Column: Draft changes perspective on war

Iraq’s possession of biological and chemical weapons and its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons warrant a swift military response by the United States. Saddam Hussein is an evil megalomaniac who should be stopped at all costs.

Although I hold these beliefs, I understand I will not be in the first wave of Marines that fight their way through the unforgiving Iraqi desert. The only “action” I will see will be in the form of CNN telecasts as I continue to attend classes and go out partying. My support for the war would abruptly end if there were the possibility that I would have to fight in it. Many other college students who presently support the war have like-minded opinions and gain perspective by evaluating what it actually means to reinstate the draft.

Last year, I attended a taping of Hardball with Chris Matthews at the University of Pennsylvania. Before the show started, Matthews asked a crowd of more than 400 college students if they would support military action in Iraq – almost every hand went up, accompanied by enthusiastic cheering. He then asked how many people would actually go and fight in the war; not one hand was raised, as everyone looked around the room with a sense of futility.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, thousands of students dropped out of college as they were drafted into military service. This century’s “Pearl Harbor,” the events of September 11, failed to produce the same behavior among college students. In the 1960s and 1970s, students stayed in college to avoid being drafted. Now, students stay in college to avoid a bad job market.

I have heard scores of students vehemently supporting a possible war in Iraq, but I doubt that any of them would fight in an actual war. If there was a possibility that they would be called to fight, opinions might change. But college students need not worry about fighting in a war, due to the widespread unpopularity of the draft.

However, Congressmen on both sides of the aisle have sought to revive the draft in an effort to educate Americans about the consequences of a war in Iraq. Last week, Congressman Charles Rangel, a Democrat from New York, introduced legislation to reinstate the military draft. In an op-ed article in the New York Times, Rangel said a draft “would help bring a greater appreciation of the consequences of decisions to go to war.” At a press conference last week, Rangel said his bill would also ensure that the makeup of the armed forces would more closely reflect the demographic makeup of the nation.

The military ranks are largely made up of poor people and minorities, many of whom did not have a chance to pursue higher education. Under Rangel’s bill, the draft would require college students, regardless of wealth or social status, to serve in the military if called upon.

A draft would force thousands of college students to give up the dorm for the desert. Campuses nationwide would erupt in protest, reminiscent of the anti-war protests during the Vietnam War. Students with promising futures would wonder if they have a future at all.

The Bush administration is willing to serve as our security blanket, promising to veto any bill that would reinstate the draft (although it is unlikely that the bill would ever reach the President’s desk). Rangel’s goal is not to make people serve in the military against their will, but to acknowledge the serious consequences of war – even a just war. Debate on this bill would force us to reconsider our own opinions, and would give a newfound respect to the brave men and women serving in the armed forces.

Watching the war on television and seeing the faces of unfamiliar soldiers who were killed in combat produces in us a fleeting sadness, which eventually turns into complacency as the American war machine drudges on. However, when that soldier is someone we know, someone we love, our brother, our sister or our friend, we will have a different outlook entirely.

And would I support a war in Iraq, knowing that I might be eventually called upon to fight in it? Sorry Uncle Sam, but I’d much rather be in University Yard than in a graveyard.

-The writer, a freshman majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.

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