It’s a word that has been whispered on the Internet, college campuses, and even in the media, striking panic and misapprehension in the minds of young adults — specifically those between the ages of 18 and 26. It’s the draft.
How did a proposal of such magnitude become so slanted?
Underlying all these factors is one determining cause: fear.
With fear comes a rush to believe anything. Like some rumors, it spreads because surrounding circumstances can point to its believability. Rock the Vote’s Web site even features a forged draft document with a “your name could be here” line cited.
With the government extending the stay of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, debate has surged concerning the strength of American troops. When the United States fought the Persian Gulf War, it had 10 army divisions at home waiting as war reinforcements. Now the United States has one. As the military has taken on the largest commitment of American troops since the 1970s, it is no wonder that murmurs of a draft quickly turned into shouts.
“Young voters are much more misinformed about the presidential candidates’ positions on the draft than the population in general,” said Kate Kenski, an analyst at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center.
Based on people aged 18 to 29, the National Annenberg Election Survey found that during a poll conducted Sept. 27 to Oct. 3, 51 percent believed Bush wants to reinstate the draft, 8 percent believed the same about Kerry, and 7 percent believed both want to reinstate the draft. A quarter of the respondents said neither candidate wants to reinstate the draft.
In 1940, Franklin Roosevelt signed the draft into law. Since then, the draft was used from 1948 to 1973 to fill vacancies in the military where recruitment could not.
After the military’s involvement in Vietnam ended, the U.S. military became an all-volunteer force for the first time since World War II. Vacancies were filled through recruitment and re-enlistments but never through the means of a draft.
In 1980, registration was reinstated in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Now in 2004, the law requires males who are U.S. citizens or resident aliens to register within 30 days of their 18th birthdays.
“It’s a plan on paper,” Pat Shuback told USA Today in reference to registration. Shuback is a spokesman for the Selective Service System. “We’re just an insurance policy. If we’re needed, we’re here, we’re ready.”
Confusion arose on Sept. 23, when the Defense Department Web site posted a notice for citizens to join local draft boards. The hiring notice was part of a process of the Selective Service System, incidentally not a part of the Defense Department, to fill expired board positions.
Talk about awkward timing.
“It was a case of bad timing because of the war in Iraq and news about deployments,” said Major Michael Shavers, a Pentagon spokesperson. “It created a tempest in a teacup.”
“There are no secret discussions,” said Schuback in USA Today’s Nov. 10, 2003 issue. “We aren’t doing any planning that we don’t do on a regular basis.”
The hiring replacements had been going on for several years and have no relation to a draft. In 1979, the board system was made up of 10,000 to 12,000 volunteers who had the opportunity to serve up to 20-year terms, and in 1999 a majority of the appointments expired.
Yet, a resurrecting of the draft anytime soon is highly unlikely and for a variety of reasons.
“The draft would be the Army’s worst nightmare,” said retired Lt. Col. Leonard Wong, a research professor at the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks. “We have a high quality Army because we have people who want to be in it… you can’t draft people into a profession.”
In Wong’s opinion, many professional soldiers believe a draft would greatly reduce the quality of the military and would drive up the cost of military funds share. Feeding, clothing, training and paying drafted soldiers would take money away from other military needs, and the training alone would take a year and a half to two years.
“A draft is simply not needed,” said Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in a letter on the Department of Defense Web site on Oct. 5, 2004. “We have 295 million people in the United States of America and there are some 2.6 million and active and reserve forces serving. We are capable of attracting and retaining the people we need, through the proper use of pay and other incentives.”
Rumsfeld also wrote, “The Army, at 101 percent, and Marine Corps, at 100 percent, both exceeded their active forces recruiting goals through September 2004… of the Army’s 10 active duty divisions, though, nine are exceeding re-enlistment goals by 5 percent or more.”
Still the draft issue came into the political spotlight due to a pair of bills introduced in Congress: the S. 89 and H.R.163.
Both proposals sought to obligate all citizens and residents of the United States between the ages of 18 to 26, both male and female, to perform a two-year period of national service although not necessarily as part of the military.
Unlike the Vietnam War, people enrolled in college and those who flee to Canada cannot escape the draft.
In December 2001, Canada and the United States signed a “smart border declaration,” which would stop potential draft-dodgers from escaping over the border.
Higher education would also be eradicated as a form of shelter from the draft. Underclassmen would only be able to postpone service until the end of their current semesters. Seniors would have until the end of their academic year. An agreement to these terms rested upon a mindset held by a portion of Congress members who proposed draft bills which sought to make military service more equitable along gender and class terms.
Rep. Charles Rangel (D- N.Y.), who proposed H.R. 163 in the House of Representatives said, “The point is that, under a draft, every economic group, every social class, men and women, would be given the opportunity to contribute to the defense of their country,” he told the Seattle Post.
Several other Democrats agreed with Rangel’s proposal. Among them Sen. Ernest Hollings of South Carolina who proposed S. 89 in Senate.
On Oct. 5, Rangel’s proposed H.R. 163 was shut down by a vote of 402-2. Even Rangel voted against the bill.
The House’s vote of 402-2 against the Universal National Service Act (H.R.163) “demonstrates that there is no support in Congress for reinstituting the draft,” said a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist in the Washington Times on Oct. 6.
“America’s all-volunteer military is the best in the world, and reinstating the draft would be bad policy,” Bush said in a statement after the 402-2 vote in Congress. “If this bill were presented to me, I would veto it.”
During the second presidential debate on Oct. 8, Bush also rejected any suggestions that he would reinstate the draft.
Kerry has claimed the same. During a town hall meeting on May 26, Kerry responded to a student’s question regarding the draft saying, “If you elect me president . . . I will give us a foreign policy that makes it absolutely unnecessary to have a draft.”
But a resurrection of a draft is politically impossible.
Congress, both presidential candidates and American citizens alike are generally not supportive of a draft. In order to put a draft proposal into effect, the president would have to declare a draft and Congress would have to approve it.
As seen on Oct. 5, the American government is nowhere near accepting a draft. Besides the fact that not one person in the executive branch supports the draft, a return to the draft will hurt the morale and recruitment of our troops as it causes doubt in the ability of our armed forces.
In a political climate rampant with accusations and rebuttals, one thing is certain: a return of the draft would require a huge turn of a tide in the United States government and its citizens.
Breanna Tannous can be reached at email@example.com.