Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Draft bills in congress 

Since early last year, the Universal National Service Act of 2003 has been in subcommittees in the House and Senate. Summary of the act:

To provide for the common defense by requiring that all young persons in the United States, including women, perform a period of military service or a period of civilian service in furtherance of the national defense and homeland security, and for other purposes.

It seems that the bills do not have very much support among members of Congress, which would help explain why they've been stuck in subcommittees for more than a year. My worry is that in the wake of some future catastrophic event -- say, a meltdown in Pakistan or another major terrorist attack on US soil -- these bills could be rushed through Congress in much the same way as the Patriot Act was hurried through in the panicked weeks after 9/11.

The draft is not the answer to our current woes in Iraq. For one thing, it's not at all clear that more soldiers would help  in Iraq. More soldiers would provide more targets for terrorist and guerrilla attacks, and would further complicate an already daunting supply problem. Secondly, it would take perhaps a year to restart the selective service system and perhaps another year to fully train drafted troops. Even if more troops would help in Iraq, we can't wait two years for those troops.

As to Chuck Hagel's argument that the draft would spread the burden of war equitably among all social classes, that's just not true. The rich and powerful have always found ways to avoid being drafted. During Vietnam, classism was essentially built into the draft system in the form of student exemptions. Community college or vocational students did not qualify for these exemptions as they were not considered "full-time" students. Family connections could evidently get you past the waiting list for a coveted spot in the National Guard. And it is the rich and powerful who have the means to escape the draft by leaving the country. The class gap in our military may be a problem, but the draft is not the solution.
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