Military draft not on horizon
October 25, 2007 6:58 PM
As a major source of U.S. Army recruits dwindles and the president begins pushing the potential threat of “World War III,” fears of a new military draft may chill those still haunted by the memory of the Vietnam lotteries. But those fears should be tempered by the huge political and practical obstacles to even pursuing such a draft, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
“Bottom line: there is absolutely no consideration being given to reinstituting the draft,” wrote press officer Jonathan Withington of the Department of Defense in an e-mail Tuesday.
The Department of Defense supports continuing with the “All Volunteer Force, [which] has surpassed all expectations of its founders—this force is intelligent, fit, and committed—the best in the world. And it is cheaper than a draft force by more than $4 billion annually,” Withington wrote.
But SF State political science professor Robert Smith warned that the military’s current policy of using only volunteer recruits may only have a few years of viability left.
“If war looks almost certain, it’s a disincentive to join the Army,” Smith said. “They can offer to pay a good salary and send recruits to college, but that will only do so much good if people think they’ll be sent to war.”
President George W. Bush suggested last week that “World War III” could be sparked if Iran acquires the ability to build nuclear weapons. Smith called those comments irresponsible and reckless, and likely to slow voluntary military enrollment.
Bush’s comments come while black Americans are drastically shrinking as a source of voluntary recruits for the military.
A report called the “U.S. Military Image Study” found that blacks who view the military favorably dropped from 22 percent in 2003 to 11 percent the following year.
Army data show that blacks made up 24 percent of new recruits in 2000, but had dropped to 14 percent in 2005. Maj. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, a black graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, told the New York Times in August that among several reasons for the change is African-Americans’ disapproval of the war.
From 2000 to 2005, Latinos grew from 10.5 percent of enlisters to 13.2 percent, and Asians grew from 2.6 percent to 4.1 percent, ac cording to army statistics.
“The voluntary program should be fine for two or three more years, as long as we don’t go to war in the meantime,” Smith said. “And all the leading presidential candidates are saying ‘no’ to a draft.”
Smith was a student at UC Berkeley during the anti-war protests in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and said the paranoia each student felt about possibly being drafted fueled a lot of the anger and protests.
“The government will look at a draft as almost a last resort,” he said. “They know from their experience during Vietnam that a draft provides a lot of fuel for anti-war sentiment. That was why Nixon ended the draft in 1973.”
When Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., introduced legislation to bring back a draft in 2003, it was crushed by a 402-2 vote in Congress. His second effort, in 2006, met a similar fate.
“I think that effort was probably not really sincere,” Smith said. “I don’t think he actually thought Congress would bring back the draft; he was just arguing that we should spread the burden of military service to everyone, instead of putting it all on minorities and the poor.”
Smith noted that with Democrats arguing to increase the size of the military by 100,000 recruits, even a hypothetical draft wouldn’t be very large.
“You’d only need to draft about 250,000 people,” he said. “And from that, you could use a lottery system, like they did at the end of Vietnam.”
The Selective Service System, which collects draft registrations and would be responsible for organizing a draft, claims on its Web site that any future drafts would use a revised lottery system and would be more fair than during the Vietnam war.
College students would only have one semester’s worth of deferment time, according to the Web site, which would prevent college-aged men from enrolling in classes solely to avoid service. Seniors would be given the full academic year.
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