Bring Back the Draft to Gauge Real Support for War

Originally posted: April 9, 2004

Greencastle, Ind. – It will take some guts for President Bush to make this speech, but I believe he has them. Maybe this Saturday in his weekly radio address:

President Bush: “My fellow Americans, we must acknowledge the need for broader sacrifice in our war against terror.

“If our country is to fulfill its mission to make the world safe for democracy, beginning with Iraq, we must begin by giving greater support to the courageous men and women of our armed forces and National Guard.

“There is broad agreement that our Army is too small, that we must create more divisions. We can no longer continually disrupt the lives of our national guardsmen.

“We need to call upon the patriotism, the loyalty and the support of a greater number of our citizens. That is why I am asking Congress to act urgently to re-institute the selective service system that always has served America’s manpower needs in wartime.”

This is not necessarily a popular idea. Some, even in his own party, would oppose the president.

But even after we confer sovereignty on a new government in June, we will need a large security force in Iraq, not to mention technical support to help run everything from oil fields to banks. Maintaining civil order in this atmosphere of violence will require many, many more American soldiers.

So how would a new military draft work?

President Bush: “All Americans of draft age — those between 18-and-35 — will be registered. To honor equality, that means women as well as men. Registration must be accomplished by June 30. On that date there will be a lottery to establish the order of who will be called. Secretary Rumsfeld will draw birth dates out of a bingo machine. There will be no college deferments. By September 1, 2004, when call-ups begin, the student health services of all colleges and universities must be equipped to give military induction physicals.”

What is especially courageous about this plan that Bush might offer is that it is not bound by the shackles of history. During Vietnam, universities and National Guard units became refugee centers for those who opposed the war and did not want to serve. Universities became hotbeds of opposition. Eliminating college deferments addresses that issue. Right?

A nationwide poll taken by Harvard University late last year showed that college students generally approve of Bush by 61 percent and 59 percent strongly or somewhat support what he is doing in Iraq.

Students may not like disrupting their college experience, but surely when they realize that they are only being asked to do their share to extend democracy in this very dangerous world, they will set aside their doubts and heed the call to patriotism.

Some believe that this concept of shared sacrifice would also be good for Congress. Rep. Charles Rangel, who supports bringing back the draft, points out that the Congress that endorsed the use of force in Iraq included only one member with a child in the lower-level ranks of the military, and just a few more who are officers.

Re-instituting the draft would show that the president appreciates that sacrifice for the war in Iraq is not distributed evenly among all Americans. Some of us are just cruising — worried about jobs or gasoline prices — but we have no personal stake in Iraq. Those who volunteered or signed up to serve in the National Guard bear all the direct costs of this war.

Professor Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University, says, “When I was drafted, Elvis Presley was my contemporary draftee. Can you imagine Eminem being drafted today?”

So long as the legitimacy of this war is measured only by pollsters, we will never have a true measure of public support.

Bring back the draft, Mr. President. Then we’ll see.

Ken Bode, a former CNN and NBC analyst, is Pulliam Professor of Journalism at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind.

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