In today's political universe — a realm dominated by unshakably established politicians, a realm in which nearly every conceivable suggestion has been brought to the table at least a couple of times — there are few ideas capable of causing chaos. And among these, although phrases such as "universal health care" and "tax hike" are proven wreakers of havoc, there is probably only one imaginable proposal that could be characterized as a political A-bomb: reinstatement of the military draft.
Recently, U.S. Representative Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, reiterated a policy proposal he's suggested in the past: re-enabling the selective service to utilize conscription in order to fill the country's military ranks. The thought of such a possibility conjures up images of burning draft cards, the jungles of Vietnam and Nixon calling for some kind of ambiguous "peace with honor." But the aim of Congressman Rangel's proposal is hardly that of returning to the nightmarish period in the late '60s and early '70s — a period in which young men walked around fearing that their government might choose at any moment to drop them in the middle of an unwinnable foreign war with little support at home.
Rangel's motive, in fact, is quite the opposite.
During the 2004 presidential election, I remember a claim that — although it was not the most predominant piece of campaign rhetoric lobbed at George W. Bush — for a brief period inspired a scare among young people. His opponents were asserting that, should Bush be re-elected and his war continue as such, there eventually would be a need to reinstate the draft. But this claim was completely without merit, not because George Bush wouldn't be able to "stoop" to a draft, but because his doing so would be totally illogical from a political perspective.
American proponents of war — a surprisingly large group that can be found promoting their cause under the latest deceptive guise — presently have the U.S. military-political complex in what they would consider an optimal place. Because the U.S. military is technically an "all-volunteer" force (despite the fact that many of these "volunteers" are among the country's poorest and have simply joined the service because the less-than-sufficient compensation they receive is the best they can hope for), the political ramifications of engaging the country in a conflict have largely been neutralized (that is, unless said conflict proves to be absolutely disastrous, as the situation in Iraq has). Actually, it has become fairly easy to quickly gain public support for a proposed military campaign, as many Americans can be sure that they will not personally be affected, given the lack of a military draft.
Rangel knows this, and he happens to represent many constituents who joined the "all-volunteer" military because they needed money to put food on the table, but who are now paying for the trigger-happy public's wars with their lives. Rangel is proposing the draft not because he wishes to see a massive expansion in the U.S. military, but rather because he knows the effect a reinstatement of conscription would have on politicians' ability to wage war on a whim.
If a military draft were employed, free of deferments and exemptions, it would be impossible for middle-class armchair warhawks to root for a war, as their own children would be in danger of becoming part of the conflict. We would witness a quick disintegration of the pro-war-at-any-cost attitude that has infiltrated a crowd of cheerleaders who presently make no personal sacrifices to, as their mantra states, "supporting the troops." Most importantly, if Rangel's proposed draft were adopted, the U.S. public would not immediately throw support to just any half-baked idea for a war.
We live in an age of high-powered, high-tech warfare — an age wherein our destructive capabilities are larger than they have ever been. This is an era of the most harmful, dangerous kinds of warfare, and yet we are totally removed from the horrors of war. Because we incur no personal harm from the roadside bombs we watch explode on CNN, modern warfare seems distant. It is because of this that we forget what it means to engage in a military conflict. Even without reinstating the draft, perhaps a simple, mainstream discussion of the topic could return to us some of our sense and humanity.
At least answer this question honestly: If you could potentially have been drafted for the Iraq War, would you have supported the cause?
Rob Rossmeissl ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism and political science.