WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com)–In times of war, all Americans–not just those who volunteer–should share equally the burden of military service. Legislation has been introduced in Congress by a decorated Korean War veteran to require just that: two years of mandatory military or civilian national service for every man and woman between the ages of 18 and 26.
“If our great nation becomes involved in an all-out war, the sacrifice must be equally shared,” Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) told reporters Jan. 7. Mr. Rangel is concerned that the burden of military service is now being borne disproportionately by members of disadvantaged groups. He noted that only one member of all 535 members of both the House and the Senate is the parent of a child in the enlisted ranks of the military. Only two others are parents of military officers.
“It is apparent however, that service in the armed forces is not a common experience and that disproportionate numbers of the poor and members of minority groups compose the enlisted ranks of the military,” Rep. Rangel said.
“I believe this legislation is necessary to achieve full sharing of the sacrifice which will be required of the American people if the President chooses to invade Iraq and pursues military options elsewhere in furtherance of the war against terrorism,” he continued.
The legislation attracted 11 co-sponsors on its first day, including Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the “Dean” of the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), CBC Chairman, and John Lewis (D-Ga.).
The Senate version of the Universal National Service Act of 2003 was introduced by Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.). “We all share the benefits of life in America, and under this plan, we all help shoulder the burden of defending our freedoms,” Sen. Hollings said in a statement.
The Bush administration’s response was to flatly reject the need for a draft to satisfy the Pentagon’s future personnel requirements. The Pentagon contends that the U.S. can engage in 14 peacekeeping missions around the world, and fight on two major war fronts at the same time with an all-volunteer military and reserves. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissed the Rangel proposal.
Mr. Rumsfeld went on to even downplay the military value of soldiers drafted in the past. In his opinion, Vietnam War draftees “added no value, no advantage really to the United States Armed Services, because the churning that took place. It took an awful lot of effort in terms of training, and then they were gone,” Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters.
The Rumsfeld comment provoked the ire of several Republican as well as Democratic members of Congress, according to Mr. Rangel’s spokesman Emil Milne.
The Rangel measure, on the other hand, would require more citizen participation in all levels of the war mobilization, and would also affect public opinion about how U.S. foreign policy is related to its military requirements, according to one political scientist.
“What Rangel is trying to do is say, ‘There are costs here.’ We live in an affluent society where the affluent have the power to dictate a policy, the cost of which will be borne by people who are characterized by their race and class, by low-income, and by their color,” Dr. Ronald Walters, professor of Political Science at the University of Maryland, told The Final Call.
“Reviving the draft, therefore, is a discussion about including everybody in the cost,” Dr. Walters said. All young people would have to defer educational plans and invest their time, energy, effort, and maybe even their lives for their country if the Rangel measure is enacted.
On the other hand, Dr. Walters continued, “When you listen to Bush, when (he was) asked ‘What will Americans sacrifice because of the war on terror?’ He said: ‘Well, hug your children and go out and spend some money.’ That’s not really the kind of sacrifice that we’ve been used to when we enter into a significant military conflict.”
Both Mr. Rangel and Sen. Hollings believe there should be a “shared sacrifice” in the defense of the nation. Mr. Rangel, a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus who represents Harlem, is strongly opposed to an invasion of Iraq, because he doesn’t feel that the President has made the case that the U.S. is under any imminent threat from that country.
The military is disproportionately composed of minorities–at least 35 percent of the active duty forces, according to Mr. Milne. “It’s poor, including poor Whites. It’s people on the lower rungs of the economy who volunteer in the service as (Mr. Rangel) did, for economic opportunity reasons–a chance of getting trained in some marketable skill or educational benefits when they leave the military.
“These are the kinds of motivations that are no attraction to the upper classes,” Mr. Milne continued. “They don’t need these things, so they don’t join. Therefore, we have a volunteer military that is disproportionately comprised of people who are seeking economic opportunities, not because they are any more patriotic than anybody else.
“So Rangel says, ‘If there’s a need for a war,’ if he’s wrong, ‘then, give the wealthy classes a chance to serve, to come in and defend the country,’” Mr. Milne said. If more of the country’s elites–Members of Congress, for example–had children serving in the military, there would be more serious and longer deliberations about decisions to go to war.”
South Carolinians, generally, do not, number among the nation’s top elites. It is one of the states where “you almost always hear they are the first troops deployed,” Andy Davis, spokesman for Sen. Hollings told The Final Call. There are also a lot of military retirees living in that state. “When it comes to military issues, it’s a state that’s very sensitive to it.
So, a big part of Sen. Hollings’ reasoning for supporting a return of the draft is “to raise the consciousness and the thinking about the cost of war. Not only the financial cost, but the human cost of what it means to American families to have to watch their sons and daughters go into harm’s way,” said Mr. Davis.