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Posted on Mar 4, 2003 Print this Article

Representative Rangel’s Radical Move to Reinstate the Draft

Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY), who earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart in the Korean War, deserves respect for serving his country with distinction. As a senior member of Congress, however, Rangel is letting down the troops. Together with ultra-liberal colleague John Conyers (D-MI), Rangel is sponsoring legislation to reinstate the military draft, which was abolished and replaced with the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) in 1973.

Under the Rangel/Conyers bill, Selective Service registration requirements would apply on an equal basis to all young men and women between the ages of 18 and 26, with no exemptions except for religious or conscientious objectors. Those found ineligible to serve would be conscripted for some sort of mandatory “national service.”

Rep. Rangel has promoted his proposal in terms of patriotism and support for national defense. That posture seems less than credible, however, since Rangel voted against budget appropriations for the Selective Service Administration on three out of four occasions.1

Rangel suggests that all Americans should share the burden of defending America, and that such a requirement would foster more understanding of the armed forces and concern for those who serve. He further claims that members of Congress would be more reluctant to authorize military actions if their own sons and daughters were subject to the draft.

In a January 3 interview with the New York Times, Rangel admitted that the intent of his proposal is to discourage congressional approval of measures authorizing military force, such as the resolution regarding Iraq that received bipartisan approval in October 2002. Rangel and Conyers exercised their right to vote against that resolution, but now they want to commandeer the lives of young people in order to advance their own political and anti-war objectives.

Talk of patriotism aside, the fact is that reinstitution of the draft would weaken, not strengthen, readiness and morale in America’s 21st century military. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld notes that the cost of training and deploying unwilling soldiers would be extremely high and less productive in terms of military readiness. During a recent appearance on the Lehrer News HourRep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) amplified the point:

“[Most men and women in the military] prefer to be there with other colleagues who volunteered to be there. Morale is higher, the professionalism is higher. We carry out our mission with far greater loss of any combat power. And people die in fewer numbers when we have that degree of professionalism.” (PBS, Jan. 9)

What is the Purpose of Selective Service?

The only legitimate purpose that justifies drafting anyone is the need for “combat replacements” (clinical term) in a major war. The principle was cited by the Supreme Court in the 1981 Rostker v. Goldberg case, which upheld the right of Congress to exempt young women from draft registration and possible combat obligations on an equal basis as men.

America is fortunate to have more than three million patriotic volunteers who are willing to defend America on active duty, in the Reserves, or in the National Guard. To make this possible, compensation and benefits are higher than they were for draftees. The AVF has proven itself effective and deserving of even more support from a grateful nation.

President Bush has gone to extraordinary lengths to encourage community service and volunteerism for persons of all ages. This is a good idea, since everyone can and should serve their country or community in some way. Not everyone is eligible, however, to serve in the military.

Closing the Military/Civilian Gap

Some advocates support the draft as a way to “re-connect” civilians with military people, and to narrow what has been called the Military/Civilian Gap. There was a time in history when the entire nation was intimately concerned with military affairs. It was called World War II, but few would want to relive that era. Encouraging more understanding of military culture and values is a laudable goal, but not a good enough reason to reinstate the military draft.

Nor is Rangel’s proposal justified in order to increase the numbers of legislators with military experience. Some members fought in Korea, Vietnam, or Desert Storm, but the scarcity of veterans in Congress today reflects the smaller demand for soldiers in those more limited or shorter conflicts, as compared to the need for soldiers during World War II.

It is very possible that the War on Terrorism may require more combat troops. If that need arises, President George W. Bush should specifically ask for more military volunteers—something he has not done to date. At the same time, President Bush should call upon Congress and the nation to sacrifice other priorities in order to train and support a larger force. Currently strong recruiting and retention numbers indicate that if the president issues that call, young people will respond.

Insults and Unintended Consequences

It is an affront to Congress to imply that mandatory service would deter members with draft-age children from approving resolutions authorizing war. It is also unfair to insinuate that such votes have been or will be cast without due concern for the children of others. Regardless of the suspicions of Congressmen Rangel, Conyers, and their Senate ally Ernest Hollings (D-SC), people of character will do the right thing regardless of their own self-interest or family involvement.

Even if the legislators’ innuendo regarding their colleagues’ motives is justified, a draft could have the opposite effect. Four decades ago, some analysts concluded that the large pool of available draftees made it possible for then-President Lyndon Johnson to prolong the Vietnam War. The conduct of that controversial war, which killed thousands of draftees as well as volunteers, did not close the Military/Civilian gap, or unite the nation with its soldiers. Instead, the nation was torn apart with deep divisions that continue to this day.

Involuntary Service and Racial Sensitivities

The essence of Rangel’s proposal is force—not to strengthen national defense, but to achieve social objectives. In addition to “sensitizing” Congress and discouraging resolutions authorizing military deployments, the Rangel/Conyers bill is supposed to correct racial imbalances that allegedly put minorities at greater risk of being killed or injured in combat.

That divisive theme was echoed by a number of liberal commentators. Black Entertainment Television (BET) talk show host Tavis Smiley asked, “What impact does it have on America when most of the lives on the front line are lives that come from communities of color?” (, Jan. 8)

Actual figures compiled by the Department of Defense thoroughly discredit that myth. An 11-page report titled Conscription Threatens Hard-Won Achievements and Military Readiness set forth dozens of historic and current facts, including the following:

  • Contrary to the charge that minorities are more likely to become combat casualties, the Defense Department reported that in the AVF, high-risk combat forces, such as infantry, armored and artillery units, are primarily filled with white soldiers. Blacks tend to choose assignments in administrative and support units, including 23% of medical and dental positions.
  • During the 1991-92 Persian Gulf War, blacks made up 23% of the 550,000 U.S. troops deployed, but accounted for 17% of the combat and noncombat deaths.
  • Contrary to the “urban legend” that volunteer soldiers are largely “poor and uneducated,” black recruits closely parallel their representation among the youth population, and most are high school graduates with above-average aptitude.
  • The AVF is a genuinely “diverse” institution that rewards merit and reflects the society it protects.

The Defense Department analysis made additional points in support of the All-Volunteer Force:

  • According to many credible studies, the 21st Century AVF is more cost-efficient and combat-effective than a conscripted force would be. Retention of volunteers has been five-times better than that of conscripts, 90% of whom quit after their initial two-year hitch in the most recent draft. Higher turnover rates increase training costs while producing a less experienced force.
  • A real but hidden “conscription tax,” defined as the earnings that a person forgoes by being conscripted into the military, would be substantial. Reduced pay and benefits for conscripts would shift the true cost of obtaining recruits from the military budget to individual draftees.
  • Current high-tech weapons systems, which were designed for operation by fewer well-trained people, have been procured with the AVF in mind. That design is not compatible with a conscripted force.
  • Americans oppose reinstatement of the draft by nearly three to one. (Gallup Poll, Jan. 3-5, 2003) 2

The Question of Drafting Women

Liberal activists wasted no time in trying to take advantage of Congressman Rangel’s radical proposal. Five students in Boston, MA, (four male and one female) filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of military registration for men only. (New York Times, Jan. 10) Harvey Schwartz, an attorney affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says he will base his case on the changed role of women in the military in the decade following Desert Storm.

If feminists succeed in eliminating or incrementally “redefining” women’s remaining combat exemptions on land, sea, and in the air, a case could be made that military registration should operate on a gender-neutral basis. Never mind that administrative costs for registering or calling up legions of young women who are unsuited for combat duty (again, the only reason to draft anyone) would be huge and especially counter-productive in a time of national emergency.

Egalitarian theories cannot overcome centuries of military history and current realities that can be summed up as follows: In close combat women do not have an equal opportunity to survive, or to help fellow soldiers survive.

Still, no one can guarantee the outcome of a federal court decision. Despite the solid precedent of Rostker v. Goldberg, there is always a possibility that young women’s currentexemption from draft registration could be challenged successfully.

More Social Engineering

Homosexual activists are also eager to exploit Rangel’s proposal. According to the Network (Jan. 7), fifteen gay and lesbian military sent an anonymous letter to the leaders of Congress, asking them to include openly gay Americans in any future draft.3  As in the Vietnam era, controversies about draft exemptions would be endless and destructive to unity in a time of international crisis.

Mandatory service would be an unprecedented expansion of government power that cannot be justified under the U.S. Constitution except in times of national emergency. Forced conscription, whether for military or community service, would reduce citizens to involuntary servants of the state.

The now-dormant Selective Service system still has a serious mission, which should not be undermined for reasons of social engineering or political posturing. Reinstitution of the draft must remain an option, to be invoked only if America and its most compelling interests cannot be defended in any other way. The all-volunteer force has met every challenge, and it deserves continuing national support.

End Notes:

1. Budget appropriations for the Selective Service Administration were challenged in June 1993, October 1993, 1994, 1995, and 1999. Rangel supported the appropriation only in 1994, and was not present for the 1999 vote. Although some House members advocated elimination of the agency, there is no record of Rangel rising to speak in support of it.

2. Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Jan. 13, 2003, cited by the Washington Times, Jan. 14.

3. This is an unlikely prospect, even though Selective Service registers all 18 year-old young men, and eligibility to serve is determined only if a call-up occurs.

Posted on Mar 4, 2003 Print this Article