Are Draft Rumblings Real?

Originally posted: October 1, 2004

Greencastle, Ind. – On the evening before the first Bush-Kerry debate, NBC Nightly News reported that all over the country college students and their parents are receiving letters and e-mails warning that the administration has a secret plan to restore a military draft.

Looking through all the subjects that experts predicted would come up in the first debate, bringing back the draft was not one of them. Kerry has said we need at least 40,000 more troops, but specifically says he would not use the draft to raise them. Everyone, top to bottom, in the Bush administration denies there is any such plan.

Still, Colin Powell had to deny the possibility on a talk show Sunday and Dick Cheney got the same question from a Republican audience; he called it “hogwash.”

So why is the issue forcing itself into the national dialogue? Well, most immediately, it does come from the Internet. College students everywhere are getting e-mails. Some assume these are designed to scare them out of lethargy and into voting against President Bush and the war in Iraq.

Others argue that this is just another “Internet myth.”

The notion that there may be a military draft in our future reaches an audience that is skeptical and worried. In a recent Harvard University survey of college students nationwide, 87 percent said the administration is “hiding some things” or “mostly not telling the truth” about Iraq.

With the parents of today’s college students, most of whom grew up in the Vietnam era, the issue has had a slow and steady germination. They, especially, are alert to the possibility that the government may also not be telling the truth about how we will raise manpower for Iraq and future wars. Then they read the newspapers and begin to add things up.

In a dozen different ways the Army has admitted it is seriously shorthanded. “We’re recruiting a volunteer force in a time of war,” said the top personnel officer Gen. Frank Hagenbeck, “that’s never been done before.”

Then came the “stop loss” orders that hold soldiers beyond their enlistment obligations, so long as their units are scheduled for deployment in Afghanistan or Iraq. These involuntary extensions are being called “a back door draft.”

Then there are stories about the Individual Ready Reserve, civilians who have completed their active duty commitments of four to six years being called back.

Midsummer, state commanders of the National Guard began admitting a deep strain in the ranks and among employers and families. Recruiting and retention were down, they admitted, and parents were discouraging their children from joining.

More recently, the Pentagon began pulling troops out of the nuclear-armed Korean peninsula, diverting them to Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the things America learned about its military in this war is how much of what the Army does now is outsourced. So a soldier in combat, carrying a pack and a weapon and digging a hole to sleep in the desert of Afghanistan proudly serves for $964.80 a month while watching a truck driver for Halliburton make 10 times that amount. How fair is that?

Finally, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the Selective Service System released the outlines of what a new draft would look like. It would include women as well as men and the age of eligibility would be extended from age 25 to 34. It would require young Americans to inform the government if they had niche specialties (computer and language skills.).

Does that sound like college campuses might be prime targets for recruiting? Check out the Web site (www.sss.gov) and you will see that deferments for college and marriage, like the five Vice President Cheney got during Vietnam, will no longer be available.

(The Web site now disclaims the Internet rumor, stating that “. . . Selective Services is not getting ready to conduct a draft — either with a special skills or regular draft.” Since 1980, it says, the agency has had a responsibility to remain prepared to manage a draft “if and when the president and Congress so direct.”)

Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation took a poll and found that only 43 percent of draft age Americans say they would comply if a draft were reinstated. If you polled their parents, I suspect the proportions would not be much different.

Internet myth or prime subject for a presidential debate?

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