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Commentary Last Updated: Feb 20th, 2009 - 01:39:16

Why there will never be a draft
By Howard Lisnoff
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Feb 20, 2009, 00:20

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Since 2003, Congressman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., has been trying to reinstate the draft.

During the 2008 presidential campaign Senator John McCain referred to the draft during a television interview that gave the impression that he considered the draft a minor campaign issue. His comments came while remarking that he would pursue Osama bin Laden to �the gates of hell.�

QUESTIONER: If we don�t reenact the draft, I don�t think we�ll have anyone to chase Bin Laden to the gates of hell.


MCCAIN: Ma�am, let me say that I don�t disagree with anything you said. (Think Progress, August 20, 2008).

McCain, ever the warmonger, also stated during the same interview that a �100-year Iraq war,� or �World War III� would necessitate a draft. The election results ensured that that promise would not be carried out, if indeed it ever was a possibility that McCain seriously considered. In the event of a global world war there would be no mechanism remaining to draft anyone since few would be left alive.

Congressman Rangel first proposed legislation for the draft in January 2003, before the invasion of Iraq. Since then more than 4,200 American troops have been killed and 16,000 wounded. (The death toll now exceeds 4,600, with over 600 killed in Afghanistan.) 

In reintroducing the bill in 2006, Rangel said, �Despite dramatic increases in military bonuses, the Army failed to meet its recruiting goal last year by 6,000 recruits. In the face of that failure, last month the Army announced that it was doubling enlistment bonuses to $40,000 for Special Forces. Enlistment bonuses for reservists were also doubled to $20,000 from $10,000. Reenlistment bonuses for specialized active duty soldiers were also increased drastically, going from $60,000 to $90,000.

�The Pentagon�s own researchers have reported that the military is broken and there�s no plan to fix it,� Congressman Rangel said. �It�s not unusual for active-duty and reserve units to see two and three deployments. Troops are spending about a third of the time on deployment, instead of a fifth of the time, as preferred, to adequately rest, train and rebuild units.

�Our military is more like a mercenary force than a citizen militia. It is dominated by men and women who need an economic leg-up. Bonuses of up to $40,000 and a promise of college tuition look very good to someone from an economically depressed urban or rural community. But, as events unfold in Iran, Syria and North Korea and become even more dangerous, at what point will the risks outweigh the attraction of money--even to the hungriest recruits?�

�I don�t expect my bill to pass; my purpose in introducing this legislation is for it to serve as a constant reminder that we have lost 2,200 of the best, brightest and bravest Americans, have had thousands more maimed, and countless Iraqi citizens killed.� (News Release, Congressman Charles Rangel, February 14, 2006).

Since Congressman Rangel�s observations about a draft, educational bonuses and other benefits to members of the military have increased. However, medical care provided to wounded servicemen and women and veterans has come under intense scrutiny.

The last time that a military draft was considered was during the presidency of Jimmy Carter in the midst of the Iran hostage crisis that lasted 444 days from 1979 to 1981. I was a draft counselor during that period, with a counseling clinic set up at the Catholic Center at the University of Rhode Island. The most I could do in that setting was counsel men about the specifics of conscientious objector status if a draft should ever become a reality. A draft never materialized from that crisis, leaving the draft, which ended in 1973 during the Vietnam War, as the last draft that the military and federal government will in all likelihood ever consider. The draft of the Vietnam Era was fatally flawed with abundant deferments, and finally ended as the war wound down and the last recruits were called up by way of a lottery system that was instituted by the Nixon administration in the face of the draft and the war�s exponentially growing unpopularity.

The economic depression that has been visited upon the U.S. by the greed that infects Wall Street and the banking industry, together with the lack of any meaningful manufacturing base, has created a situation for the military that ensures a steady stream of recruits in a de facto economic draft.

Following years of decreasing numbers of recruits due to the unpopularity and savagery of the Iraq war, and the image of some soldiers as torturers, the military has once again seen a moderate surge in the numbers of those willing to risk their lives for imperial wars in the face of dwindling employment opportunities. Gone is the issue of �moral waivers,� a mechanism to allow the military to accept recruits who have committed crimes, both minor and serious, for the recruitment of men and women into the military. The education level of new recruits has remained extremely low.

While there are many forces that govern why people do or do not join the military, there are a few issues that overshadow all the rest. First, unless there is a tradition of military service in a family, few will voluntarily take up that mantle. The tradition of service in the military can come from any of the social classes that make up U.S culture, which often includes service after attending one of the military academies. Second, as above noted, an economic draft has always existed during eras when service in the military was voluntary and during periods when there was a draft. Even an economic draft, however, has its limits, as young people become savvy fairly quickly when they realize they could be used as instruments of torture during a war, for cannon fodder in unwinnable military campaigns, or caught in a military quagmire.

The major force, however, that governs why the military will never be an egalitarian institution, at least in terms of social class, is the fact that the middle class will never see the military as a place where economic and personal goals can be pursued, except in those cases where officers come out of military academies. That mindset is especially prevalent on contemporary college campuses where education has largely become a means toward the relentless pursuit of consumer goods. Few in the military have Mercedes, Cadillac Escalades, BMWs, or the latest in computer and other communication gadgetry dangled before their eyes unless under the guise of maneuvering real drones over some distant battlefield from a remote and safe control center.

Following the attacks of September 11, 2001 there was an increase in the number of those who sought out military service as an expression of patriotism. That tendency was soon overshadowed by the reality of multiple tours of duty forced upon those who had signed up freely. The horrors of both Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib added to a sense of disenchantment for many others. Recruitment of African-Americans, traditionally a source of recruits, has substantially dried up. Television commercials intended to target working-class families, recently so prevalent, may not ever have to air again with an economic depression facing working-class youth. However, even a recruit from the most out-of-the-way rural outpost in the U.S. now knows instinctively what the Geneva Conventions mean, even if those rules of war are not known by heart by those chosen to fight wars.

Doubling the force in Afghanistan, where a quagmire may very well ensue, will be achieved through the economic draft, but most members of the middle class will never knowingly place themselves in harm�s way for ideals imposed upon them by those attempting to make a financial killing out of the enterprise of war or to extend U.S. hegemony!

Howard Lisnoff teaches writing and is a freelance writer. He can be reached at

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