Exposing the Coming Draft

Articles in CounterPunch and elsewhere recently have given opposite views on whether the return of the draft is likely–and even whether a draft should be opposed at all. Noam Chomsky (Feb. 2) takes the strong pro-draft stand: “I have always favored a draft,” he has said. Jacob Levich did a good job (Feb. 4) of decimating Chomsky’s a-historical assertion that colonial wars have never been waged successfully with conscripts–always with professional armies and mercenaries Chomsky would say that’s what we have in Iraq–and he would be right. Chomsky would also say it was the draft that pumped up student protests in Vietnam, and he would also be right there–partly (see below). Jacob Levich is also right to warn that a ‘bipartisan effort’ is now in the works to restore the draft, and that whatever its appeal as a movement-booster, it should be anathema to all Americans who love freedom and hate war.

But the buzz and anti-buzz about the draft continues. On the one hand, headlines blare that the military draft is coming back. Internet sites and alternative media continue to promote this idea. Several articles have appeared in the mainstream press recently: “The Return of the Draft” in the February Rolling Stone, with a decidedly anti-draft stance; and “The Case for the Draft,” in the March Washington Monthly, a pro-empire centrist magazine.

Yet during the election debates in November, both Bush and Kerry categorically denied that either would allow the activation of a draft. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld dismissed the idea as ridiculous, noting that he has always supported the ‘volunteer army’ which he helped create and is now “reorganizing.” Most major media called the ‘draft scare’ pure urban myth created by internet rumor mills. The Selective Service System website states categorically that there are no ‘active plans’ to revive a draft.

What are Americans to think–especially those now in their late teens and twenties who would be subject to forced military service if a draft were re-enacted? Jacob Levich has done a good job in CounterPunch of outlining the basic elements needed to answer this question. He clearly reveals the practical reasons to think a draft is likely soon, and the ethical and political reasons to oppose it. But most young Americans remain skeptical that a draft is likely. They would agree with most pundits that politicians of either party seek at all costs to avoid raising the specter of a revived draft. As Phillip Carter and Paul Glastris said in the Washington Monthly article: “…the draft (has) replaced Social Security as the third rail of American politics.” For most progressive young Americans the draft seems far off, compared to more pressing issues like the War in Iraq or erosions of civil liberties by the ever-expanded Patriot Act.

Young Americans need to be clear: both parties–Republicans and Democrats–are parties of war and parties of empire. Likewise, both ideological stances–liberal and conservative–rationalize and memorialize war and empire, each with a particular bent and emphasis. Both parties and both philosophies have vested interests in the powers and accouterments of the warfare state–that is, the total, modern state, with absolute control over its citizens in the name of national interest and security.

Conservatives are more divided over empire than liberals–with strong libertarian and isolationist wings. In some ways, liberals have been the worst offenders–the most brutal war mongers, the most thoroughgoing statists. They always have been: Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, to name a few. JFK laid it out: “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” The Bay of Pigs and Kennedy’s order of the assassination of Diem in Vietnam reveal Kennedy’s leanings. Nixon was more cautious than Kennedy–and certainly than Johnson–in pursuing war and empire. Nixon dared to recognize China; it was he who finally extricated the U.S. from the Vietnam War, and it was under his Presidency that the draft was finally ended. (It should be noted that he was pushed into these measures by a massive, well-organized anti-war and draft resistance movement.)

Both parties have promoted the growth of the U.S. empire throughout the 20th century, and both have supported colonial wars, though these were disguised as the cold war, and now as the war against terrorism. However much leaders of both parties protest–especially Bush and Rumsfeld who send Americans to die in Iraq– now that the U.S. is firmly set on an imperial course, this will provoke wars which will demand more and more fighters. Even if Democrats were not so weak and disorganized, they would do little to staunch the bloodshed. John Kerry favored enlarging the army and sending more troops to Iraq. The liberal spokesman for the Democrats, Chairman Howard Dean, always emphasizes that Democrats favor a strong military as much as Republicans.

As Charles Moskos, a prominent military sociologist, said just after 9/11, “We’re in a new kind of war. It’s time for a new kind of draft.” The Washington Monthly piece calls it “a 21st century draft.” As outlined in the now infamous Selective Service memo of February 2003, or by Moskos in his articles, and now by the Washington Monthly proposal of March 2005, it will be a much more efficient draft, more universal (women as well as men), more complex and more sinister. It will demand that all young people be registered in a massive data base that details their skills and strengths, their weaknesses and dalliances. It will know who are linguists and who are likely good at killing–and it will draft them to relevant tasks. It will draft for ‘homeland security’ as well as duty overseas–for border guards and immigration cops–and for computer nerds and medics. It won’t even be called a draft–more likely, ‘national service,’ ‘homeland service,’ or ‘universal service.’

Yet when grunts are needed on the battlefield–it is likely that some form of the lottery will still be there to call them up. Donald Rumsfeld, who has indeed always pushed the concept of a ‘citizen army,’ has also always seen a lottery for compulsory service as a back-up for national emergencies. Already in 1965, at a national conference on the draft, Rumsfeld predicted, “We will move eventually toward a volunteer army, but above (that system) it would be necessary to have a compulsory system as a secondary mechanism for raising manpower.” The final method, he said, “for choosing those for combat, when not enough volunteers are at hand, should be the most random.” March 5, 2005 . (For these and other early quotes from Rumsfeld, see Sol Tax, THE DRAFT, University of Chicago, 1967.) Sooner or later, as in the year of the first ‘survivors’ show, the televised draft lottery of 1970, young people will crowd around their sets again–maybe even singing the Three Dog Night hit, “One is the loneliest number”–as they did thirty-five years ago.

During the Presidential campaign, before Rumsfeld’s most recent fevered denials that a draft was in the offing–and before the Republican leadership shot down the liberal version put forward by Rep. Charles Rangel and others as a form of anti-war maneuvering, Family Circle magazine–largest circulation women’s journal in the country, with 23 million readers–published Jan Goodwin’s, “Could Your Child Be Drafted?” (July 2004.) Charles Moskos–who has advised four Presidents on military manpower–was quoted: “We cannot achieve the number of troops we need in Iraq without a draft.” The conservative Republican, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, was even more blunt: “Don’t listen to what they say. Look at what they do. The Administration says ‘no’ to the draft, but what we’ve gotten from the Pentagon says ‘yes’.” Family Circle sent out a press release, including recommended actions for parents to work against a draft and to keep their children from being drafted.

More and more nations are abolishing conscription. France, Portugal, Spain, the Czech Republic, Austria and many other countries abolished their programs of military or national service in the late 1990s and since 2000–most also abolishing mandatory registration. Over 100 nations–the majority–now have no form of draft or registration, and about 15 have registration but not a draft (like the U.S.) Surely the U.S. would not buck that trend. Or would it? It is the U.S., not France or China or any other power, which claims that it alone must “bring freedom to the world.” This would not be the first way in which the U.S. is out of step, and out of touch, with most of the rest of the world.

The ‘urban myth’ about the draft’s return keeps getting stronger. Some rather hard military facts persist as well. The Washington Monthly piece put it starkly: “America can remain the world’s superpower. Or it can maintain its current all-volunteer military. It can’t do both.”

As Moskos predicted, the U.S. was unable to maintain its forces in Iraq without a draft. The Pentagon used what many have called the ‘backdoor draft.’ Since early 2004, at least 40,000 national guardsmen and reserves (who make up 40% of those serving in Iraq) were compelled to remain on active duty after their tours were up–and more will soon face a similar fate. Most of those affected were told officially that their enlistment was extended until 2031! This is called ‘stop loss,’ an emergency measure which the President is supposed to be able to use only when Congress has declared war or a national emergency–which is not the case. Yet–like many other evidently unconstitutional measures–stop loss is a reality. In addition to the extensions of duty for the national guard and reserves, more than 5,500 of the ‘Ready Reserves’ have been called up for Iraq or Afghan duty. These are older men and women whose regular reserve duty has ended–including grandmothers and grandfathers edging toward retirement, as well as men and women raising families and pursuing careers who had no idea they would be called again to duty.

Perhaps the worst sign for those who would keep an all-volunteer force while trying to run an empire is that military recruitment has suffered tremendously as the U.S. media feature stories about young Americans killed in combat. The Army and Marines have failed to meet their recruitment quotas, with the army running about 40% short. The most telling statistic is that 35-40% of those who enlisted in 2003 did not complete their first term–because of health or mental health problems, drug testing failures, desertion, or application for conscientious objector status. (See “Decoding Rumsfeld” by Bill Galvin, Nov. 4, 2004, on the NSBICO.org website; and summary of information on the draft, compiled by Chris Lombardi, Central Committee of Conscientious Objectors website, objector.org).

All three military academies, which saw an increase in applications after 9/11, now draw smaller pools of those seeking admission–ranging from 15 to 25% fewer as of early this year. (Baltimore Sun, Feb. 8, 2005) ROTCs are also shrinking–even as Republican student groups have called for their revival. If the ROTCs and the Academies cannot provide enough officers, the services will be in serious trouble very soon. (See Baltimore Sun, “Applications Decline,” pages 1B and 4B, Feb. 8, 2005.)

As many U.S. military experts had previously warned, Jane’s Intelligence Digest–an independent and internationally respected review– stated emphatically in August 2003 that “U.S. forces are severely overstretched.” Jane’s pointed out that “traditional calculations for every soldier deployed” indicate that two soldiers are needed in reserve and one is needed for “mainland supply and support.” Congress today limits the active military to 1.4 million men and women. In fact, the Pentagon has illegally increased that number by as many as 30,000 without the pre-requisite Congressional approval, as Stan Goff pointed out in the on-line journal, From the Wilderness, more than a year ago (“Will the U.S. Reopen the Draft?”, February 27, 2004). Carter (a former Army officer and writer on national security issues) and Glastris, in the Washington Monthly, make a compelling case that the number of men the U.S. can keep for more than a year in a hostile country during an occupation is only about 80,000 under current conditions. They argue that Iraq demands–as the Army Chief of Staff at the outset of the war claimed–at least 250,000, and that the U.S., as ‘superpower’ needs to have a ‘surge force’ of about 500,000 ready at all times for the hotspots around the world.

The U.S. has military bases in 130 countries, as well as secret installations in Israel, Austria, England and elsewhere. More than 300,000 of the 482,000 soldiers in the U.S. army are deployed abroad–21 out of 33 regular army combat units were overseas (according to Goff). This alone should require, according to the Janes formulary, 900,000 reserve and support soldiers! Yet the U.S. military presence abroad doesn’t stop there. The Pentagon will not release exact figures, but marines, air force and various special forces are scattered across the globe. Besides those in Iraq (more than 150,000 in early 2005, and Afghanistan (nearly 10,000), and other regular combat-ready troops in the former Yugoslavia, in Korea, and in Europe, there are a dozen special forces operations and military commitments in Haiti, Cuba (Guantanamo), West Africa (with ECOWAS), Sudan, Okinawa, the Philippines, Columbia (where U.S. special forces virtually control the local military), Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and elsewhere.

Complications in any of these arenas could suddenly require more U.S. forces. In Korea, the U.S. is committed by treaty and Congressional action to up to 700,000 troops if the South is attacked by the North. And what if the U.S. decides it needs to take out North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, unleashing a full-scale war there? Then there are the other ‘axis of evil’ nations the U.S. has indicated are worthy of invasion–Syria and Iran. These may not be invaded tomorrow, but as President Bush has said, “Presidents may never say never.” By early March, Bush had given Syria a May deadline to withdraw completely from Lebanon or face–what? Invasion?

The Pentagon has recently appeared to bow to recruitment and retention pressures and to criticism within the military about troop levels. In mid-March 2005 it issued press releases predicting that the force in Iraq may be reduced later this year. Even if this occurs–and if the insurgency does not grow as a result–U.S. foreign policy under Bush will require more troops sooner or later. An empire cannot be built, and certainly not expanded as Bush has promised (under the guise of “spreading freedom”) without imperial troops.

The Project for a New American Century (PNAC) is a bipartisan group of top ranking military and political figures including current White House advisors. In 1995, PNAC laid out a strategy and time-line for a new U.S. foreign policy agenda post-cold-war which now seems chillingly prescient. In February this year, PNAC issued an open letter to Congress and the President in which it denounced the “warping” of roles for the National Guard and the reserves. “Reserves are meant to be reserves,” its letter stated. PNAC quoted General James Helmly, Chief of the Army Reserves, “The Reserves are a broken force” due to over-use in Afghanistan and Iraq. PNAC went on: “We are close to exhausting U.S. ground forces,” even without assuming other battlegrounds. The solution? “Increase the size of the active duty army and marine corps–at least 25,000 per year over the next ten years.” The Washington Monthly article insists this greatly under-states the need–which is not for an increase in the active-duty army (which requires a thirty-year commitment to volunteer soldiers and their families), but for a large short-term surge force which could only be guaranteed by conscription.

Failing that, the Pentagon goes on with its conscription of national guard and reserves for longer and longer re-enlistment periods, calling the elderly Ready Reserves, and even “reactivating the disabled”–that is, severely wounded soldiers. (Al Jazeera–Dec. 2004–has estimated that deaths and permanently disabled soldiers in Iraq have already deprived the U.S. of about 9% of its manpower there.) The U.S. gets around the maximum troop levels by depending more and more on extremely expensive private armies (security consultants–that is outright mercenaries) for as much as $1,500–$2,000 per day (TIME, April 12, 2004, article by Michael Duffy). When asked in writing by fifteen Democratic Senators last year after the grisly slaughter of Blackwatch mercenaries, Rumsfeld admitted there were at least 30,000 armed consultants in various capacities in Iraq alone. A listing of the more than 200 deaths among these consultants reveals South Africans, Filipinos, Chileans, Egyptians, Arabs and others, as well as U.S. citizens. Quite a few special forces officers who completed their duty in Iraq understandably refused to sign up again (despite incentives of as much as $100,000), in order to be re-hired out of uniform for the same killing duties.


Meanwhile, refusal to answer the stop loss recalls and other forms of what the military calls ‘desertion’ are also growing. The Pentagon admits there were 5,500 desertions last year–and some feel this figure is far too low. As many as 1/3 of the 4000 Ready Reserves called back for duty last year applied for exemption or simply did not show up. (New York Times, Nov. 16, 2004, article by Monica Davey.)

Although the option to apply for conscientious objector status for active-duty soldiers has not been withdrawn (as it was during the Gulf War), the military is making the process so onerous that some of the hundreds applying have simply given up–and gone AWOL. Lawyers for the National Lawyers Guild task force on G.I. Rights have launched a John Doe lawsuit against the Department of Defense on the stop loss orders. Those who run the GI rights hot-line report tens of thousands of calls from those facing stop loss orders as well as others, seeking help to avoid combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. has been so short on combat troops, it has almost never punished the deserters, and has mostly stopped giving them dishonorable discharges–in some cases, returning to duty those apprehended or who return. Field commanders in Iraq who complain about this–deserters are hardly the best soldiers–are told that manpower gaps are so extreme that the crisis demands this new policy. Potential AWOL soldiers in Iraq should be wary of this policy, however. It is not universal and may change.

There have been a hundred or more active-duty soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, possibly many more, who have turned up in various other countries, ranging from Syria to Britain–especially in Canada –where at least seven have applied formally for refugee status, and have been allowed to stay pending reviews of their cases by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). Toronto and Vancouver peace activists and lawyers representing some of the U.S. deserters claim that twenty more are about to begin the process, and possibly a hundred U.S. soldiers and their families are in those cities, still underground. (Toronto Star, January 9, 2005)

Yet G.I. and draft counselors for the groups in the U.S. working in these areas warn that things have changed drastically for those who would ‘dodge’ military service by going abroad. Bill Galvin of the Center on Conscience & War (CCW) says he feels the Canadian government is not likely to grant refugee status to deserting U.S. soldiers. Some counselors believe that the new U.S. agreements with Canada and other countries, specifically the Smart Border Declaration (SBD) make it unlikely that deserters or conscription resisters will not be extradited. A look at the Canadian embassy website reveals that SDB and other joint border measures are designed to keep deserters (and others, such as suspected ‘terrorists’) from leaving the U.S. in the first place. Random checks inside the U.S. are already in place a few miles before many border crossings. Advance passenger notifications at airports screen those who would leave the U.S.–measures never taken before in U.S. history.

Both Canada and Sweden–the two countries which took the bulk of the 55,000 U.S. military deserters and draft refusers during the Vietnam War–have now agreed they will not automatically exclude extraditing such people. Even those who travel to Canada before they are called to avoid registration or draft–or merely to escape the militarism now rampant in the U.S.–face much more difficult processes for permission to live and work. In the Vietnam days it was still possible to apply within Canada for landed immigrant status. Changes in Canadian immigration laws in 1975 and 1995 require that applicants for immigrant status return to the home country to do this, and the process can take many months. The U.S. has gotten ever tougher, say draft and military counselors, on Vietnam-era deserters and draft resisters who did not apply for President Carter’s amnesty and who are now Canadian citizens, often refusing them permission to visit the U.S. for funerals and other family crises.

Some draft counselors say flatly, “Forget Canada.” Yet many Canadian peace activists insist that Canadians will never tolerate their government’s refusal to shelter those who refuse to fight in what they see as immoral wars. Most mainstream articles–like “AWOL in America ” by Kathie Dobie in the March Harper’s, downplay desertions to Canada and assert that Canada will not grant refugee status as during the Vietnam war. Toronto Attorney Jeffry House, who represents five deserters, says that while simple refusal of military service is not enough for refugee status, other strong arguments exist. “Being forced to fight in what Canada sees as an immoral and illegal war ought to be grounds for refugee status,” he says. While he believes the refugee boards are currently taking orders from the foreign affairs office which signed the SBD agreements with the U.S., he is confident that on appeal in Canadian courts, many Americans who refuse to fight will be welcomed, as they were during Vietnam. (Interviewed by the World Socialist Website, Feb. 10, 2005). Prime Minister Paul Martin, who has begun to buck the U.S. more and more, commented in December, in response to a reporter’s question about the U.S. deserters’ cases before the Refugee Board: “We don’t discriminate when it comes to refugees. Canada is a nation of immigrants.” This was taken so positively by those who support the U.S. resisters, that Martin’s office issued a disclaimer that his remarks should not be taken as referring to specific cases before the IRB. (Ottawa Sun, Dec.30, 2004.)

Lee Zaslofsky, who became a Canadian citizen after fleeing the draft during the Vietnam War, is one of the many former U.S. resisters now involved in the War Resister Support Campaign. “It’s not just leftists here who support resisters–we are drawing from labor unions, the churches, a cross section of Canadians. About 23,000 have signed our petition to support those who resist the U.S. wars. The U.S. resisters receive a warm welcome as they travel all over Canada–Quebec, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, small towns as well as cities. People are offering to house them–sometimes in out-of-the-way places. To those who say, “forget Canada,” he says, “Yes, there is the risk they may not be able to return. Maybe there won’t be a Watergate and a turn-around in the U.S. as there was for us. But who knows–things do change over time. I say to those who come here, you must accept that you are becoming a Canadian, and be prepared for not going back. Brandon Hughey (one of those whose case has yet to be heard by the IRB) just celebrated his first anniversary in Canada. He is alive, working and safe, and he is not killing anyone. If it comes to the crunch and the appeals are exhausted, the Federal Immigration Minister will have to decide, and the Canadian public will not stand for our government to become the enforcement arm of the Pentagon.” If he’s right, the growing trickle of U.S. resisters in Canada could become a flood. (Telephone conversation with the writer, March 16, 2005.)

It is now clear that there is already a severe military manpower crisis. If the U.S. continues or increases it’s involvement in Iraq, which is nearly certain, and if there is U.S. involvement in other areas, the crisis will become extremely urgent, requiring an urgent solution–one that Rumsfeld and others dislike, but which even Rumsfeld has always said may become necessary in an emergency: “Conscription, compulsion of any sort, under our Constitution, requires a demonstrated need.” (At the Presidential Commission on the draft at the University of Chicago, December 1966.) Many military experts believe that need has already been fully demonstrated. As Carter and Glastris put it in the Washington Monthly: “…there’s the serious ethical problem that conscription means government compelling young adults to risk death, an to kill–an act of the state that seems contrary to the basic notions of liberty…In practice, however, our republic has decided many times…that a draft was necessary to protect those liberties.” They and others believe the time has come again to overcome such ethical qualms–“if American wishes to retain its mantle of global leadership….” Or, more bluntly, if Rumsfeld, Bush and the neo-cons wish to complete the building of a total warfare and security state, as they clearly intend to do, some form of conscription must follow.


The type of draft now being considered–both by some liberals and by White House military advisors and the Selective Service System–most closely resembles what Israel has today (minus the ethnic and religious distinctions)–and perhaps the Bush assertion of the “new kind of war” against terror most closely mirrors the real and desperate conflict within Israel between Jews and Palestinians struggling for the same small piece of territory.

Since its beginning in 1948, Israel has been a nation under siege by its Arab neighbors and the Palestinians from whom it carved out its territory. The Israeli national service requires three years of service for all Jewish and Druze men, two for all women–between age 17 and 50. Israel divides the type of service in three parts: military (compulsory for men, except orthodox women and Jewish or Druze theology students or teachers), security (police, fire, border, anti- terror units), and community service. All students may defer enlistment, but must complete a month of training each year. There are exemptions only for the ultra-Orthodox religious scholars, mentally or physically impaired, and criminals. Women who are pregnant or married with children may also be deferred. In practice, only about 40% of all women actually serve. In this religiously based land, Christians and Muslims are not eligible to serve. What makes the Israeli system relevant for the current discussion of a revived draft in the U.S., is its focus on homeland and border security, and its universal, comprehensive nature in service of a national interest assumed to be at extreme risk from terrorism. Of course neither Mexico nor Canada represent a threat to the United States as do Israel’s neighbors, but since 9/11, Bush has adamantly asserted the immediate danger of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. This would clearly qualify as Rumsfeld’s demonstrated need for conscription.

Yet the main features of the Israeli system seem likely to be elements of any revised conscription in America. Just as Israel is a central factor in U.S. middle-eastern foreign policy, the ‘war on terror,’ essentially a war on Arab and other Muslim militants, will demand an Israeli-style security apparatus. Another feature of the Israeli system likely to be imitated in the U.S. is a special skills draft for health-care and other specialists, who may be forced to serve even beyond the mandated period. Finally, as in the U.S., the reserves are a major back-up for this system. All Jewish and Druze men remain on call until age 42, women until 24. In practice, men are now required to train for one month only until age 35, and women not at all, but all former enlistees may be called up at any time, especially if they have unique skills not satisfied by existing recruits.

The Rangel plan requires two years’ service for all persons between 18 and 34, with delays for schooling only until age 20. Women are included. Persons approved as conscientious objectors could still be chosen for non-combat military service. Although Rangel’s Universal National Service Act was defeated overwhelmingly when the Republican leadership sprang a floor vote last October to embarrass those who warned about a coming draft, Rangel’s office says he will re-introduce it in 2005.

The Selective Service suggests, as was done during the lottery years 1970-1973, that 20 is a more appropriate and less controversial year to require such service. Both the Rangel bill and the Selective Service proposal have these same types of required service–with an emphasis on the new needs of Homeland Security. The Border Patrol, for instance, is having great difficulty recruiting the thousands of new guards mandated by Homeland Security. In the Selective Service plan, women would be included in the mass registration drive–to collect a vast array of personal and skills data–but would be exempt from combat service, as at present. They could choose non-combat military roles, homeland security, or community service. If not enough young people chose the military option during a war, the current draft lottery would be re-activated for both men and women not specifically drafted for skills like linguistics, engineering, computers, and health care. The Rangel plan, which is not clear about whether women could be drafted for combat roles, and which does not include the massive skills’ data base, allows the President to choose the types of alternative service and the method of selection for those chosen to serve in each category.

This certainly seems to guarantee the kind of class stratification that the “imperfect society” Rumsfeld mentioned forty years ago has always demanded. Perhaps Donald Rumsfeld hit the nail on the head in 1966, when he said, “Society will be imperfect tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, whether we have a voluntary or an involuntary system.” As Rumsfeld said then, correcting social injustice and “imperfection” does not correlate with how we choose our soldiers.

The Washington Monthly proposal suggests compelling only those who would attend four-year colleges and universities to perform at least 12 months of some kind of national service before being allowed to pursue their education. They repeat the same three types of service that are in the other proposals: community service, homeland security, and military service (with a choice for non-combat or combat duty). Under this highly unlikely scenario, only the elite would be required to serve. “Even if only 10 percent of the one-million young people who annually start at four-year colleges and universities were to choose the military option, the armed forces would receive 100,000 fresh recruits every year.” This, they say, would avoid a lottery, and give ‘choice’ to America’s best-educated young people–it would also provide a force that has the language and computer skills so lacking in the current force. They propose (as does the Rangel bill) GI Bill of Rights benefits, including scholarships, for all who serve–with higher pay and higher benefits for those who accept combat roles. They do not say what would be done if 10% did not choose combat roles in time of war, nor do they explain why such a draft, aimed only at elite students, would not in fact trigger massive protests.

In whatever form, the ’21st century draft’ will be more comprehensive. Almost all women’s organizations now support equal opportunities for women in the military, so it is highly unlikely that there would be a feminist movement against a truly comprehensive compulsory national service. Gay and lesbians cannot count on traditional homophobia to keep them out either. Their principal spokespeople have been demanding for years that homosexuality not be a reason for discharge from the military. Congress is considering elimination of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, on the grounds that it has been extremely costly–as much as $191 million since its inception in 1993, according to the General Accounting Office (GAO) report in February 2005. The author of the “Don’t Ask” policy is none other than Charles Moskos, who is most visible among White House advisors in promoting the “new kind of draft.” (Some who know him say he’s angling to become director of an expanded selective service under Bush.) He told the Advocate, a gay/lesbian publication, that “the policy should be abandoned if there is to be a draft,” simply because it would be too easy for people to use this as a way out. (Advocate, July 6, 2004.)

If conscription in some form is likely–and likely not to resemble the Vietnam-era draft, but more closely an Israeli-style national service–what are the arguments for it, from an anti-empire, anti-war perspective? The arguments in its favor: (1) If anyone must be forced to serve, a draft would be fairer; (2) A broad national service would allow choice, and serve community interests as well as military; (3) A ‘citizen’ army–that is one drawn from among all citizens–is less likely to fight wars of empire or wars for corporate interest, and more likely to recognize unjust wars and human rights atrocities. A variant of this argument is that it was the draft that led to massive student protests during Vietnam, and that without a draft, such protests will be muted. These are the arguments that lead some of the most stalwart anti-war activists either to support a draft or national service, or at least not to oppose it.

Rep. Rangel and his band of anti-war liberals (with some conservative support) agree that the war in Iraq and other adventurist policies of the U.S. cannot be sustained by the current so-called volunteer army–which they call the ‘poverty draft.’ They believe that by instituting a universal national service, including a compulsory military draft if not enough volunteer (or by threatening one), Americans will simply not go along with wars like the present one in Iraq. They argue that the anti-war movement in the 1960s and early ’70s would not have been nearly as strong had their not been a draft which threatened the sons of the elite. They insist that a volunteer army today is based on an economic draft of the poor–especially non-white poor (though Rangel insists he is speaking about all the poor, not simply blacks). If a truly universal draft were enacted–without deferments that would exempt almost all elite children–and if the sons (and daughters) of that elite–including the President’s daughters, for instance–were forced into military service–the war would end, and U.S. policy would change. Further, they hold that the only form of ‘fair’ selection of manpower for combat in wartime is one that is random and truly universal.

Congressmen Rangel insists that the current volunteer force, especially those who face combat in Iraq, is made up primarily of the poor and lower middle class men, who have accepted such dangerous work because of economic necessity (the poverty draft). Others have continued to stress that there are more Blacks and other minorities in the military, and in Iraq, than their numbers in the general population would warrant. This echoes the complaint during the Vietnam War (when draftees were cannon fodder) that Blacks took the brunt of fighting and dying.

A review of ethnic demographics of the military during the Vietnam period and then recently shows a more complex picture. Racially, 11% of the 648,560 soldiers (including officers) who fought in the Vietnam War at its height were Black–when they were 13.5% of the general population. The Black percentage of combat marines and army infantry was 14%. Among the 1.8 million who fought in Vietnam at any time during the 20-year conflict, 16% were black, but of all U.S. combat deaths in Vietnam, 12% were Black. It is interesting to compare some religious demographic figures: though less than 25% of the general population was Catholic at the time, more than 33% of combat deaths in Vietnam were Catholic. (These statistics are all from Charles Moskos and Sibley Butler, BE ALL THAT YOU CAN BE, Harper-Collins, 1996.) Before 1966, however, 20% of casualties in Vietnam were Black, while this figure dropped to 10% by 1971. There is no way to know if heightened Black consciousness, Black desertions and G.I. organizing, or the general awareness of race in America, led to military policies that reduced such casualties. Throughout this period, the draft was the primary means of recruiting combat soldiers for Vietnam. It is also important to note that Blacks only made up 1% of draft board members in 1966, and by 1971, only 5%. No wonder that a Gallup Poll in 1972 found that 76% of all Black soldiers opposed the war–draftee or volunteer.

Chomsky and others call the military of the late Vietnam War period a broken military. One general at the time spoke of two armies in Vietnam: the smaller force of faithful soldiers who followed the officers, and a larger body of anti-war grunts–many of whom were Blacks, Hispanics, working-class whites–and some intellectual officers from the upper middle class who came via elite university ROTCs. It is unclear whether this broken force had anything to do with the draft or not.

It is undeniable that the presence of Blacks increased in the voluntary force developed after 1972 , growing far beyond their percentage in the society at large. In 1964, 9% of all military manpower was Black, while in 1976, the figure had increased to 15%. By the time of the 1991 Gulf War, 23% of the (voluntary) military were Black (but only 11% of the deaths in that war were Black– about as many as in Vietnam). By this time, though, Blacks were only about 11% of the general population. It would appear that this was the high point of Black participation in the U.S. military. Since then, percentages have dropped–by 2003, the Black percentage was about 20%, but only 10.6% of combat units. Of those killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, it would appear (the statistics are somewhat confusing) that 11.2% are black–just over their percentage in the population. Hispanic deaths are 11.7%–while their percentage in the general society is higher now than Blacks–about 14%.

As an academic and activist, I was in Haiti during the intervention by U.S. troops in 1993 to restore President Aristide under Clinton, and several times during the U.S. occupation that followed it. Likewise, I have been in Haiti three times recently–once immediately after the U.S. intervention last year under the second George Bush to remove Aristide.

In the 1990s, I was struck by the number of Blacks, both as ordinary marines, and as officers–including quite a few Haitian-Americans. I was told by the U.S. military in charge of the operation that Haitian-Americans had been sought out for duty in Haiti–which made sense. Last year, the opposite seemed true. In the streets, one saw countless trucks and humvees with U.S. marines–sometimes all white, never more than one or two Blacks. At the Presidential Palace, where marines had just been stationed to protect the new U.S.-approved ‘president,’ whom I interviewed, I counted more than 50 marines including two officers. There was only one Black. At the airport, a group of ‘private security consultants’ (private army soldiers) mingled with several marine officers on their way back to the states or for R&R in the Dominican Republic. All were white.

I interviewed several at the palace and several more at the airport, and I spoke to some in the streets. Every soldier I interviewed was from a poor white, rural family–many from the U.S. South and Mid-West. Some of these soldiers had been ‘snatched’ from duty in Iraq, as they put it. One told me, “We have no idea what is going on here. None at all. They just told us a Saddam like dictator was taken out, like in Iraq.” Many Haitians complained of serious incidents where civilians were killed because of language misunderstandings–the marines had no Creole translators with them. I asked a military advisor about this and he told me, “We have no policy to recruit Blacks or Haitians for duty here. The Canadians and the French can translate.” This ignored the fact that Creole, spoken by most Haitians, is not the same as French.

So what’s going on? Is the army in the field whitening again? Is there an unwritten policy to cleanse some parts of the military of Blacks and other minorities–whether to satisfy Black feelings that they are bearing too much of the burden, or to avoid a return to the Vietnam situation where so many Black soldiers resisted and rebelled against an unjust war where they felt they had to kill people of their own or a similar race?

A close look at the military reveals a very major racial shift since the Gulf War–and one that has not yet been widely acknowledged. Charles Moskos says military recruiting is now much more aggressive in rural areas than in urban ghettos. The result is clear in the make-up of the military. While general enlistment of Blacks has now fallen from 30% (at its height in the late 1990s) to about 13% today, the re-enlistment level for Blacks has remained far greater than that of whites. This is especially true for those in non-combat units, especially communications and unit administration. Moskos says that of the 45,586 combat infantry in the army in 2003, 10.6% were black; of the 12,000 air force pilots, 2%; and of the Green Berets, 5%. “The U.S. forces fighting the wars today are disproportionately white,” said experts quoted in USA Today (1/20/03). Moskos told me (email correspondence, February 2004), “The portion of Blacks in combat units has been shrinking for two decades. Special forces are almost all white now. The high black numbers are in supporting roles. Even Black enlistment over all has been declining for the past two years–perhaps due to anti-Iraq and anti-Bush feelings among Blacks.”

Class demographics–that is the percentages from various income groups–are not kept by the Pentagon, at least not for public consumption–but it would seem that whether in a conscripted army during the Vietnam War or in a ‘voluntary’ army today, the poverty draft does work. Officers have always been drawn heavily from the U.S. South (the military academy graduation lists will show), and from middle and upper-middle class whites. That began to change in the period 1972-1991, when more Blacks went to those Academies and became officers. The older pattern now seems to be reappearing. Enlisted men–especially those in combat–come almost exclusively, whether drafted or volunteer, from lower middle class and the poor, and elite units are almost exclusively white now.

The combat and casualty burden today seems to fall heaviest not on Blacks–or Hispanics–but on poor, rural whites–though it is difficult to prove this. The soldier facing potential combat in Iraq (or in Haiti or anywhere else) today is much more likely to be a poor white soldier from West Virginia or Nebraska than a Black from the urban ghettos of Watts or Harlem. (See also Charles Moskos, quoted by Newsmax.com, July 16, 2003, and subsequent articles by Moskos.)

What does this have to do with bringing back the draft? Rangel and others say they are crafting a truly fair national service act, with a random military draft lottery, that will exempt no-one, and restore racial and class balance to the military overall. Yet both Rangel’s bill and the plan being prepared by Selective Service for such a national service seem to perpetuate class differences, if not racial ones. And these plans are so much more total, that they seems to threaten the very concept of a free society. Rangel’s plan, as well as the ‘secret’ proposals of Selective Service, would still channel young people into roles that are class related: ‘skills’ means middle or upper class youth; others will be grunts when grunts are needed. Again, Rumsfeld’s assessment seems to hold up: in an unequal society, any form of military–drafted or volunteer–will fall more heavily on the poor.

Noam Chomsky and some other radical critics of U.S. foreign policy, would agree with Rangel, but go further. They insist that ‘citizen armies,’ by which they mean armies drawn from the whole population and not a professional force of mercenaries, are by nature incompatible with imperial aims. Chomsky asserts that no modern European empire has fought colonial wars with conscripts–they have all built up professional, mercenary cadres, insulated from public opinion by their isolation within a military culture. He believes this is why Rumsfeld and the Pentagon so strongly prefer a ‘voluntary’ force.

Jacob Levich has reviewed the history, and insists that Chomsky is simply wrong. (“Even Homer Nods: Chomsky and Conscription,” CounterPunch, Feb. 4, 2005) Levich points out that the war in Iraq is already being waged by a ‘citizen army,’ drawn from men and women who are pulled from their families and their careers and forced to serve beyond their contracts as national guardsmen. He also surveys the history and finds that most colonial wars have been fought with a mix of conscripts and professional officers (Russia, Italy, Japan, Napoleon in France, Franco in Spain, Israel against the Palestinians). Britain, Levich points out, was the exception because it could depend on highly paid elite colonial troops–as the famed Gurkhas from India– and I would add, Irish and Scottish regiments.

Even if a so-called ‘volunteer force’ were not based on severe economic need and discrimination, a draft would both be fairer and less likely to sustain colonial wars and empire, Chomsky insists. Chomsky repeats the assertion that it was the draft that led to the massive protests against the Vietnam War–of which he was a part, but never (as he reminds us) as an opponent of the draft–only as opposed to the war itself and the imperial policies behind it. On the other hand, if a state is based on true consent (not manufactured consent, evidently!), its policies will be just, Chomsky asserts. Assumedly if such a state and its citizens were really threatened by an unjust state or non-state force, it would be ‘just’ to require that the burden of fighting fall on all citizens equally. (See Chomsky’s interview with Amy Goodman on the Democracy Now radio program, Nov. 15, 2004, and his articles in Znet, Dec. 11, 2004, and CounterPunch, Feb. 2, 2005.)

An examination of the facts during the Vietnam War do not bear out Chomsky’s views about the connection between the draft and resistance to end the war. Inside the military–the broken force–according to statistics provided by the Pentagon–60% of those disciplined or suspected of anti-war organizing were from among volunteers. (See Stan Goff, From the Wilderness, Feb. 27, 2004.)

I have personal knowledge of this. As an anti-war and anti-draft activist, I was smuggled onto a couple of military bases in the late 1960s (Fort Bragg and Fort Devins) to support groups within the military who opposed the war. Every leader of such a group whom I met was a volunteer, including some who were life-long professional soldiers. When I asked about this at the time, a sergeant told me, “We know the army well enough to keep from being caught–the fresh draftees would be mincemeat in a few days if they stood out by speaking out.”

In any case, what Chomsky, Rangel and others fail to point out is that every army is led by life-long professionals–who spend decades in isolation within a socialist-style military system that takes care of their every need, from groceries and schooling to health-care and recreation. At the same time, it is often the conscripts (or volunteer grunts at the bottom level) whose naiveté leads them to commit abuses against enemy soldiers and civilians. It is the same class of people who somehow get trapped into such behavior–whether at Mai Lai or Abu Ghreb.

As the evidence I have presented shows, some form of draft seems to be on America’s horizon. It will be more comprehensive on the one hand, and more complex and subtle on the other. It will allow the illusion of ‘choice,’ since it will be a skills’ draft for a wide range of roles demanded by the ‘national interest.’

Some–for instance, the Snopes rumor mill site in October 2004–simply dismiss this kind of draft as no draft at all. It will, they say, just require some with special skills–health care, linguistics, computer technology–to be inducted for both military and homeland security purposes. They call this a ‘minimal’ draft. In fact it is the maximum use of the conscription concept: compulsory registration of all young people, to include all relevant data about their training, skills, health and legal records, and then choose those with needed skills for specific urgent tasks–whether military, homeland security, or “other national interest.” This is the draft expanded, not reduced, and it remains a likely option for a government hugely strapped both in terms of military manpower and it’s perceived ‘homeland’ and anti-terror requirements.

At the close of 2004, Al Jazeerah editorialized that, while it would take “a massive casualty-producing event on U.S. soil for the U.S. to re-introduce the draft,” such an event was extremely likely if not now, soon. “Already the military situation is untenable, and homeland security itself is stretched impossibly thin already.” Former Attorney General Ashcroft was chided for once saying more or less the same thing–yet did not retract his assessment.

Some form of conscription is coming, so long as the U.S. continues its Imperial drive to control the whole world. This will be true whichever party is in the White House, though Democrats might put a better face on it, with more involvement of our allies. So long as the U.S. sees itself as under siege from hidden terrorists within and without, an Israeli style manpower system is the most likely. It will not be the simple Vietnam era draft of the infantry.

But force, compulsion, conscription, involuntary servitude–for any role–whether as linguist or border guard or officer or foot soldier– undermines a basic human right for people of all races and classes: free choice, especially over one’s work and one’s life. Furthermore–like the death penalty–conscription gives any state a power that is liable to be misused, and that is dangerous in the hands of those who see themselves as the embodiment of some ill-defined national interest.

At the Stockholm Conference on Vietnam in 1969, I joined other anti-draft activists to propose a resolution to the assembled delegations from around the world. We proposed that ALL nations abolish conscription. Peace groups from the USSR and the Eastern Bloc staunchly opposed this. They were, of course, controlled by their governments. The anti-draft resolution was defeated (Rumania and Cuba abstained on the final vote). The Soviet argument was that just governments could require service from their young citizens–and that all should serve equally. Chomsky is like the Soviets in believing that a ‘just government’ could develop a fair system to fight its wars by having the power to force all its young people to serve. The flaw in this thinking is that any government can be trusted to be just, if it is granted total powers like conscription or the death penalty. Karl Marx himself seems to have agreed with this principle. (See Howard Zinn, “Je ne suis pas Marxiste,” ZINN ON HISTORY, Seven Stories Press, 1999, pp. 86-87.)

It is time to revive the old saw, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” If those who oppose empire and war are divided on the question of granting the state (and especially the empire) the absolute power of conscription, they will be much more easily overcome by those who promote the empire and wage the wars.



There has been a resurgence in anti-draft awareness and activism over the past two years. Long-time organizations against war and militarism, as well as those who organize conscientious objectors, have generally taken the stand that they oppose a return of the draft, but that it is unlikely today. These groups stress that more important issues are organizing within the military, against ROTC and JROTC campus units, and against military recruitment, especially in low income neighborhoods and at high schools and colleges. Such groups include the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO), War Resisters’ League (WRL), American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR).

The traditional anti-military group that has given the most attention to the possible come-back of a draft is the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (COMD). Yet it’s articles have also downplayed the real possibility of a revived draft. The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) likewise has given token opposition to the Rangel bill, but its priorities are elsewhere. One veteran conscientious objector organization, formerly known as NISBCO, now the Center for Conscience and War (CCW) has mostly takes a middle road–it has not see the draft as an immediate threat, but viewed developments in the Selective Service System as worthy of close scrutiny. It provides a wealth of information to young people and their parents about any possible coming of a draft–and warns especially against expecting Canada or other exile to be a good option in the future. Yet CCW director Bill Galvin now says, “I’ve begun to see the draft as more and more of an issue that will face us within the next year.”

A spate of new anti-draft organizations have arisen over the past two years. Each of these has a rather specific ideological or cultural style and viewpoint, ranging from far left to far right. On the right are endselectiveservice.org of the Libertarian Party and draftisslavery.com, an objectivist group. Moderate groups include the quirky but moderate DraftResistance.org, which like many of the groups, seems largely the product of one individual or a local group, in this case from Alaska. A similar effort is wewontgo.org at the University of Tennessee, which is circulating a pledge among college students that they will refuse induction if a draft is re-instated. (In 1970, the ‘Charlottesville Pledge,’ which had young men promise to resist once 10,000 others had signed the pledge, has often been cited as a factor in the huge increase in those who refused induction or simply fled.)

The left is represented by two very active new groups–again, both organized rather locally and/or by political parties or movements. One of these is People Against the Draft (nodraft.info) mostly in New York City–whose chief organizer, Jacob Levich, has written thoroughly researched and well-formulated articles for CounterPunch and other alternative media–but who has also managed to get some attention from major media. Another group that is just now becoming active is nodraftnoway. Associated with left-oriented anti-Iraq War groups, they have planned actions on both coasts–especially for the March 31 deadline when Selective Service will announce to the President it is up and running, prepared to re-institute the draft when called for, within as few as 75 days. Stopthedraft.com is another group that seems left-oriented, but courts support from all sides. Their site recently featured a distinctly conservative group, Mothers Against the Draft (MAD), of which Phyllis Schafly is a participant. Finally, Draftfreedom.org, located in Seattle, has been started by a marketing group that seeks to reach a wide range of constituencies to prevent the draft, as well as to support those who oppose the current war, including deserters and resisters.

This confusing array of websites and organizations has as yet no coherence. No attempt has been made to put together a coalition or even loose network of the anti-draft, anti-military and conscientious objector groups specifically on the issue of fighting a renewed draft. The obvious reasons are two: many within these groups still do not believe the threat is real; a few prominent liberal and leftist allies are actively promoting a draft, or at least letting it be known (like Chomsky) that they do not oppose one. But this may be changing. The Fellowship of Reconciliation invited local and national peace groups and individuals from around the country in February to consider the possibility of a draft, as one of several issues facing those who oppose the war. The result was the Nyack Declaration of Conscience and Courage, which opposes war and any future draft and supports conscientious objection. On the other hand, some peace activists continue to question what they feel may be rumors about the draft starting up this year. Oskar Castro, coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Youth and Military Program, complained at the FOR gathering about “misinformation which leads the public to believe a future draft is eminent.” (From the FOR website report on its Gathering of Conscience & Courage, Feb. 2005.) Clearly there is still uncertainty and division about a coming draft among those working against war and organizing military resistance.

Given the facts of a U.S. military manpower shortage, the planning going on within Selective Service, and the obvious desire of the Bush government for an ever-more-comprehensive homeland security apparatus, it is extremely urgent for those who oppose empire and wars like Iraq to unite in recognizing the danger of a new kind of draft and in strongly opposing it. This cannot be like the old conservative-liberal (Goldwater-McGovern) coalition against the draft in the 1960s and 70s. Nowadays, most conservatives can be counted on to support a draft or virtually any other measure when Bush demands it in the name of fighting terror, and most liberals are likely to support some form of broad national service, if only to show they are not soft on terror and national defense.

The 21st century anti-draft movement must be more diverse and more varied in its strategies than that of the 1960s and 70s. In the same March issue of Washington Monthly with the pro-draft article, Christina Larson writes that “modern marches matter only to the marchers,” in her piece, “Postmodern Protests.” “Protesting for protest’s sake serves a market,” she says, putting down such actions as merely self-serving psychological exercises. As others have indicated, the government has devised clever new strategies to keep protests from developing–such as the preventive detention in the post-Seattle anti-globalization demonstrations in Washington. The major media virtually ignore such protests today–any march or demonstration in Washington with fewer than 1000 will merit not one inch of space–and even the larger ones get sketchy coverage or are treated in puff pieces about the marchers’ since of self-worth.

Fran Donolan partially agrees, but sees a need to re-invent some of the long-time methods of protest. She has been a draft counselor and anti-war activist for over thirty years, and now teaches peace studies at Goucher College in Baltimore. She says, “As George Lakey and others have been urging for a long time, the work needs to be done closer to home–at the local level, first trying to persuade those who know you. But we shouldn’t give up direct action or mass demonstrations–you just don’t know when the critical mass will be reached–none of us do. Going to a demonstration, even a small one, was often the first time my students had a chance to connect their own concerns with a movement. Many of them have told me, ‘That’s what turned me around.'”

In this new environment, anti-draft organizers must reserve protest rallies and marches for a time when they can amass really large numbers, and they must learn to outwit the government in keeping down the numbers and the media in its current tendency to ignore them. Pledges to resist–including on-line petitions–may still be useful, but only if tens-of-thousands of young people can be proven to have signed them. Those with internet savvy need to be enlisted to design cyber-strategies to parallel lobbying and street protests.

A revived Anti-Draft Movement should cast the widest net possible, to include all those who seek to short-circuit the new Roman Empire that George Bush envisions, and to halt or stave off wars like Iraq–or Syria, or Iran, or North Korea. The common denominator for such groups–and the core value for all who really love freedom–should lead us to expose and fight the ‘new kind of draft,’ a truly total state institution which would register, monitor, channel and mobilize all young Americans for its various purposes. This will exclude many mainline Democrats and Republicans, liberals as well as conservatives, who have one vision or another of an America that “brings freedom to the world.” On the other hand, it can include some conservatives and libertarians–like Texas Republican Representative Ron Paul–who staunchly oppose all three: the draft, the empire and the wars. And it should have on board all those progressives, radicals, and others who are usually thought to make up the “movement” for peace and social change on the ‘left.’

Good timing for this new movement to coalesce would be the week of May 15, which is international conscientious objector day, with lobbying, rallies and demonstrations already planned world-wide by groups ranging from War Resisters’ International to the Center for Consciousness and War and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. It would be a good start if these and other groups began to coordinate their work by acknowledging the seriousness of the threat of a return to conscription in the United States, and by forging a common front against any form of compulsory service–a draft by any name and in any form. The new kind of war, which demands a new kind of draft, must spawn a new kind of anti-draft movement if there is to be any hope of stopping the draft, countering the spread of an American empire or bringing an end to the current war in Iraq and the other wars that will inevitably come as America maintains and builds its empire. Those who work for peace and social justice and against imperialism need to see that these three–the draft, empire and war–go together and need to be fought together as part of one coherent movement.

TOM REEVES was co-author with Karl Hess of THE END OF THE DRAFT (Random House, New York, 1970). He was National Director of the National Council to Repeal the Draft from 1968-1972. He has written about a range of U.S. foreign policy and other political issues for CounterPunch, Z, Rabble, Interconnect, Dollars & Sense, the NACLA Report and other print and internet magazines.