January 23, 2003
By Bob Volpitto
By now anyone who follows happenings in Washington has heard
of Congressman Charles Rangel's proposal to re-institute conscription
as a means to supply the Armed Forces with personnel. Since
1973 the United States has relied on an All Volunteer Force
(AVF) to do the job, but in the eyes of many it is not a democratic
way to staff the military.
Congressman Rangel, a combat veteran of the Korean Conflict,
is a holder of the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. He was
discharged from the Army with the rank of staff sergeant,
having served with the 2nd Infantry Division. On his own initiative,
Representative Rangel acquired a law degree from New York
University and presently represents Harlem's Congressional
district. He's a progressive Democrat, of course.
Looking back at the draft
Up until the War of Southern Rebellion (Civil War, to some),
the government relied on volunteers to fill the ranks of its
combat forces. And, although the U. S. Constitution grants
the federal government the power to wage war it leaves open
the means to raise contingents of soldiers, sailors and, now,
airmen, to the will of Congress.
Both North and South were forced to re-supply their shattered
armies with conscripts. Conscription in the North faced bitter
opposition, even riots, notably in New York City. In both
areas conscription was largely ignored and easily evaded.
A majority of those drafted refused to report for duty. Examining
physicians failed healthy rich draftees and filled the quota
with unfit poor men. Each side provided means for draftees
to purchase substitutes who often deserted and allowed themselves
to bought several times over.
Statistics indicate of the 249,259 Union conscripts a mere
6% served in the ranks. On the Confederate side, however,
25% to 35% of soldiers serving east of the Mississippi were
Although the Spanish-American War in 1898 was fought by volunteers
on the United States' side, the Wilson Administration a few
years later revived the draft to make up for the lack of enlistees
in World War I. Again in October 1940 the draft was used to
get men into uniform quickly for the coming of World War II.
During both wars opposition to the draft was notable, but
many more men than not answered the call especially after
the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
Why a draft now?
The draft was tolerated during the Korean Conflict as an
extension of World War II. When the Cold War turned hot in
the Sixties, Selective Service was still in force and was
the way most units were staffed during the Viet Nam War.
It was Viet Nam that broke the back of Selective Service.
Television brought that war to the American dinner table each
day with the networks' evening news. The horror of that slaughter
nagged the American conscience and fostered opposition to
both the war and the draft that sent young men into the cauldron
in Southeast Asia.
Beginning with Desert Storm the government clamped strict
censorship on war reporting. CNN was given the privilege of
reporting Desert Storm; CBS and Dan Rather were shut out.
George H. W. Bush took a long look at Lyndon Johnson's handing
of America's "free press" and slammed the door. Although Johnson
tried in vain to manage to war news to his advantage, Bush
the Elder drew an iron curtain around the subject until his
handlers could propgandize a near bloodless victory on our
Missing were the photos of napalm-torched children. Missing
were pictures of the young women with their bellies ripped
open by shrapnel. We didn't see fleeing elder Iraqi refugees
lying in ditches machine gunned to death by low flying fighter
jets. There was, however, an air raid shelter pictured with
dead civilians shown in lying various positions following
a bombing attack. But so little of the needless slaughter
of innocents we inflicted ever got into American homes via
television that we got the impression a decade ago it was
a sanitized war.
Afghanistan, too, was glossed over. We killed civilians,
but a mere few photos and testimonials by survivors were somehow
smuggled out. George the Younger saw to that. Most of us were
somehow struck by the strange generosity of our government
of the cash payments offered survivors of innocent victims
of "collateral damage" in Afghanistan. We paid mercenaries
to do the dirty fighting for us and bought off survivors whose
homes we smashed and whose loved ones we supposedly killed
Let me answer my question: "Why the draft now?". In addition
to the reasons above, war must once again become a equal opportunity
operation. Sons and daughters of the powerful and the wealthy
must be made to bear their fair share of the suffering. We
must no longer abide by the proposition that armed conflict
is "a rich man's war and poor man's fight".
There is not a single member of the Armed Forces that comes
from the home of a United States congressman! Volunteerism
has seen to that. A draft would change that fact once and
Look at television news and you'll see reservists and guard
personnel being activated for duty. All but a scant few are
family men who joined those units because they needed the
small extra income it afforded them. Those citizen soldiers
have wives and families to support with shrinking paychecks,
rising costs of living and no guarantee of a job when and
if they return. They needed the money not the agony of separation
and fate that awaits them in a far off land about which they
know little and care less. They go under the guise they are
defending their country, not told they must sacrifice for
the oil grab that will result in an Iraq subjugated by their
Congressman Rangel's bill to reactivate Selective Service
has unlimited merits. As Jeff Danziger's article in the "Boston
Globe" of 1/19/03 reads, "Rangel's proposal is the president's
worst nightmare. College students may back our stance against
Saddam, but not if they have to go. This is not cowardice;
it's cold intelligence. War is hard work, the pay stinks,
and you might get killed. And you think - if the president
himself didn't even go to war, the sons of congressmen aren't
going, then why the hell should I?".
Another quote says it with equal validity. This one's from
Mark Shields, who, on January 6 at CNN, wrote, "Charlie Rangel
is doing his best to make the rest of us, including President
George W. Bush, realize that war is not a spectator sport,
where the nation's advantaged elites and their children, at
a safe remove, look on, while fellow citizens they do not
know - and will never meet - do the fighting and dying."
Bob Volpitto is a former newspaper publisher now living
in the Southwest. Furthermore, he is a Progressive Democrat
and damn proud of it.