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CNN reported on January 30, 2002, that Senator Rangel of New York will introduce a bill in the next session of Congress that would reinstate the military draft. Rangel who voted against the recent congressional resolution authorizing Bush to use force in Iraq, claims that restarting the draft will make lawmakers think twice before they rush to war. They will be more cautious, goes his reasoning, because their sons and daughters might be among the soldiers going off to kill and die. After all, a military draft would include all men (and maybe women) in the United States who were of a certain age. “When you talk about a war, you’re talking about ground troops, you’re talking about enlisted people, and they don’t come from the kids and members of Congress,” he said. “I think, if we went home and found out that there were families concerned about their kids going off to war, there would be more cautiousness and a more willingness to work with the international community than to say, ‘Our way or the highway.’ “
Mr. Rangel has not done his homework. If one looks at the last war where US citizens were drafted-the war in Vietnam, it is more than apparent that those draftees who did most of the killing and dying in that war were working class men. If those men were black, they were even more likely to end up as nothing but cannon fodder. According to the Oxford Companion of Military History, “during the height of the U.S. involvement, 1965-69, blacks, who formed 11 percent of the American population, made up 12.6 percent of the soldiers in Vietnam. The majority of these were in the infantry, and although authorities differ on the figures, the percentage of black combat fatalities in that period was a staggering 14.9 percent.” In addition, they accounted for almost 20 percent of all combat-related deaths in Vietnam from 1961-1965 and in 1968, they frequently contributed half of the men in front-line combat units.
Even when upper-class men went into the service (as draftees or enlistees), the likelihood that they were sent to the frontlines as enlisted men was quite remote. The stories of the 2000 major-party presidential candidates serve as perfect examples of this. Mr. Gore enlisted and ended up as a military reporter who served five months in Vietnam covering the activities of an Army Engineer Brigade. His tour of duty was cut short by two months. If he had not enlisted, chances are he would not have served. Mr. Bush used his family’s connections to stay out of the Army and join the National Guard, from which it is alleged (with considerable substantiation by various media and veteran’s organizations) he went AWOL and was never disciplined. Most readers who were of draft age during the Vietnam war probably know folks who avoided service because of their class circumstances and associated opportunities-I know I certainly do.
As my friend and colleague Jay Moore likes to point out in his History of the Sixties course at the University of Vermont, the draft was/is not only about putting men in the military. It is also about maintaining the stratification of society based on society’s current economic needs. Prior to 1969, the military draft consistently deferred men who were considered to be “college material.” In addition those in college whose studies might have been useful to the war machine-say in the areas of technology and science-were granted deferments. This policy was called channeling and was defended as being in the national interest. Its converse-the channeling of men who weren’t considered “college material” to the front lines, was by default, also considered to be in the national interest. After 1969, when the national draft lottery was introduced in the name of supposed fairness, the policy of channeling was continued via the AFQT. Those young men whose numbers were drawn who were sent to the front lines were more likely to have scored lower on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test (AFQT). Those young men whose numbers were drawn who scored higher, usually because they had received a better education, were assigned to units more likely to be out of harm’s way, probably in another part of the world. As any observer of the educational system in the U.S. knows, neighborhoods with more money usually have better schools. Plus, many wealthy families often send their children to private schools. This, of course, usually provides even stupid rich children with a better education than that received by their peers in poor and working-class school districts.
Mr. Rangel and others who might agree with him have it all wrong. A universal military draft would not cause the warmakers in our government to think twice before going to war. It would only make them insure that the people who do the killing for their empire now would continue to do so on an even more massive scale. Indeed, if there were a military draft, Mr. Rumsfeld’s dream of a two-front war would have an increased chance of becoming reality. After all, there would be an endless supply of young, mostly working class and poor, Americans to fight it. That is, unless antiwar and antidraft activists could convince them to do otherwise.
RON JACOBS lives in Burlington, VT. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org