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Feel the DRAFT?

Oiling up the draft machine?
The Pentagon is quietly moving to fill draft board vacancies nationwide. While officials say there's no cause to worry, some experts aren't so sure. Legislative contacts at end of post for you to make known your opinion on the subject.
Just got this FW: from Oregon PeaceWorks. Pretty chilling perspective, especially if you're old enough to remember the last time the US dragged boys off to fight a witless war.
- Eltear


Oiling up the draft machine?

By Dave Lindorff

Nov. 3, 2003 | The community draft boards that became notorious for sending reluctant young men off to Vietnam have languished since the early 1970s, their membership ebbing and their purpose all but lost when the draft was ended. But a few weeks ago, on an obscure federal Web site devoted to the war on terrorism, the Bush administration quietly < http://www.defendamerica.mil/articles/sss092203.html>began a public campaign to bring the draft boards back to life.

"Serve Your Community and the Nation," the announcement urges. "If a military draft becomes necessary, approximately 2,000 Local and Appeal Boards throughout America would decide which young men ... receive deferments, postponements or exemptions from military service."

Local draft board volunteers, meanwhile, report that at training sessions last summer, they were unexpectedly asked to recommend people to fill some of the estimated 16 percent of board seats that are vacant nationwide.

Especially for those who were of age to fight in the Vietnam War, it is an ominous flashback of a message. Divisive military actions are ongoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. News accounts daily detail how the U.S. is stretched too thin there to be effective. And tensions are high with Syria and Iran and on the Korean Peninsula, with some in or close to the Bush White House suggesting that military action may someday be necessary in those spots, too.

Not since the early days of the Reagan administration in 1981 has the Defense Department made a push to fill all 10,350 draft board positions and 11,070 appeals board slots. Recognizing that even the mention of a draft in the months before an election might be politically explosive, the Pentagon last week was adamant that the drive to staff up the draft boards is not a portent of things to come. There is "no contingency plan" to ask Congress to reinstate the draft, John Winkler, the Pentagon's deputy assistant secretary for reserve affairs, told Salon last week.

Increasingly, however, military experts and even some influential members of Congress are suggesting that if Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's prediction of a < http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/executive/rumsfeld-memo.htm>"long, hard slog" in Iraq and Afghanistan proves accurate, the U.S. may have no choice but to consider a draft to fully staff the nation's military in a time of global instability.

"The experts are all saying we're going to have to beef up our presence in Iraq," says U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, the New York Democrat. "We've failed to convince our allies to send troops, we've extended deployments so morale is sinking, and the president is saying we can't cut and run. So what's left? The draft is a very sensitive subject, but at some point, we're going to need more troops, and at that point the only way to get them will be a return to the draft."

Rangel has provoked controversy in the past by insisting that a draft is the only way to fill the nation's military needs without exploiting young men and women from lower-income families. And, some suggest, by proposing military service from middle- and upper-class men and women, Rangel may be trying to diminish the odds of actually using them in combat. But Rangel is hardly alone in suggesting that the draft might be needed.

The draft, ended by Congress in 1973 as the Indochina War was winding down, was long a target of antiwar activists, and remains highly controversial both in and out of the military. Most military officers understandably prefer an army of volunteers and career soldiers over an army of grudging conscripts; Rumsfeld, too, has long been a staunch advocate of an all-volunteer force.

According to some experts, basic math might compel the Pentagon to reconsider the draft: Of a total U.S. military force of 1.4 million people around the globe (many of them in non-combat support positions and in services like the Air Force and Navy), there are currently about 140,000 active-duty, reserve and National Guard soldiers currently deployed in Iraq -- and though Rumsfeld has been an advocate of a lean, nimble military apparatus, history suggests he needs more muscle.

"The closest parallel to the Iraq situation is the British in Northern Ireland, where you also had some people supporting the occupying army and some opposing them, and where the opponents were willing to resort to terror tactics," says Charles PeZa, director of defense studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. "There the British needed a ratio of 10 soldiers per 1,000 population to restore order, and at their height, it was 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.

"The only reason you aren't hearing these kinds of numbers discussed by the White House and the Defense Department right now," PeZa adds, "is that you couldn't come up with them without a return to the draft, and they don't want to talk about that."

The Pentagon has already had to double the deployment periods of some units, call up more reserves and extend tours of duty by a year -- all highly unpopular moves. Meanwhile, the recent spate of deadly bombings in Baghdad, Falluja and other cities, and increasing attacks on U.S. forces throughout Iraq have forced the U.S. to reconsider its plans to reduce troop deployments.

Those factors -- combined with the stress and grind of war itself -- clearly have diminished troop morale. And many in the National Guard and reserves never anticipated having to serve in an active war zone, far from their families and jobs, for six months or longer. Stars and Stripes, the Army's official paper, reports that a poll it conducted found that half the soldiers in Iraq say they are "not likely" or are "very unlikely" to reenlist -- a very high figure.

Consider that the total enlistment goal for active Army and Army reserves in the fiscal year ended Oct. 1 was 100,000. If half of the 140,000 troops currently in Iraq were to go home and stay, two-thirds of this year's recruits would be needed to replace them. And that does not take into consideration military needs at home and around the globe.

"My sense is that there is a lot of nervousness about the enlistment numbers as Iraq drags on," says Doug Bandow, another military manpower expert at Cato. "We're still early enough into it that the full impact on recruiting/retention hasn't been felt."

The Pentagon, perhaps predictably, sees a more hopeful picture.

Curtis Gilroy, director of accession policy at the Department of Defense, concedes that troop morale is hurting. "There are certainly concerns about future reenlistments. Iraq is not a happy place to be," Gilroy says. "[But] I think a certain amount of that is just grumbling. What we're interested in is not what people are saying, but what they do." So far, he reports, reenlistments and new enlistments remain on target.

Beth Asch, a military manpower expert at the Rand Corp. think tank, agrees that current retention and new enlistment figures are holding up. But she cautions that it may be too soon to know the impact of the tough and open-ended occupation in Iraq. "Short deployments actually boost enlistments and reenlistments," Asch says. "But studies show longer deployments can definitely have a negative impact."

While she thinks it is unlikely that the military will have to resort to a draft to meet its needs, Ned Lebow, a military manpower expert and professor of government at Dartmouth College, is less confident.

"The government is in a bit of a box," Lebow says. "They can hold reservists on active duty longer, and risk antagonizing that whole section of America that has family members who join the Reserves. They can try to pay soldiers more, but it's not clear that works -- and besides, there's already an enormous budget deficit. They can try to bribe other countries to contribute more troops, which they're trying to do now, but not with much success. Or they can try Iraqization of the war -- though we saw what happened to Vietnamization, and Afghanization of the war in Afghanistan isn't working, so Iraqization doesn't seem likely to work either.

"So," Lebow concludes, "that leaves the draft."

Purely in mechanical terms, a draft is a complicated and difficult thing to get off the ground. It would require an act of Congress, first, and then the signature of the president. Young men are already required to register with the Selective Service system, but if the bill were signed into law, it would still take half a year or more to get the new troops into the system. Federal law would require the Selective Service to immediately set up a lottery and start sending out induction notices. Local draft boards would have to evaluate them for medical problems, moral objections and other issues like family crises, and hear the appeals of those who are resisting the draft.

Under law, the first batch of new conscripts must be processed and ready for boot camp in 193 days or less after the start of the draft.

But if the mechanics of the draft are difficult, the politics could be lethal for Bush or any other top official who proposed it.

Already, the American public is almost as split today over the war in Iraq as it was about the war in Indochina nearly four decades ago, though not yet as passionately. But a new draft would likely incite even deeper resentment than it did then. In the last war fought by a conscript army, draft deferments for students meant that nobody who was in college had to worry about being called up until after graduation, and until late in that war, it was even possible, by going to grad school (like Vice President Dick Cheney), to avoid getting drafted altogether. In the Vietnam War era, college boys could also duck combat, as George W. Bush did, by joining the National Guard.

But that's all been changed. In a new draft, college students whose lottery number was selected would only be permitted to finish their current semester; seniors could finish their final year. After that, they'd have to answer the call. Meanwhile, National Guardsmen, as we've seen in the current war, are now likely to face overseas combat duty, too.

"If Congress and Bush reinstitute the draft, it would be the '60s all over again," predicts Lebow. "It's hard to imagine Congress passing such a bill, but then, look how many members of Congress just rolled over and played dead on the bill for $87 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan."

New York Rep. Rangel and Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., introduced companion bills in the two houses of Congress to reactivate the draft last January, at a time when Bush was clearly moving toward an invasion. While both bills remain in the legislative hopper, neither has gone anywhere.

Even among those who think the public might support a draft, like Bandow at the Cato Institute, few believe Bush would dare to propose it before the November 2004 election. "No one would want that fight," he explains. "It would highlight the cost of an imperial foreign policy, add an incendiary issue to the already emotional protests, and further split the limited-government conservatives." But despite the Pentagon's denials, planners there are almost certainly weighing the numbers just as independent military experts are. And that could explain the willingness to tune up the draft machinery.

John Corcoran, an attorney who serves on a draft board in Philadelphia, says he joined the Reserves to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War. Today, he says, the Bush administration "is in deep trouble" in Iraq "because they didn't plan for the occupation." That doesn't mean Bush would take the election-year risk of restarting the draft, Corcoran says. "To tell the truth, I don't think Bush has the balls to call for a draft.

"They give us a training session each year to keep the machinery in place and oiled up in case, God forbid, they ever do reinstitute it," he explains.

"They don't want us to have to do it," agrees Dan Amon, a spokesman for the Selective Service. "But they want us to be ready to do it at the click of a finger."

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About the writer
Philadelphia-based journalist Dave Lindorff writes regularly for Salon.

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previous post and discussion 04.Nov.2003 17:50

indy volunteer

Thanks for the contact list. This article was previously posted and dicussed here:

Food for Thought 04.Nov.2003 19:00


If they brought back the draft, and the middle class and the affluent folks were affected, we'd see anti-war sentiment in this country skyrocket. Come to think of it, Bu$h has two daughters in that age group. If Bu$h thinks the war is so great, then why aren't his kids over there??? Of course, they would probably flunk the drug test.

drop the guard this time 04.Nov.2003 19:55

Linnton Kwesi Johnson

During the Vietnam era draft, the move the rich kids made, was to get into the National Guard. It meant a tour of part- time duty in your home area which pretty much involved just going on hikes on the week-ends.
With the Guard being sent over to Iraq with everyone else, I don't know what all the fortunate sons and daughters are going to do if there is a draft.

Once is not enough 04.Nov.2003 20:18


Bring on the draft, bring a cold, the flu anything that will get a fat and lazy country off of it's ass. The WORST ?? thing that can happen is Canada gets some more great people. America is over the more "they' do to cill the corpes the better. The above has been presented by the "VOTE BUSH, DESTORY AMERICA FUND".

Frag Your Commanding Officer 05.Nov.2003 04:55


Remember, if you are drafted, you can always kill your commanding offiicers if all else fails.

I highly recommend this tactic for all Freedom Fighters.

fragging ended the Vietnam War 05.Nov.2003 12:11


No one knows how many officers were fragged, but after Tet it became epidemic. At least 800 to 1,000 fragging attempts using explosive devices were made. The army reported 126 fraggings in 1969, 271 in 1970 and 333 in 1971, when they stopped keeping count. But in that year, just in the American Division (of My Lai fame), one fragging per week took place. Some military estimates are that fraggings occurred at five times the official rate, while officers of the Judge Advocate General Corps believed that only 10 percent of fraggings were reported. These figures do not include officers who were shot in the back by their men and listed as wounded or killed in action.

Most fraggings resulted in injuries, although "word of the deaths of officers will bring cheers at troop movies or in bivouacs of certain units." The army admitted that it could not account for how 1,400 officers and noncommissioned officers died. This number, plus the official list of fragging deaths, has been accepted as the unacknowledged army estimate for officers killed by their men. It suggests that 20 to 25 percent -- if not more -- of all officers killed during the war were killed by enlisted men, not the "enemy." This figure has no precedent in the history of war.

THE MOST neglected aspect of the Vietnam War is the soldiers' revolt -- the mass upheaval from below that unraveled the American army. It is a great reality check in an era when the U.S. touts itself as an invincible nation. For this reason, the soldiers' revolt has been written out of official history. Yet it was a crucial part of the massive antiwar movement whose activity helped the Vietnamese people in their struggle to free Vietnam -- described once by President Johnson as a "raggedy-ass little fourth-rate country" -- from U.S. domination. The legacy of the soldiers' revolt and the U.S. defeat in Vietnam -- despite more recent U.S. victories over Iraq, Afghanistan and Serbia -- casts a pall on the Pentagon. They still fear the political backlash that might come if U.S. ground forces sustain heavy casualties in a future war.

The army revolt was a class struggle that pitted working-class soldiers against officers who viewed them as expendable. The fashionable attempt to revise Vietnam War history, to airbrush its horrors, to create a climate supportive of future military interventions, cannot acknowledge that American soldiers violently opposed that war, or that American capitalism casually tolerated the massacre of working-class troops. Liberal academics have added to the historical distortion by reducing the radicalism of the 1960s to middle-class concerns and activities, while ignoring working-class rebellion. But the militancy of the 1960s began with the Black working class as the motor force of the Black liberation struggle, and it reached its climax with the unity of white and Black working-class soldiers whose upsurge shook U.S. imperialism.

In Vietnam, the rebellion did not take the same form as the mass stateside GI antiwar movement, which consisted of protests, marches, demonstrations and underground newspapers. In Vietnam, the aim of the soldiers was more modest, but also more subversive: survival, to "CYA" (cover your ass), to protect "the only body you have" by fighting the military's attempt to continue the war. The survival conflict became a war within the war that ripped the armed forces apart. In 1965, the Green Machine was the best army the U.S. ever put into the field; a few years later, it was useless as a fighting force.

"Survival politics," as it was then called, expressed itself through the destruction of the search-and-destroy strategy, through mutinies, through the killing of officers, and through fraternization and making peace from below with the National Liberation Front (NLF). It was highly effective in destroying everything that military hierarchy and discipline stand for. It was the proudest moment in the U.S. army's history.

Like most of the revolutionary traditions of the American working class, the soldiers' revolt has been hidden from history.


Richard Moser, The New Winter Soldiers: GI and Veteran Dissent During the Vietnam Era (Perspectives in the Sixties) (New Brunswick: Rutgers, 1996), p. 48

Christian G. Appy, Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993), p. 246.

Colonel Robert D. Heinl, Jr., "The Collapse of the Armed Forces," Armed Forces Journal, June 7, 1971, reprinted in Marvin Gettleman, et al., Vietnam and America: A Documented History (New York: Grove Press, 1995), p. 328.

Terry Anderson, "The GI Movement and the Response from the Brass," in Melvin Small and William Hoover, eds., Give Peace A Chance (Syracuse: Syracuse University, 1992), p. 105


Correct link for article on SOLDIERS' REVOLT 07.Aug.2004 13:37

Aaron S.

The above link to a pdf version of THE SOLDIERS' REVOLT by Joel Geier doesn't work, at least for now. But an HTML version of the article can be found at the link included here.