Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Is it time to reconsider the draft?

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.

-Katherine Eyster

1 comment:

Peter said...

Yes, the concept of the draft is unequal, it always has been since at least the Civil War when wealthy men could and would pay poor white and black men to take their place in the draft. As Michael Moore painstakingly told the viewing public in Fahrenheit 9/11 "Not a single member of Congress wanted to sacrifice their child for the war in Iraq. And who could blame them? Who would want to give up their child? Would you?" He continues to back up your point in saying that "I've always been amazed that the very people forced to live in the worst parts of town, go to the worst schools, and who have it the hardest are always the first to step up, to defend us. They serve so that we don't have to. They offer to give up their lives so that we can be free. It is remarkably their gift to us." There is no denying that there are inequalities in the draft and military in general. It is much easier as a middle class white male to avoid going to war than for someone from a more disadvantaged background. But that is not the problem in a draft in the war in Iraq. The question should be, why are we sending anyone to fight at all?

Race and class equality is definitely something that our country still needs to fight for but I don't believe a draft in a war in which much of the country now (shown through polls) believes is a "bad" war will bring us any closer to equality. The draft, as is my understanding, is a last measure to give us a push in a war, not to promote race and class equality. What benefit in equality will we gain by sending more people to their possible deaths. The so called unequal burden that Moore references is a part of our system which must be fixed but not by drafting men who don't want to fight the war and shouldn't have to (this includes the disadvantaged, a draft does not only take men from the middle to upper class. They might be able to get out of it with more ease but that still many of them will go). Many, many men and women are dying in Iraq every month, every day, and yes the majority of them come from poor and unequal backgrounds but I believe that is a problem we need to fight on the home front as Lyndon B. Johnson wanted to in his "war on poverty." His "war on poverty" came at an inopportune time during the Vietnam War but it had many aspects that if the war hadn't overshadowed them might have been very beneficial.

Also, the draft as an "equalizer" doesn't really work without significant changes to the draft. Firstly, on the ideas that Charles Rangel proposes, he is completely right that for an equal draft you need to draft both men and women. There is no point in trying to make the draft equal in race and class without first including the half of the population which has until this point been excluded (I thank you for recognizing that as a woman you can not be drafted so it is hard to promote a draft). Countries such as Israel have already proven that all the stigmas the US has against drafting woman are fallacies. A ban on student deferments would ease the inequalities but it also would be depriving all sectors of domestic life from an educated work force. Especially in a war such as Iraq when we do not or should not send all our possible troops, there is no point to stop the country and its industries from advancing with educated youths. As for the idea of non-combat duty, it sounds great but I don't believe it would work when we already are sending over National Guard troops which were never supposed to be active combat soldiers. I know of many examples of people who believed that they would be non-combat and were instead sent to Iraq to fight and even had their tours of duty extended to keep them there for up to 3 years with minimal leaves.

Much of what I am saying might come from the fear that if a draft is instituted, I might be drafted. However, I truly desire for a more equal and fair country but I also truly believe that a draft during this war is not the time to experiment. You are definitely right that there needs to be discussion on race and class inequalities in America but I don't believe the draft is the venue in which to do it.

Thank you very much for raising this issue though since it has been on my mind for a while. I'd love to talk with anyone about it in person since I do think it is very important to talk and debate the idea of the draft, especially when many of our presidential candidates on both sides say that they are in favor of one if the situation in Iraq comes to it. What that "situation" might include, I do not know but it is important to talk about.

-Peter Lubershane