Some District students said they are opposed to a Congressional bill that would reinstate a nearly universal military draft. Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) introduced the legislation earlier this month as part of an effort to ensure a “shared sacrifice” among Americans in the event of a war.
The bill, HR 163, would require all male and female citizens and legal residents to serve in the armed forces at the age of 18. Those with health problems or conscientious objectors, who could fulfill the service requirement in another capacity, such as border patrol, would be excluded. Service would be paid and be for a period of two years.
“If my country really needed me, I would go,” said 18-year-old Edward Bates, a District high school senior. “But I don’t want to put my life on hold for two years for no good reason. I could be more productive during that time.”
The armed forces are presently an all-volunteer army. Men ages 18 through 25 are required to register with the Selective Service System, a large information database, should a draft be necessary in the future. There are 13.5 million men now registered with the system.
“If everyone has to do it, it is fair,” sophomore Joshua Mark said. “They have mandatory service in Israel, kids there do it and deal with it. You should do what you can for your country.”
The proposal “will make things a little more real in terms of the war movement,” said Rangel spokesman Elbert Garcia, predicting that if more children are at risk of going to war in Iraq, fewer parents, particularly whites, will support military action in the region.
The draft was suspended in 1973 amid the unpopularity of the Vietnam War, but Selective Service registration was re-established by former President Jimmy Carter in 1980 after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
The present system does not require women to register, but recently a lawsuit was filed against the Selective Service System claiming men-only registration violates equal-protection guarantees.
Rangel said minorities make up a “disproportionate number” of troops in the all-volunteer army. Incentives like the GI Bill, which compensates soldiers for education after they complete their service, are most attractive to lower income groups who cannot otherwise afford the education needed for high paying jobs.
Garcia said Rangel, who voted against authorizing military action in Iraq, “is looking at this from an anti-war perspective” but that the bill is also meant to “encourage young people to think about serving their country and what it means to go to war.”
The Pentagon is opposed to the reinstatement of the draft, and released a report countering Rangel’s assessments. For example, the report cites black enlistees make up only 15 percent of the U.S. combat force, and are more likely to be found in support or administration jobs (36 percent) or in medical or dental positions (27 percent).
Representative John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced the bill with Rangel.
A Conyers spokesman said those that will be doing the actual fighting still do “not represent the most active and influential people in government affairs. People who run the country and people who vote have kids in college” and do not share the risk of their children fighting.
HR 163 represents a change in attitude among congressional leaders. Last year a bipartisan group of members in the House introduced a resolution that stated “reinstating the military draft would be detrimental to the long-term military interests of the United States.”
GW graduate student Allison Connor said she has mixed emotions about the proposal.
“I think helping the country through service like the Peace Corps or Americorps is a good idea, but I definitely do not want to be forced to join the army,” Connor said. “I do not support war.”
“In the old days it was not unusual to graduate high school and serve two years (in the armed forces) and then go to college,” said Ronald Spector, professor of history and International Affairs. “It is good because then the students would be older and more mature.”
Spector said the draft proposal probably has “very little chance to result in the reinstitution of the draft” but supports the service idea.
Spector foresees problems registering and managing the estimated 4 million Americans who turn 18 every year, as well as the potential cost.
“With so many people turning 18 each year,” Spector said, “the government will invest so much money training them to be able to perform for service, just to have most of the kids leave in two years.”
Rangel’s office disputes a lack of service opportunities, citing U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, North Korea and our understaffed borders.
“You can see the military in two ways,” Spector added, “as an instrument for war or as an instrument for building citizenship and making people conscious of being an American and conscious of other Americans and the world.”
The bill has been forwarded to the House Armed Services Committee for further deliberation. Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) has introduced a similar proposal in the Senate.