Thursday, January 15, 2009

Reinstating the Draft

According to The Hill, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) likely will introduce his controversial legislation to reinstate the draft again this year, but he will wait until after the economic stimulus package is passed.

Congressman Rangel feels the all volunteer service is filled primarily with members from low-income (read minority) homes. When he tried to bring the bill forward in 2004, his intent was not about the need for a draft but to argue “the burden of fighting wars falls disproportionately on low-income people and that cost should be borne more broadly.”

I don’t understand where the Congressman comes up with this notion. In 22 years of military service (to include Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom), the men and women I encountered came from all walks of life. My experience was just the opposite of the Congressman’s supposition; the military represents one of the most diverse institutions in the United States. Enlisted personnel represent all ethnic groups and genders (and many enlisted already possessing a college degree). Officers have to have a degree in order to enter the service. I served with officers who came from colleges and universities across the nation. Some worked their way through college, some went on scholarships, and some came from affluent families. Like enlisted personnel, the officers I knew represented all ethnic groups and genders.

The Congressman’s rationale, “If a draft had been in place in 2002 when members were making the decision on whether to support the war in Iraq, Congress never would have approved the war resolution, because the pressure from constituents would have been too great” implies if more military members were from affluent backgrounds then the war would not have happened. I disagree for two reasons.

First, even with an all volunteer military there were many people who were against the war. Cindy Sheehan became the face of the anti-war movement after her son was killed in the war. Ms. Sheehan was not from a low-income family and yet made headlines for her stance against the war. Code Pink consists of women from all strata of economic groups and yet they have mounted an effective campaign to get their anti-war message across.

Second, the draft did not stop the United States from entering three unpopular wars. The United States was not going to enter WWII until after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Even then, many of the veterans from WWI were against another long and destructive campaign. The draft did not stop forces from being sent into Korean even though the end of WWII wasn’t even five years ago. The draft did not stop troops from being sent to Southeast Asia. The protests against Vietnam did not come from those with family members already in as much as it came from those who did not want to get sent to the war.

What is puzzling to me though is it appears the draft Congressman Rangel is proposing is for males only. If my understanding is correct, it seems to be at best self-defeating (limiting those constituents affected by the draft) and at worst discriminatory (required only males to register). Illinois Director of Veteran’s Affairs, Tammy Duckworth, should be especially miffed by this oversight. MAJ (ret) Tammy Duckworth lost both of her legs when a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) downed her helicopter in Iraq. She represents the many women who have served with distinction in combat units during Iraqi Freedom.

President-elect Obama will takes office next week. He will be inheriting one of the worst economic situations in recent memory. He needs to focus in creating economic growth and jobs. He will also have to face the legacy of the Iraqi war in dealing with Hamas and Iran. Alternative solutions to foreign has to remain a top priority both for security reasons as well as economic prosperity for US citizens. The President-elect does not the added distraction of this bill that does not accomplish what its author thinks it does.

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