Were last year's anti-war marches not big enough for you? Have VH1 specials made you nostalgic for the 1960s protest songs of Country Joe & the Fish? If you answered 'Yes' to either question, you may want to consider joining the politicians who have recently suggested reinstating the military draft.
The draft, which conscripted generations of young men to fight in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, was ended in 1973 as the Vietnam War wound down. Now, after a 30-year hiatus, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran, wants the country to consider bringing it back.
Earlier this year, during a session of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Hagel suggested two reasons why a draft, or some sort of mandatory national service, may be necessary. Number one: The U.S. military is stretched too thin and more troops may be needed to fight the long-term war on terror. Number two: A draft would require shared sacrifice from both rich and poor, unlike the current all-volunteer military, which recruits largely from the middle- and lower-middle classes.
Congressman Charles Rangel, a Democrat from New York, made a similar argument about the importance of shared sacrifice when he introduced legislation in Congress to reinstitute the draft last year. According to Rangel, "Those who love this country have a patriotic obligation to defend this country. For those who say the poor fight better, I say give the rich a chance." Rangel's bill calls for every United States resident between the ages of 18 and 26 to perform a period of national service — either in the military or in a civilian capacity such as homeland security — for a minimum of two years.
The idea of mandatory national service found in Rangel's legislation and Hagel's comments is something that could set apart a future draft from the military-only drafts of the past. This would allow for the inclusion of women (who would not be subject to a military draft) as well as conscientious objectors and those with medical issues. It could also potentially build on the support for additional national service programs found in the campaign platforms of both George W. Bush and John Kerry.
So — to cut to the chase — are we likely to see a return of the draft? Probably not. After Hagel's comments, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated unequivocally that he did not believe a draft was necessary, and neither Hagel nor Rangel has generated much support among policymakers in Washington, the military or the public. Although military planners agree that more troops are needed in Iraq, most think the current volunteer system is up to the task.
So why would Hagel and Rangel, both smart politicians, propose such a thing? Shock value, perhaps. Rangel, an opponent of the Iraq war, introduced his legislation during the run-up to the war as a way to force supporters to examine the extent of their commitment. For Hagel, a supporter of the war, his comments were most likely intended to force the public to realize that the war on terror would be a lengthy struggle requiring sacrifices from those in all walks of life.
And as for Country Joe, it won't take a renewed draft to get him back on the road: He's on tour as we speak.
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