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A New Military Draft
Anne Marie Brooks
During the Vietnam War, the population of the United States was up in arms over what it considered an unjust war in which young American men were forced to fight. Some of the most adamant protestors were students, who organized teach-ins at their universities, shut their schools down for weeks at a time with protests, and even bombed facilities that carried out government work.
Now students approach the Iraq War very differently from Vietnam. In the general population as well, people do not feel as affected unless they personally know soldiers. Although many adorn their cars with bumper stickers stating "support our troops" and others tack "bring them home" onto this slogan, few citizens take an active role in showing their opinions on the war.
Perhaps the most well-known protestor of the Iraq War has been Cindy Sheehan, a Californian whose son was killed in Iraq. She camped outside President Bush's home in August of 2005 to demand a meeting with the President and founded the Gold Star Families for Peace. Although she has now decided to leave the anti-war movement, disenchanted by a lack of action on the part of Democratic politicians, she remains a symbol of how people with personal connections to the conflict have led the anti-war movement.
While college students during the Vietnam War, whose draft deferments expired after graduation, protested the war they would soon be forced to fight in, college students today do not see the personal effects of the war. Since the start of the Iraq War, and particularly since the conflict has turned increasingly sour, college students are less and less likely to enlist, leaving military ranks composed of recruits who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have fewer options for their future.
Military Recruitment Challenges
Since the beginning of the Iraq war, the United States has lost over 3700 soldiers to death in combat and thousands more potential recruits. With a four-year-long war that shows few signs of soon ending, fewer recent high school graduates and other targets for recruitment in years past are eager to join the armed forces. While in 2004 traditional high school graduates made up over 90 percent of the military, that number dropped to 84 percent in 2005 and just 73 percent in 2006. In reaction to the decline in traditional recruits, the military has offered more waivers and changed its standards in order to retain recruitment numbers.
To counteract these losses, the U.S. military has begun changing its standards for recruits and offering additional incentives for those willing to serve. One of the first standards to go was graduation from high school. Instead, recruits that have not graduated from high school are now offered a three week class in order to pass their GEDs. Through this measure, the military is not only able to accept recruits that would not otherwise be able to serve, it can also increase recruitment by marketing military service as a way to obtain a GED and improve job prospects after service.
The army has also bgun accepting many more recruits that score in the lowest 30 percent on the armed forces aptitude test. These recruits, known as Category IV recruits, have long been kept out of the army – or at least kept at a very low percentage of the troops. A RAND Corporation report found that on average, they perform significantly below other recruits in military activities.
Starting in 2004 with the Defense Department’s “Moral Waiver Study,” an attempt to prove past activity would not have an effect on a soldier’s ability to serve, the military began accepting recruits with criminal records indicating “serious criminal misconduct.” The number of recruits with waivers for misdemeanors, health problems, and alcohol and illegal drug waivers has increased sharply over the past few years. There are also higher numbers of recruits accepted that are suspected to be involved in gangs, and some fear the reasons these individuals wish to gain access to military training and weapons.
Finally, in a last effort to meet recruitment goals for Fiscal Year 2007 (FY07), which ends October 1st, the military has been offering a $20,000 bonus to recruits who are willing to start combat training in September. This bonus is above the $17,000 average yearly salary for a newly-recruited soldier.
Unable to attract high enough numbers of new recruits to keep up the surge in Iraq, the military has taken other measures to ensure an adequate number of troops in combat. The military has called up soldiers who have not served in decades, assigned multiple deployments, and even recently increased the time of deployments to Iraq from 12 months to 15 months. As these measures are putting increasing stress on current soldiers, the debate over reinstating a military draft has risen to new levels.
The Politics of a Draft
In an early August interview with National Public Radio, Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, the White House deputy national security advisor, said that a draft is worth considering and that it “has always been an option on the table.” Some see the draft as an eventual necessary measure in order to maintain current combat levels and continue the War on Terrorism.
Many people believe that Democrats are more likely to oppose a draft and Republicans are more likely to support it based on their respective stances on the Iraq War in general. However, this is not always the case. In 2001, two Republican Representatives introduced a bill that would have required men registered in the Selective Service to receive a year of military training and education. A year later, anti-draft measures have crossed party lines. In March 2002, a Republican Congressman introduced a bill against the possibility of a future military draft, which was then cosponsored by five democrats.
In a striking example, some Democrats are calling for a draft not to help the armed services, but rather in order to create public outcry against the war. Democratic representative Charles B. Rangel of New York has repeatedly introduced legislation calling for a reinstitution of the draft. He has noted that a draft would ensure equal service from people of all economic levels in society and that he believes government officials and the population in general will be less eager to go to war if there is a shared sacrifice.
The first time Rangel introduced the draft, in 2003, the bill would have applied to men and women aged 18-26, and the second draft of the bill, introduced in 2006, applied to men and women aged 18 to 42. While during the Vietnam War men who were full-time students were deferred from the draft, if this draft were to take effect, a college student would only be able to defer until the end of the semester, or in the case of a senior, until the end of the academic year. Rangel and other Democrats believe that if a draft were put in place, citizens in power would immediately call for an end to the war rather than
have their children or themselves serve in combat.
Public Opposition to a Draft
A 2005 Associated Press poll found that seven in ten Americans oppose the draft and over half strongly oppose it. Of the twenty-five percent that said they would support a reinstatement of the draft, most were above age 50 and would never be called upon to serve under any draft proposed thus far. A poll conducted in the same year found draft opposition to be even higher, concluding that 85 percent of American adults opposed a draft at that time.
A 2006 poll delved deeper into the issue, asking respondents if they would favor or oppose a military draft in general and in order to provide soldiers for the Iraq conflict. While 68 percent opposed a reinstatement of the military draft in general, a full 76 percent opposed the draft if it were for the Iraq conflict.
The 2005 Associated Press poll also found that parents are unlikely to want their children to enlist in the armed forces. The majority of Americans polled would discourage a son and two-thirds would discourage a daughter from enlisting.
The strong public opposition to a draft, and particularly to an Iraq War draft, demonstrates the public's overall feelings toward the war: they do not wish to be called upon to serve in Iraq, and they would not want their children to be forcibly conscripted. Perhaps if a draft were to be reinstated, the level and forms of public protest against the war would eventually rise to those so prevalent during the Vietnam War.