Jewish World Review Oct. 11, 2004 /26 Tishrei 5765
Despite Congress killing a bill that would have restored the draft, some people remain unconvinced
Feeling a draft, kids?
Just about every talking head in Congress and the Bush administration denies it, including President Bush. But rumors of a looming military draft, fed by the Internet, mischievous Democrats and anxious draft-age youths, have become a persistent annoyance in these tense political times.
The pressure grew fierce enough last week for Congress to take action.
The House squashed one major source of the rumor: Rep. Charles Rangel's (D-N.Y.) bill, the Universal National Service Act, which would require "all persons," including women, to perform military or civilian service "in furtherance of national defense and homeland security."
Like its sister version proposed by Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D-S.C.), a World War II veteran, Rangel's bill was always largely symbolic, a noble effort to jolt Americans into thinking more deeply before sending our troops to war in Iraq or on other foreign adventures.
House Republican leaders fished Rangel's bill out of legislative purgatory, where it had been left to die along with countless other Democratic ideas. Then, without troubling themselves with the usual niceties as hearings or debate, Republicans rushed Rangel's bill to the floor. There, by a resounding vote of 402-2, the House killed a bill that never had a chance of passage anyway. Even Rangel, a decorated Korean War veteran, voted against his bill, complaining that the Republicans' haste was a plot to put Democrats on the spot. If so, it was only because the Democratic bill was putting Republicans on the spot.
But a draft bill is easier to kill these days than draft rumors. People will believe what they want to believe, especially when they keep running into facts that contradict what their national leaders are trying to tell them.
I realized this a few months after writing what I thought was a well-informed column to reassure many worried parents and youths, including my 15-year-old future-draft-bait son, that Congress, the Pentagon and the White House would rather fall on hot needles than bring on the political backlash that a draft would bring.
Of the incredulous e-mail responses I received, the most poignant came from a father in Louisiana whose daughter had just enlisted in the Navy. He wanted to let me know that her recruiter had told her about secret Pentagon plans to restore the draft a few months after the election. In a toss-up between me and his daughter's recruiter, he said, "I am inclined to believe her recruiter."
Fair enough. I responded with appropriate congratulations and best wishes for his courageous daughter, but I added as a cautionary note that, as a Vietnam-era draftee, I learned firsthand that recruiters don't always tell the whole truth.
Are recruiters using the threat of a draft to urge young people to enlist now while they still have a choice of training and job assignments? Maybe. That's what the recruiters said back in my day.
And today's draft-age generation has growing evidence that the all-volunteer force is getting stretched to its limits:
Item: The Army National Guard fell nearly 10 percent short of its 2004 recruiting goal of 56,000 enlistees.
Item: Current recruiting needs recently forced the Army to ease some of its educational and aptitude standards for the first time since 1998, when a strong economy offered potential recruits a robust number of civilian alternatives. As a result, as many as 2,000 of the 101,200 new soldiers that the Army and Army Reserve expect to take in during 2005 would have been rejected under previous standards.
Item: More than a third of nearly 3,900 former soldiers mobilized under a special wartime program have resisted their call-ups by seeking delays or exemptions. Some may face criminal charges.
Item: Mounting complaints from the families of Reserve and National Guard troops raise pressure on Congress and the White House to ease the pressure with a draft.
Item: Bipartisan calls in Congress want to expand the Army by more than 20,000 soldiers. President Bush pledged to defeat terrorism with "an all-volunteer Army" during his first debate with Sen. John Kerry. The senator promised that his own war plans do not require a draft. But elsewhere he has promised that "my first order of business as commander in chief will be to expand America's Army active-duty forces by 40,000 troops, including the doubling of Army Special Forces."
With that in mind, it's no wonder that a lot of young folks are feeling a draft. Why shouldn't they? Our Washington leaders speak quite grandly about an axis of evil and wars on terror and the need to put far more people and money into the nation's defense programs. But they sound curiously vague about where all of the money and people are going to come from.
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