Following up on our discussion of the draft on Monday, I remembered reading a while ago that draft deferments for students had been limited from what they were in the 60’s. During the Vietnam War, as Professor Potter discussed, deferments could continue almost indefinitely as long as a student was enrolled in school. In 1971 –late in the war- Congress reformed the draft, making it harder to get deferments. Under new reform, a high school student can defer only until high school graduation or turning 20, whichever comes first, and a college student can only defer until completion of his current college semester (or, if a senior, the completion of the academic year). These reforms were passed to promote economic and racial equality, as thousands of white middle-class males were able to avoid the Vietnam draft by drawing out their college education or seeking a higher degree, options which many Americans could not afford.
Similarly, discussion of the draft as an “equalizer” has come up in regards to the war in Iraq. Though the American public and politicians overwhelmingly oppose reinstating the draft, some have argued that it would have important positive implications. While the majority of troops serving and dying today are from poorer economic backgrounds, a draft would force greater economic diversity on the battlefield and help shoulder the burden. It would also cause Americans to be far more responsible and informed about supporting military action, as the number of citizens directly affected –including those in power- would rise exponentially.
Charles Rangel, Congressional Representative of New York’s 15th District (which includes portions of Astoria, Harlem, Spanish Harlem, and Washington Heights), has introduced two bills to reinstate the draft, one in 2003 (defeated 402-2) and one earlier this year. He explained, “There's no question in my mind that this president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq, especially on the flimsy evidence that was presented to the Congress, if indeed we had a draft and members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm's way.” His proposed bills would widen the age group, include both genders, and limit/ban student deferments. However, they would also include the posibility of non-combat duty.
I am very torn about this issue. While I feel that reinstating the draft would be devastating, I am speaking as a white, middle-class female with almost no chance of fighting in this war. My college-age friends will not fight in this war. My gender, by and large, will not fight in this war. I know only three young men who are fighting overseas; recruiters did not even bother to come to my high school. I cannot begin to imagine how this war has affected those neighborhoods and towns where dozens of young men and women have been deployed. I can speak from a position of great comfort when I say, “I don’t want the draft.” Of course I don’t; it will tear down all those walls which are keeping me and so many of my friends safe. But of course, that's the point. And while I will fight against the draft in this war and any other, I do believe in its potential to limit military engagement through greater public dissent. I think these bills need to be introduced, if only to get shot down. I think the discussion needs to be had.
If anyone has thoughts, I’d like to hear them.