Charlie Rangel and the Draft
Rep. Rangel, incoming chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, has just run an op-ed in The New York Daily News explaining why he intends to introduce a bill calling for the reinstitution of the military draft. He writes, “If this war is the threat to our national security that the Bush administration insists it is, then the President should issue a call for all Americans to sacrifice for the nation’s defense. If there must be a sacrifice, then the burden must be shared fairly.
“That is why I intend to reintroduce legislation to reinstate the military draft, making men and women up to age 42 eligible for service, with no exemptions beyond health or reasons of conscience. I believe it is immoral for those who insist on continuing the conflict in Iraq, and placing war on the table in Iran and North Korea, to do so only at the risk of other people’s children.”
Rangel, of course, was a draftee who was awarded a Bronze Star in an era when the military was not eager to accept blacks, and all too eager to avoid recognizing them when they performed well. But the simple fact is that the draft has always been riddled with unfairness and loopholes. Here, I’d like to draw your attention to my partner, Philip Gold, who has written The Coming Draft: The Crisis in our Military and Why Selective Service is Wrong for America. Approximately 48% of draft-age American men wore a uniform during World War II, the Good War. During the Vietnam era, Approximately 42% of draft-age men wore a uniform, while more than twice as many servicewomen went to Vietnam as men went to jail for principled draft resistance. So much for the myths of massive popular resistance during Vietnam, while World War II was the good war. Of course, if you dodged the draft during WWII, you shut up about it. If you did it during the Vietnam War, you may still be bragging about it, and perhaps confessing how conflicted you still feel.
Philip and I both believe that a draft should be used only when you need a very large (15 million plus) regular force to destroy a nation that presents a clear and present danger to the survival or critical national interests of this country, as determined by Congress upon exercising its Constitutional mandate to declare war.
And yet, the Regular (active) Army alone could stand to be approximately 700,000 and the other services commensurately larger: including service academy (but not contracted ROTC) cadets, the Army’s current top line is 505,000. We also need a larger Reserve and National Guard and a real Homeland Defense system. We are entering an era of climate change, rising sea levels, and almost limitless, uncontrolled violence from state actors (like Iran and China, both of which are seeking to resurrect themselves as great empires) allied with the billions of humans who live on $2/day and less.
This is where Philip begins his discussion of restoring military service as an integral part of citizenship—which it has been throughout Western history, and specifically as the Founders understood it—without militarizing society or resorting to direct Federal conscription. Participation in the common defense, to include uniformed military service, is not only a citizen’s inherent and unalienable right, it is also a fundamental responsibility. But in the aftermath of Vietnam and Iraq, American politicians cannot, and must not, be trusted with a blank check on the body politic.
To resolve this conundrum, he offers a deliberately awkward plan that is based upon the militia of the Founders. The right and the responsibility remain constant, but capabilities, needs, limitations, and preferences vary between individuals and change over a lifetime. Want to be a professional soldier or sailor? Join the Regular forces. Willing to serve only in your state? Join the State Guard if yours has one, although states have reciprocity agreements with each other (this system must be expanded). Willing to risk your life helping others, but there’s no way you’re ever going to use a firearm except in last ditch self-defense? Become a volunteer firefighter or search and rescue volunteer. Willing to help guard America’s borders? Join the Minuteman Project (which is not part of the US government). (Philip and I believe that the United States needs a near-absolute ban on all immigration, including legal immigration and a wall across the Southern Border, coupled with a generous but not blanket amnesty for those illegals in the country to eliminate an exploitable underclass.) Can’t do something as a young person because you’re raising a child? Do something when you’re older. (The Army has publicized the stories of several older women who always wanted to be soldiers, but felt they couldn’t while raising young children, so they enlisted in their late 30s, early 40s.) You get the idea: an individual has to do something to help provide for the common defense, even if that is “only” (in the case of those of us who live in, say, flood or earthquake zones) being able to take care of ourselves, and perhaps the folks next door for 3-5 days after a natural disaster. But what, precisely, except in time of real emergency, is a matter of personal choice and sense of responsibility.
But what about conscientious objectors? Since no one, under this schema, is required to join the military, everyone has the “right” of conscientious objection. Aren’t willing to participate at all? Then you pay a hefty lifetime surcharge on your income tax, analogous to paying for substitutes during the Civil War. If you won’t do that, then you get to talk to the IRS about income tax evasion. But no one goes to jail for refusing to kill, or to wear a uniform.
And yes, Philip and I believe women should be included: all positions at all levels should be open to women, and the United States Code revised to include women who are either citizens or have declared their intention to become citizens as members of the unorganized militia, just as men are. We all have a stake in the common defense—and perhaps, because we are on average shorter and lighter, and thus weaker than men, we women have an even greater stake in it. Which is not to say that what happened in say, New Orleans during and after Katrina was fun or good for men.
Philip and I do not believe everyone—or anyone—“should serve their country,” even in this era of growing danger. We do believe that everyone has the right and responsibility to participate in the common defense according to their individual capabilities (rather than other people’s opinions), constrained only by the circumstances of their lives and the objective need for force levels needed at any given time. We bear in mind this profound distinction between servitude and participation when we say that the American people can no longer be passive consumers of national security.