American Friends Service Committee
Sara Burke, Managing Editor
Sam Diener, Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
Will There Be a Draft?
Joseph Gainza is the coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee's Vermont Program.
Despite official denials, rumors persist that a military draft may be reinstituted. The recent overwhelming vote in the US House against a bill which would bring back the draft and establish an alternative mandatory two-year national service, may lay some fears to rest, but not all. A similar bill in the US Senate introduced by Senator Ernest F. Hollings still languishes in committee but helps keep the rumors flowing.
Even with assurances from members of Congress and the Pentagon that a draft is not planned and the recent statement by George W. Bush that "we will not have a draft so long as I'm the president of the United States," parents remain skeptical. Lawrence J. Korb, an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, says, "I think it is skepticism that we have been misled so many times about this war: weapons of mass destruction, ties to al Qaeda, a 'cakewalk.' People are clearly worried and figure 'They are just waiting until the election is over to spring the bad news on us.'" (New York Times 7/3/04).
Some people point to the fact that the Selective Service System, the body which would oversee a draft, has recently received $26 million from Congress and has begun to try and fill vacancies in local draft boards as evidence that a draft is pending. Also of concern is the move by Congress to expand the size of the Army and Marines and the efforts of the Defense Department to retain some soldiers beyond their expected dates for leaving service. Additionally the military is planning to recall to the barracks 5,600 former active-duty soldiers still in the reserves who have certain skills.
So what are we to believe? I have looked into the available evidence and read the comments of anti-draft activists and organizations. I believe that given the present situation, there are several reasons why chances of a reinstated draft are slight to none. The reasons run from the practical to the political. The $26 million dollars for the Selective Service recently approved by Congress was in fact the agency's regular budget, reduced by $2 million. The call for volunteers to fill local draft boards is a result of the expiration of the 20-year terms of members appointed after President Carter re-established registration in 1980. Congress is well aware that more than 70% of those surveyed were against reinstating the draft and there is very little desire in either chamber to buck this popular sentiment; the recent vote against the draft bill in the House was 402 to 2 with Charles Rangel, the lead sponsor, voting against it. Rangel had introduced the bill as a way to protest the war in Iraq and to spotlight how low- and middle-income Americans shoulder much of the burden of the fighting. The Pentagon has repeatedly said that it does not need a draft, pointing to the better qualified recruits of a volunteer military.
It is a sad reality that many people are more likely to ignore US military interventions when there is a volunteer force to do the fighting. Their children are safe unless their economic condition makes the overtures of military recruiters seem attractive. This "poverty draft" has worked well enough to enable recruiters to meet their quotas. A reinstituted draft makes it far more likely that an alarmed electorate from all economic levels will oppose future "preventive" wars.
So a draft is not likely unless there is a drastic change in present conditions. But another war, another attack could change many minds.
A peace movement must go beyond discussion of a military draft, as important as that is. We must insist that there be a public discussion about what the American military is for; to what purpose it is being employed. We must raise the question about why there are over 730 US military bases and installations around the world (see Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire). We must demand an accounting of the 1.4 million soldiers presently in the military. Why, with that number of personnel, does having 130,000 troops in Iraq put such a strain on the military that national guardsmen now make up nearly 40% of those in Iraq? Where are they all? Why are they there? Why is the US the only nation which divides the world into military commands (Central Command, Southern Command, etc.), headed by a military satrap? Why does the US spend 47% of the total world budget for the military, with Japan (an ally) in second place with 5%? Why does the US act as the world police officer and also demand that it be exempted from the judicial oversight which could be provided by the International Criminal Court? What community would ever allow its police to operate freely without any judicial oversight? Yet that is precisely what is demanded of the world community by the US government.
These and similar questions are not appearing
in the media. Our peace movements must raise them and force a
response from our government as we also keep an eye on any attempt
to reinstate the draft.