Appeal for draft board volunteers revives memories of Vietnam era
Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
Wednesday November 5, 2003
The Pentagon has begun recruiting for local draft boards, dredging up painful memories of Vietnam era conscription at a time of deepening misgiving about America's occupation of Iraq.
In a notice posted on the defence department's Defend America website, Americans over the age of 18 and with no criminal record are invited to "serve your community and the nation" by volunteering for the boards, which decide which recruits should be sent to war.
Thirty years have passed since the draft boards last exerted their hold on America, deciding which soldiers would be sent to Vietnam. After Congress ended the draft in 1973, they have become largely dormant.
However, recruitment for the boards suggests that in some parts of the Pentagon all options are being explored in response to concerns that the US military has been stretched too thin in its occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Although Pentagon officials denied any move to reinstitute the draft, the defence department website does not shirk at outlining the potential duties for a new crop of volunteers to the draft boards.
"If a military draft becomes necessary, approximately 2,000 local and appeal boards throughout America would decide which young men who submit a claim receive deferments, postponements or exemptions from military service, based on federal guidelines," it said.
Pentagon officials were adamant that there were no plans to bring back the draft.
"That would require action from Congress and the president and they are not likely to do that unless there was something of the magnitude of the second world war that required it," said Dan Amon, a spokesman for the selective service department.
Bringing back conscription would be catastrophic for George Bush in an election year, and at a time when parallels are increasingly being drawn between Iraq and Vietnam.
However, officials were not immediately able to explain how the advertisement appeared on the site. Mr Amon said the notices were a response to the natural attrition in the ranks of the draft board, where some 80% of 11,000 places are now vacant. "It is the routine cycle of things," he said.
But it was unclear why the Pentagon decided at this time it was necessary to fill staff bodies which had played no function since the early 1980s.
The idea of a draft has never entirely disappeared, and is contemplated by Democrats and some military experts.
In the run-up to the war, the New York congressman Charles Rangel argued for a draft on the grounds that the US military was disproportionately made up of poor and black soldiers, and that it was unfair for America's underclass to go off and die in wars.
In recent weeks, there has been growing concern within the defence department about relying too heavily on members of the National Guard and army reservists.
Some 60,000 of the 130,000 US soldiers in Iraq are members of the National Guard or the reserves. An opinion poll last month in the Pentagon-funded Stars and Stripes newspaper, showed 49% threatening not to re-enlist.
The families of reservists have become increasingly vocal in their complaints after the Pentagon's decision to extend duty tours to up to 15 months.
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