Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A military draft will resume -- Updated

This post was put together in June, last year. I see in this morning's NY Times that the president is now advancing the idea that "we’re going to need a military that’s capable of being able to sustain our efforts and help us achieve peace." In this case the word capable means bigger, as in, greater numbers. He was not contemplating better methods of "waging peace." That requires a level of understanding repugnant to both military and political minds.

The president didn't use the D-word, but there are those in Washington who will jump at the opening to bring up the subject again. One way to build up recruitment in the glamorous branches of service (Air Force, Marines, Navy, etc.) is to scare young men subject to conscription to enlist in the other branches in order to avoid being drafted.

The draft is only used to beef up the Army. The other branches of service are more selective. That may be why it's called "Selective Service." The draft actually de-selects a population of young men who are earmarked as cannon fodder.

The Times article has this and more...

Speaking in an interview with The Washington Post, Mr. Bush did not specify how large an increase he was contemplating or put a dollar figure on the cost. He said that he had asked his new defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, to bring him a proposal, and that the budget he unveils at the beginning of February would seek approval for the plan from Congress, where many members of both parties have been urging an increase in the military’s size.


There is no reason to wait for those of us who want to spread the word about being a conscientious objector to war. At least two generations of young men have been born since the last time a draft was in force. Most young men who would be eligible to be drafted have never heard the term Conscientious Objector, much less know what it means. If it is mentioned in classrooms it is sure to be coupled with the wrong ideas so it is probably best that most instructors don't bring it up. I have asked a few young people if they have ever heard of a conscientious objector and received only blank stares.

My purpose in posting this message is not to make anyone into a conscientious objector. That is not an appropriate status for everyone. Most people, in fact, are better placed as warriors. That seems to be true in human populations worldwide and throughout history. Warriors need one another to maintain the human ecosystem. I know this to be true because I served in uniform for two years and observed that mind-set first hand. No amount of discussion on the part of anyone will ever change that basic fact of human nature.

But by the same token some of us will never be good warriors. Whatever the reasons, in the same way that short people are at a disadvantage on a basketball team, those whose principles and temperament lead them in toward conflict resolution and peaceful alternatives to violence are also an important ingredient in the human recipe. I believe that is what may have been meant by Jesus' reference to salt. That small minority deserves to know that legal, patriotic alternatives exist to the "with us or against us" mentality that has been propogated lately. The nuance may escape the president, but it nevertheless still exists in the law.

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Not this week, maybe not this year, but in time a military draft will resume.
Predicting the return of the draft is like predicting the weather. Say anything you want and it will eventually happen. Just be careful not to be precise about timing. Conscription is as old as warfare itself, a historical reality true all over the world.

And like the weather, just as thunderstorms cause umbrella sales to increase, a military draft will make a lot of young men more realistic about their attitudes about being warriors. Many, if not most, will be excited about the idea. The notion of going through training, wearing a uniform and becoming part of a band of brothers like they have admired in movies and books will be very appealing. Many will be less enthusiastic, but will see the draft as a signal to enlist before they are drafted in order to get a better deal.

Unless the next draft is different from those in the past, no one will be drafted to be in the Navy, Marines, Air Force or National Guard. Those more glamorous branches will have their populations increased by "volunteers" who don't want to be drafted into the Army. It is the Army that requires the most in numbers. And it is the Army that has experience training ordinary, reluctant young men to be soldiers.

From last week's Washington Post...

Rarely in the more than 30 years since the draft was abolished has the Selective Service triggered such angst. Two years into the Iraq war, concern that the draft will be reinstated to supplement an overextended military persists -- no matter how often, or emphatically, President Bush and members of Congress say it won't.

In this atmosphere of suspicion, the Selective Service System, the Rosslyn-based agency that conscripted 1.8 million Americans during the Vietnam War and 10 million in World War II, quietly pursues its delicate dual mission: keeping the draft machinery ready, without sparking fear that it is coming back.

Further into the article was the following...

So conscientious objectors need to be ready, she [peace activist J.E. McNeil, executive director of the Center on Conscience and War] warned. The key to convincing a draft board, she said, is to document the objections before conscription is ever reinstated.

"If you're trying to prove a belief or a feeling, you can't rip open your chest and have the words written on your heart," she said.

An objector, she said, has to be able to answer the question: " 'How did you come by your beliefs?' Not all of us wake up at 5 years old and say, 'I'm a conscientious objector.' " It won't work to tell a draft board "you think it would be icky to kill people," she said.

She also warned the group that the Selective Service shares names and addresses with military recruiters.

Creative minds have been at work seeking ways to supplement our national military needs. I doubt that the following plans would be politically feasible, but who knows?

"There's not going to be a draft." Political leaders can't seem to say that enough. But if there were to be one, it could be of specific skilled professionals rather than general conscription, Flahavan said. That could mean women would be included -- and the cutoff age could be extended past 25 years.

Since 1987, at Congress's request, the Selective Service has had a plan to register male and female health care workers ages 20 to 45 in more than 60 medical specialties in case the country suddenly needed more doctors or nurses. The proposal would require the authorization of Congress and the president.

More recently, the agency has talked about reinventing itself by registering all sorts of professionals whose expertise could be helpful in an emergency. That way, the Selective Service could become a national "repository or inventory of special skills," according to the agency's annual report.

The "special skills" draft could give the government the option of calling up people in a variety of specialties, such as linguists, computer experts, police officers or firefighters, Flahavan [associate director of Selective Service for public and intergovernmental affairs] said.

Other government agencies besides the Department of Defense could draft those workers, the report states. They could include U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The agency knows what angst such a program could cause, and Flahavan repeatedly stresses that it is "just a concept" that would require authorization from Congress.

"We're not advocating that it should be done," he said. "All we're saying is . . . we've been in this business for [more than 60] years. We know how to run a draft."


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My instinct is that the political will does not exist to allow women to be drafted. It is clear, however, that increasing numbers of women are participating in all segments of the military. Casualty statistics are hard to come by, but it women are being killed and wounded in Iraq along with men. Women have historically been a sort of resistance to the draft during wartime, holding on to their husbands, sons and brothers while urging that others to go or be sent in their stead. So this component of our national conscience is being blunted in recent years.
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Due to the religious flavor of today's conflict, the role of professional clergy in resisting the draft is also being muted. Anyone speaking words of caution about military actions risks being branded as unpatriotic, at best...cowardly, at worst. Ministers and teachers connected with churches have in the past been part of a quiet but important conversation that kept alive the seeds of reconciliation so necessary to healing in the aftermath of war. But today's conflict, deriving from the excesses of religious extremism, also serves to blunt the religious component of our national conscience.

1 comment:

Deborah said...

I just quoted from you and this post in my blog at About.com.