24. Reinstating the Draft

by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

SALON, November 3, 2003
Title: “Oiling up the Draft Machine?”
Author: Dave Lindorff

BUZZFLASH.COM, November 11, 2003
Title: “Would a Second Bush Term Mean a Return to Conscription?’
Author: Maureen Farrell

WAR TIMES, October-November, 2003
Title: “Military Targets Latino Youth”
Author: Jorge Mariscal

Evaluator: Robert Manning
Student Researchers: Jenifer Green, Adam Stutz

The Selective Service System, the Bush Administration, and the Pentagon have been quietly moving to fill draft board vacancies nationwide in order to prepare for a military draft that could start as early as June 15, 2005. In preparation several million dollars have been added to the 2004 Selective Service System (SSS) budget. The SSS Administration must report to Bush on March 31, 2005 that the system, which has lain dormant for decades, is ready for activation. The Pentagon has quietly begun a public campaign to fill all 10,350 draft board positions and 11,070 appeals board slots nationwide. An unpopular election year topic, military experts and influential members of Congress are suggesting that if Rumsfeld’s prediction of a “long, hard slog” in Iraq and Afghanistan (and a permanent state of war on “terrorism”) proves accurate, the U.S. may have no choice but to draft.

Congress brought twin bills, S. 89 and H.R. 163 forward in 2003, introduced by Democratic Representative Charles Rangel and Democratic Senator Fritz Hollings. Entitled the Universal National Service Act of 2003, their aim is “To provide for the common defense by requiring that all young persons (age 18-26) in the United States, including women, perform a period of military service or a period of civilian service in furtherance of the national defense and homeland security, and for other purposes.” These active bills currently sit in the Committee on Armed Services.

Dodging the draft will be more difficult than those from the Vietnam era remember. College and Canada will no longer be options. In December 2001, Canada and the US signed a “Smart Border Declaration,” which could be used to contain would-be draft dodgers. The declaration involves a 30-point plan which implements, among other things, a “pre-clearance agreement” of people entering and departing each country. Reforms aimed at making the draft more equitable along gender and class lines also eliminate higher education as a shelter. Underclassmen would only be able to postpone service until the end of their current semester. Seniors would have until the end of the academic year.

In May 2000, Delaware was the first state to enact legislation requiring that driver’s license information be sent to the SSS. By August 2003, thirty-two states, two territories and the District of Columbia followed suit. Non-compliance with sending information to the SSS has always been punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Up to now, the government has never acted on these measures, but levied punishment would bar violators from federal employment and student loans. The SSS has altered its website (http://www.sss.gov) to include a front-page denial of a draft resurrection, but continues to post the twenty-four page Annual Performance Plan which includes its June 15 deadline still intact.

In addition to the possibility of a draft, the continual recruitment of Latinos into the armed forces has been creating volatile reactions from anti-recruitment advocates. The target recruitment of Latinos began during Clinton’s tenure in office. Louis Caldera, then Secretary of the Army, was able to discern that Latinos were the fastest growing group of military-age individuals in the United States. In May of 2003, the military was involved in a diplomatic dispute when recruiters made their way across the border. The headmaster of a Tijuana high school threw out the recruiter, and the Mexican government was vehemently upset. The Pentagon has preyed on the fact that Latinos and Latinas often enter the military in search of “civilian skills” they can apply in the workforce.

In 2001, Department of Defense statistics showed that while 10% of military forces are comprised of Latinos, 17.7% of this group occupies “frontline positions.” This includes, “infantry, gun crews, and seamanship.” With the army’s continual banter about educational subsidies of up to $30,000 for college and completion of GED requirements, the “glitz and glamour” of the military has enhanced misconceptions about the nature of military service for Latinos.

Charles Pena, director of defense studies at the libertarian Cato Institute presents a comparable conflict between the United States and the Middle East and the British and Northern Ireland where the occupying army encountered hostile opposition from civilian populations. In that situation the occupying army needed a ratio of 10 or 20 soldiers per 1,000 population, “…If you transfer that to Iraq, it would mean you’d need at least 240,000 troops and maybe as many as 480,000.” With no sign of retreat or resolution and every indication of increasing opposition in locations occupied by troops, it will likely be deemed necessary to increase and maintain military presence. Additionally, there is the massive exodus of ally troops and aid from areas of occupation and combat. The US has been unable to draw major assistance from other countries and high enlistment bonuses have been both ineffective and expensive in light of the rapidly growing debt. Add to the growing list of unfavorable realities an unwillingness of soldiers to re-enlist, and the US is unable to meet the soldier quotient needed to continue occupation of Iraq alone; excluding the probability of troops expanding occupied territory and the White House promise of war in multiple theaters.

UPDATE BY MAUREEN FARRELL: While the draft became newsworthy in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, the mainstream media brushed most concerns aside. “Military Draft Unlikely for ‘War’ on Terrorism,”ABC News reported on Sept. 18, 2001, citing military analysts’ opinions. The Brookings Institutions’ Michael O’Hanlon, however, admitted that, should the U.S. military become involved in an extended occupation, then perhaps we’d be looking at “the kinds of man power requirements that would advise in favor of a draft.” By May 2004, O’Hanlon updated his prediction, citing mounting casualties and an over-reliance on National Guard and reserve troops in Iraq. “The most likely cause [for reinstatement of the draft] would be an even more severe over-deployment of the all-volunteer force. . . ,” he wrote in the Los Angeles Times.

Though Rep. Charles Rangel also addressed conscription concerns, by the time my story appeared on BuzzFlash.com, little had been written about changes that would make “draft dodging” more difficult. Few mentioned that draft laws had been changed in 1971 to restrict college deferments and even fewer discussed the sweeping new policies regarding selective service registration. The border agreement between Canada and the U.S. (yet another roadblock to would-be draft dodgers) received even less press.

I first became interested in this story in July 2002, after reading a letter to the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer regarding pending legislation linking drivers’ license applications to selective service registration. At the time, half of all U.S. states had enacted such legislation (with scarce media attention) and as of April 9, 2004, all but 13 states had either passed such legislation or were in the process of doing so (also with scarce media attention).

Since this story broke, Presidential candidates Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader have raised concerns over conscription’s ever-increasing likelihood; Sen. Chuck Hagel has called for a national debate on the issue; and the Selective Service System’s proposal to draft women and extend the draft registration age from 25 to 34 has been uncovered. Yet the mainstream media continues to ignore the larger implications in regard to he 2004 election. (The Internet remains an exception, however. BuzzFlash has featured several editorials on the subject and in May 2004, conservative columnist Paul Craig Roberts, writing for antiwar.com, wrote: “If Bush is reelected, wider war and a draft to feed it seem a certainty.”)

This story is important for several reasons, but most notably for the questions it raises. Why did the Selective Service System feel compelled to insure compliance through new laws? Does this shift have anything to do with the larger, but also underreported agenda to widen the war in the Middle East? Do most Americans comprehend the long-term consequences of President Bush’s stated desire to “change the world”?

An informed citizenry is crucial to democracy. Given that our military is already overextended, Americans need to scrutinize this administration’s intentions for “dealing with” Iran, Syria and other countries. And before they vote, they should also understand that extended military commitments would most likely require a return to the draft – and that this time around, neither college nor Canada would provide refuge.

For map of states linking drivers’ license applications to Selective Service registration:http://www.sss.gov/PDFs/DriversLicense2004.pdf
For information on how the draft has changed since Vietnam:
For more on the U.S.-Canada “Smart Border Agreement”:

UPDATE BY JORGE MARISCAL: My article called attention to the Pentagon’s efforts to double the number of Latinos in the U.S. military by 2006 and to the on-going militarization of public school systems. As popular support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq began to decline throughout early 2004, the Latino/a community became increasingly aware of the negative consequences of military service, the distortions used by military recruiters to seduce young people, and the increasingly limited range of alternatives available to working-class youth.

Counter-recruitment activities in predominantly Latino schools increased as never before. For the first time, activists, students, and educators in Los Angeles held a citywide counter-recruitment conference at Manual Arts High School. The organization formed at that conference continues to leaflet local high schools and hold meetings for parents and teachers. I was able to deliver lectures on militarism and the militarization of public schools at a number of venues throughout the Southwest. In April, activist Fernando Suarez del Solar and I spoke to approximately 300 students at the University of Texas, El Paso. Many of them vowed to begin counter-recruitment projects. Others said they would reconsider their decision to enlist in the military as a way to receive funding for education. We witnessed similar results in Albuquerque, San Antonio, and other cities with large Latino populations. Students at several universities in Puerto Rico organized protests to challenge the use of funding for ROTC programs. Efforts to establish a national network of counter-recruitment groups were successful and organizers called a national meeting for the summer of 2004 in Philadelphia.

Working with Fernando Suarez del Solar (who lost his son during the invasion of Iraq) and his Guerrero Azteca Project, our organization Project YANO visited numerous high schools, colleges, and Latino parents’ groups in California. Across the state, students leafleted their schools with information about the truth behind the recruiters’ sales pitch. At an anti-war poetry recital in San Diego, poet Jimmy Santiago Baca joined young local poets to raise funds for YANO’s important work. YANO continues to produce Spanish language literature on the realities of military life and the partial truths presented by recruiters. Its director, Rick Jahnkow, advises other groups on how to begin and sustain counter-recruitment activities. YANO and its sister organization COMD continue to offer sound advice on the possibility of a military draft.

Mainstream coverage of the issues presented in my story was minimal. French, Swiss, and British journalists contacted us on several occasions but U.S. media outlets did not. In terms of our work in Spanish-language communities, we received a great deal of coverage from Spanish-language radio and television (e.g. Univision, Radio Bilingue) as well as the Spanish-language print media. Public radio stations with limited Latino programming in English (such as KPFK in Los Angeles) conducted several interviews with YANO members and associates.

Additional information about the issues raised in my story can be found at the following locations: Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities (YANO), http://www.projectyano.org; Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (COMD), http://www.comdsd.org; American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), http://www.afsc.org/youthmil.htm;Guerrero Azteca Project, http://www.guerreroazteca.org.