Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York’s 15th Congressional District has made news this week by proposing that the government reinstate the draft. His basic premise is not that the draft is good, not that the draft is fair but that a draft would be at least more fair than the current system where the poor fight the wars wanted by the rich.
The congressman is concerned that Bush’s war in Iraq will continue killing and maiming his constituents’ children as long as Bush’s donors’ children get to stay at home while living off the war profits made by their parents as thanks for supporting Bush’s war.
Charlie Rangel has it almost right. More on that later.
A little on conscription in general
By almost any definition, military conscription is unjust. It is, if not actual slavery, a very small step above it. Citizens of a country are taken away from their homes and families and lives, sent through a depersonalization process and then off to be cannon fodder. Any person looking at it objectively must agree that it is inhumane, unjust and barbaric. Even those who support it – well, at least those who support it while being honest – cannot deny that it is a horrible oppression of citizens by government power.
When I was a child the draft was a central part of growing up. The war in Vietnam was chewing up vast percentages of the nation’s teenage men and those of us under the draft age of 18½ spent a lot of our time wondering and worrying about what would happen when we turned 18 and it would be our time to go through lottery and selection. We spent years figuring out deferments and exemptions. We plotted and planned and cursed the people who were oh so willing to have us suffer for their decisions. In short, it was a way of injecting hell into everyday life.
Why then bring the draft back?
It’s important to remember that the draft wasn’t fair. If you could get into college, you were safe. If you could get a job in a defense or government related industry, you were safe. If your family had a friend who was a doctor, you were safe. Of course, if you had really good connections you could get into a "Champagne Brigade" like George W. Bush and be safe. What all these had in common was, obviously, the ability for the rich to buy their way out and if you look at this administration, which came of age during the Vietnam era, this week’s Pacific Rim Summit in Hanoi was the first time any of them were likely to see Vietnam. The system worked well for the rich. As Dick Cheney said when asked why he didn’t go to Vietnam, "I had other priorities".
Now this is not a new tradition. In the first US draft for the Civil War you could pay a bounty and someone would go in your place. If fact, historians now generally say that the extra income brought in by that program aided the war effort more than the extra foot soldiers.
What Charlie Rangel is proposing is not a return to this past. His proposal eliminates most of the exemptions. He does allow for medical exemptions which while necessary are also a likely way for the system to be corrupted.
His goal is simple. By making the children of campaign donors as likely to be sent to risk death as the invisible poor, the ability of having wars that are not absolutely, positively needed becomes much, much lower and the pain and worry and suffering are more equitably distributed.
OK, What’s wrong with his proposal?
What Congressman Rangel is missing is that his bill is almost certain to fail. When he submitted his proposal a couple of years ago he admitted that it was meant to trigger the debate. This time he really wants this proposal considered and passed. While Speaker-Elect Pelosi will certainly make sure it gets debate and a vote, it won’t pass. It will force those remaining hawks to justify why they want to draft their donor’s children or to justify why they oppose getting fresh troops.
What is missing is a last kicker to make the bill accomplish another goal. It should clearly identify that the US people and their representatives do not want this war to continue.
We currently have units in Iraq that are on their fifth, yes, fifth consecutive tour in the combat zone. We currently have troops who were set to retire years ago but in the "stop loss" program they are incapable of leaving. We currently have officers recalled because they didn’t hire a lawyer when they retired from the military and didn’t catch the obscurely referenced regulation number cited in their separation papers that made them subject to an involuntary recall even years later if they didn’t file separate paperwork to resign their commissions in addition to resigning from the service. Our National Guard which was formed to protect the country in case of national emergency is now a permanent military without equal benefits or equal equipment or equal training.
All of this means that we’ve taken our "volunteer" army and enslaved it. We’ve taken our "Homeland Security" force and at a time of supposed need for increased Homeland Security have kept them away from where they’re needed, say in Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama where the devastation of the bungling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster are still not fixed.
So what can be added?
What needs to be added to Congressman Rangel’s bill is this:
- Any military unit on its fourth or greater tour in Iraq will come home at the end of their current tour.
- Any National Guard unit on its second or greater tour will come home at the end of their current tour.
- Any shortfall needed to replace these units will be made up by conscripts.
This bill can be debated and this bill can pass. If Bush and his friends want to keep their war going, let them be the ones who have to explain to tens of thousands of their constituents that their sons and daughters will be forcibly removed from their homes and families to go and risk death and injury and illness in a foreign land for reasons that will at that point seem oh so much less compelling.
I suspect that would end the war in record time. Or it would guarantee that the Republican Party would cease to exist after 2008. Either way, the American people would come out ahead.