiting for the post-election period when a "safe" effort will be made to reintroduce conscription under the guise of fighting terrorism. For far too many, another draft means recapturing the mythical ethos of WWII – the "Good War" – and the pre-Sixties, when no one cared enough to protest governmental policies. In this imaginary Eden, there was no racial or religious conflict, women knew their place, support for tyrants abroad was justified in the name of fighting Communism, and young men called to the colors went willingly and patriotically to proudly serve their God and country. But please note that today many if not most pro-draft people in Congress and the White House are non-veterans.

Late last spring an article appeared in the Baltimore Sun, written by Nick Leonhardt, a high school senior. In it, he wrote:

"Some anxious teens and their parents feel relieved that both President Bush and Senator John Kerry deny plans to reinstate the draft. But cynical youths already believe that candidates routinely break promises after they are elected. The man who shakes their hands during the presidential campaign may demand salutes after his inauguration."

America, and especially its young, should oppose conscription because it is a form of slavery and tramples on our freedom, which should never be sacrificed for ideological pipe dreams and political manipulation.

Another draft is a terrible idea in a very troubled time.

Author: Murray Polner

Murray Polner has written for The New York Times, Washington Monthly, Commonweal, The Nation, The American Conservative, Columbia Journalism Review, Newsday, and other publications.