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Bring back the draft -- but with a twist

November 23, 2011 |  1:14 pm


There are 3 billion reasons -- billions, as in dollars -- behind the pushback against cuts to the Defense Department's budget, which, along with Homeland Security and related programs, takes up more than half of the nation's discretionary budget.

Here are some more of them:

-- Members of Congress don't want to come up short on the defense pork in their own districts; as the saying goes, one member's pork is another’s employment base

-- Members of Congress are worried that they'll be targeted as ''anti-military'' if they vote for cuts.

-- Even though the public and the politicians say they don't want this country to be the world's policeman, they also fret that the U.S. will be perceived as weak if it doesn't maintain a large military.

But something else, I think, underlies the reluctance to cut defense and security dollars, even on the programs that the military's defenders have identified as expendable.

Cutting back the standing military forces does not mean the U.S. can't go to war if needed, and go quickly. It just means that politicians will have to have the guts to do what is necessary to make that happen:

They would have to reinstate the draft.

In the weeks after the attack on Dec. 7, 1941, masses of volunteers were eager to right the wrongs of Pearl Harbor. The military draft did the rest. In the years after World War II, young men routinely did military service, stateside and abroad. Over time, more deferments were made available, so fewer American men ended up in uniform (from Bill Clinton to Dick Cheney).

The draft was ended in 1973, two years before the fall of South Vietnam. It was a casualty of the furious political battles over the draft itself, battles that co-joined public anger over the Vietnam War.

Since then, the country has had an all-volunteer military, although young men are required to register with the Selective Service when they turn 18.

That means the mechanisms for reinstating a draft are still there. But virtually no member of Congress wants to pull that trigger to summon young men -- and maybe young women -- from civilian life to active duty, and perhaps to war.

Commanders are quoted as saying they don't want a draft to fill their ranks with the unwilling (shades of fragging incidents in Vietnam -- attacks on officers by disgruntled enlisted men).

That shouldn't be the only consideration when it comes to national service requirements. At the Sun Valley Writers' Conference in August, I talked to Rick Atkinson. He's the author of a wonderfully revealing World War II trilogy, and he eloquently detailed how different the current military's profile is from the broader demographic of service members in World War II. (And very different, I would add, from the children of members of a Congress nearly half of whose ranks are millionaires.)

There is one member of Congress who has argued, for those and other reasons, for bringing back the draft -- New York Democrat Charles B. Rangel, who fought in the Korean War.

Rangel endorses a return to the "citizen soldier," with other national service options for those who can't or don't want to spend time in the military.

How about a return of the ''citizen citizen''? And rather than make the military the only destination of a "draft," a one- or two-year national service requirement that gives young people other choices -– working in classrooms, working with hospice patients, working in libraries to help people with computer skills, working on infrastructure building projects, all alongside with and learning from professionals -– could go a long way toward renewing a sense of national spirit and national purpose in a country that has been cynically manipulated into pointlessly poisonous divisions.

Worried about readiness? Then let us, as a nation, be ready -- on every possible front, not just the military one.


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-- Patt Morrison

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

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