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Giving the Draft the Shaft
July 30, 2002
By Maureen Farrell

These days, whether referring to a regime change in Iraq or another terrorist attack on America, government spokespeople are almost certain to repeat the mantra: "It's not a matter of if, but when."

Says who?

Even as fatalism spreads through the land, some of us believe America functions best as a democracy, and that "eternal vigilance" is still "the price of liberty." We write congressmen, senators and newspaper editors, knowing that when enough of us are mobilized, we can indeed, change the world. War in Iraq? Nukes in New York? It's not a matter of if, or when, but a matter of "how do we stop it?"

The same can be said of reinstating the draft.

This March, when asked about the possibility of the nation once again relying upon conscription, President Bush stated that "the country shouldn't expect there to be a draft." Yet Lewis C. Brodsky, director of public and congressional affairs with the Selective Service System, said that, "the nation must be prepared to conduct one."

When one looks at recent trends, it seems that the country is indeed becoming prepared.

As of May 2001, seven states followed Delaware's lead by enacting laws linking driver's license applications to Selective Service registration. Essentially they're saying, "Want to drive a car? Sign up for duty." By July 2002, 25 states, 2 territories and the District of Columbia adopted similar laws.

According to the Selective Service, boys in Oklahoma, Delaware, Arkansas, Utah, Georgia, Hawaii, Alabama, Florida, Colorado, Texas, Louisiana, Illinois, Ohio, South Dakota, Mississippi, Idaho, Virginia, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Maryland, Rhode Island, Missouri, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands are now required to sign up for selective service when they register for driver's licenses. New Yorkers will soon follow similar procedures, and North Carolina and Pennsylvania are halfway through the legislative process. Other states are considering following suit.

Some of our more progressive and populist leaders are against reinstating the draft, under any circumstance. On April 5, 2002, Representative Ron Paul, a Republican from Texas, issued a resolution opposing the reinstatement of the draft. Vietnam War veteran John McCain has also spoken out against conscription, while Senator Robert Byrd, one of two prescient senators who voted against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, has warned that should the War on Terror take us to Iraq, we might face another Vietnam.

Arguments that conscription is unconstitutional are often countered with the example set forth in the preamble of the U.S. Constitution. Certainly, the words, 'We the people ... [shall] provide for the common defense'" could be construed as proof the framers had conscription in mind. Yet if one is going to invoke the Constitution to uphold the draft, one also has to remember that, according to the Constitution, only Congress can declare war - and the founders were well aware of the dangers presented by presidents acting as tyrants. Purists might also want to inquire as to whether it's Constitutional to hold citizens as "enemy combatants," or to violate International law by calling for "regime change."

In response to his state's new driver's license/selective service law, Virginia Govenor Mark Warner said, "In this time of war, we need to make sure that we have a full sign up Selective Service," while adding, "I think most boys would be proud to do it." Yet Republican pollster Frank Lutz recently discovered that a full 37% of college kids would evade the draft.

To weigh which view is accurate, ask yourself: What kind of uproar would arise if reinstatement of the draft followed an ill-advised, illegal, and undeclared war that Pentagon officials and our allies have spoken out against? And even worse, how many mothers would stand for having their sons inducted when those declaring war stand to benefit from war? How will President Bush's ties to the Carlyle Group be received? Or Cheney's ties with military contractor, Kellogg, Brown and Root? And what about Army Secretary White's ties to Lockheed, Enron and scandal, in general?

At the moment, this conscription conversation is mere speculation - just an exercise in "connecting the dots," based upon circumstantial evidence. The same can be said of concerns over Posse Comitatus or Operation TIPs, and fears that America might become a police state monitored by a red, white and blue-adorned Stasi. Could the tanks recently deployed out of Alabama for Homeland Security be used to keep dissidents in line? Could stated opposition to the War on Terror be enough to make the cable guy turn you in? Might Army civilian labor camps be used as modern-day interment camps? Who knows?

These question might stem from paranoia. And they may be silly and pointless. But they could also be an exercise in eternal vigilance. Our liberty depends upon our asking.

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