What is the draft?
Conscription, or “the draft,” is compulsory military service. Compulsory means just that: If you’re drafted and fail to secure an exemption, you must be prepared to fight and die — or face a lengthy prison term.
The US hasn’t drafted citizens since the end of the Vietnam War, but current law requires virtually all male citizens aged 18 through 25, as well as male aliens living in the US, to register with the Selective Service – the federal agency that manages conscription.
How do we know a new draft is in the works?
A consensus behind conscription is building on Capitol Hill. Senators Chuck Hagel (R-Neb) and Joseph Biden (D-Del), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, are among many prominent politicians suddenly calling for a “national debate” on the draft (Washington Post, Apr. 22, 2004). Open supporters of the draft range from Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-SC) to retired General Wesley Clark. (The Hill, July 2004). Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) intends to reintroduce legislation, voted down last term in an election-season parliamentary maneuver, that would reintroduce conscription. Although Rangel insists his bill is a symbolic protest, many see it as a crafty way of selling the draft to progressives.
By way of preparing public opinion and influencing Washington’s agenda, op-eds and columns openly arguing for the draft are beginning to appear in influential publications [see, e.g., “The Case for the Draft,” Washington Monthly (March 2005); “Why We Need the Draft Back,” Washington Post (July 1, 2004), by former ass’t sec’y of defense Noel Koch; “The U.S. Military Is In Bad Shape,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings (July, 2004)].
Nationwide, long-dormant draft boards – local committees that decide who must fight and who is exempted – have been quietly reactivated and restaffed (Lindorff, “Oiling Up the Draft Machine,” Salon.com, Nov. 3, 2003).
Why do powerful elites and politicians want to reinstate the draft?
Right now the US military is bogged down in Iraq, fighting a brutal war of attrition that has stretched the 1.4-million strong, all-volunteer military to the limit. The Army has 10 active-duty divisions; nine of these are either in Iraq or Afghanistan, have just returned, or are about to be deployed there (“Troop Supply Getting Thin,” AP, Apr. 29, 2004). Hundreds of US soldiers are killed or wounded every month. Tours are being extended and enlistments prolonged. Troops are even being transferred to Iraq from strategically critical US bases in South Korea. As a result, says Lt. Gen. James Helmly, the Army Reserve is a “broken force.” (Wash. Post, Jan. 6, 2005) The Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board has concluded that current troop strength is inadequate for current and future needs (Fin. Times Sept. 26, 2004).
While conceding that the Iraq war has been a military and political disaster, the US power elite — ranging from George Bush, to the New York Times editorial board, to Presidential candidate John Kerry — agrees that we must “stay the course” in Iraq. In plain language, that means crushing resistance to the occupation. To subdue a population that wants us to leave, (Financial Times, May 20, 2004), and is willing to fight for independence, will require many more troops — as many as 500,000, according to Pentagon estimates (McGovern, “Calling for Backup,” TomPaine.com, May 7, 2004) recently endorsed by former Iraq supremo L Paul Bremer III (S.F. Chronicle, Oct. 6, 2004).
Meanwhile, under cover of the “war on terror,” the US has greatly increased its worldwide military presence during the past two years: 176,000 troops are now deployed in military bases and “peacekeeping operations” overseas (Raleigh News & Observer, Mar. 28, 2004).
Official US policy now calls for waging “pre-emptive war” and effecting “regime change” wherever threats to American power and security are perceived (National Security Strategy of the U.S.A., Sept. 2002). Any new war — with or without an escalation of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan — would require many thousands of new soldiers. No President will tolerate an inability to wage war as and where he sees fit.
It’s not hard to connect the dots. The logic of current US foreign policy, which is globally aggressive, requires more “boots on the ground.” Enlistment is barely sufficient to maintain current troop levels. Only draftees can fill the gap.
If powerful people support the draft, why isn’t it happening already?
As the election proved, conscription is volatile issue. That’s why Bush, Kerry, and Rumsfeld all publicly insist a draft is unnecessary, despite ove Don’t count on it. Most mainstream Democrats support escalating the war in Iraq and call for enhancing US military presence worldwide. It becomes clearer every day that this cannot be done without conscription. In addition, the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) openly supports a universal “National Service” program (see Magee, From Selective Service to National Service: A Blueprint for Citizenship and Security in the 21st Century, 2003) that antidraft advocates see as a stealth plan for staged reintroduction of conscription. .
Won’t Democrats and liberals oppose the draft?
Don’t count on it. Most mainstream Democrats support escalating the war in Iraq and call for enhancing US military presence worldwide. It becomes clearer every day that this cannot be done without conscription. In addition, the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) openly supports a universal “National Service” program (see Magee, From Selective Service to National Service: A Blueprint for Citizenship and Security in the 21st Century, 2003) that antidraft advocates see as a stealth plan for staged reintroduction of conscription.
Will women be drafted?
Almost certainly. Internal Selective Service documents reflect extensive planning aimed at broadening the draft to women, including strategies for “marketing the concept” to Congress. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 1, 2004)
Would a draft help prevent future wars?
The draft has never acted as a deterrent to war, as some believe and Rep. Rangel argues. While the draft was in effect, the U.S. began numerous wars. In fact, during World War I, the reason for the instatement of the draft was to ensure a steady flow of soldiers into the battlefield. (Center on Conscience & War, www.nisbco.org).
Would a draft be “fairer” to the poor and minorities?
Conscription has never made the Armed Services more equitable, racially or economically. During the Vietnam war, minority draftees disproportionately served on the front lines. The affluent had, and still have, the means to gain medical deferments, or to secure soft, safe positions. If Rep. Rangel and other pro-draft “progressives” really wanted to fix social and racial inequities, they’d be advocating for jobs, education, and opportunity, not equal-opportunity warmaking. More broadly, it’s not “fair” to people of color and the poor to let the government draft the bodies it requires to wage endless wars — wars that steal money from education, health, and other programs people need.
Can the draft be stopped?
Yes, but only if we act to prevent it. Although most Americans oppose the draft (Newsday, May 13, 2004), public opinion alone is rarely enough to stop measures demanded by a consensus of the powerful. Historically, when US elites see a need to pass unpopular legislation (tax increases, benefit cuts, etc.) bipartisan action is taken early in the term and swiftly, before the people have a chance to register their displeasure. That means we need to start organizing, educating, and speaking out — right now.