Make armies, not war

  • 6 December 2006
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Representative Charles Rangel, a member of the US Congress, has over the past few years made a number of high-profile calls for the military draft to be reinstated. It sounds at first like a right-wing rant. Conscript all the boys and girls of America. Suit them up in camouflage. Ship them into army camps, knock off their edges, trim them up. Send them off to fight for freedom... whatever the hell that means. 


In fact, Rangel is one of the more radical members of Congress. He represents Harlem and the Upper West Side of New York. He is serving his 18th term. A founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, he is one of the edgier politicians in a country where the edge is hardly sharp these days. He served in Korea where he won a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. He knows his wars and he also knows what sorts of battles to pick. He has unsuccessfully sponsored legislation on conscription in the past, but now, with the democrats holding the balance of power, Rangel is again kicking up his heels.  


The reason he wants a draft is to kick sand in the faces of the ones who wage war. He wants them to sit up and understand what a war means. It's not a little playground battle. It's not a little jaunt on the sands of elsewhere. It's not some abstract video game played in the corridors of power.   
Rangel knows that Bush and co would never have invaded Iraq – certainly not on the flimsy and falsified evidence they had – if the lives of their sons and daughters had been at stake. His point is, if there was a draft in place, the members of congress, the corporate big-wigs and the wealthy of America would actually sit up and take a healthy dose of empathy.  The idea of putting their own children in harm's way is an altogether different proposal than sending the poor black or Hispanic teenager.  

In the US, war is for poor kids.  Rangel opposes the war in Iraq but he supports the troops who have to fight it. He does not understand how anyone can support the war and not support the draft. He is a politician of decency and empathy. What Rangel is doing is throwing down the moral gauntlet. At the same time, he has stuffed it to the republicans who have called for more troops in Iraq. If they wouldn't send their own sons, then it's just a further case of hypocrisy.   

In recent months the US has suffered a 30 per cent decline in enlistments. Potential recruits are disgusted by the war. They are also scared. They'd rather stay at home than walk into the shrapnel. They are saying no to the travel plans of Cheney and his cronies.  

As a result, the US army is running scared. It recently announced its intention to allow recruits to sign up for 15 months of active duty service rather than the typical four-year enlistment. They have increased bonuses to $30,000. Educational requirements have been suspended. They have enlarged the corps of recruiters. On TV and radio they have instituted a repulsive advertising campaign that makes the military seem like a sexed-up nightclub. Undercover cameras from NBC recently exposed the sham of the military come-on. Dozens of instances of fraud have been reported.  
The army is worried and Rangel exploits that worry by calling for a draft.  

Rangel says he will call for the legislation in early 2007. Having a draft would not necessarily mean everyone called to duty would have to serve. Instead, he says, “young people would commit themselves to a couple of years in service to this great republic, whether it's our seaports, our airports, in schools, in hospitals”, with a promise of educational benefits at the end of service, a similar scenario to that of the Israeli military. Deferment would be allowed for reasons of health or conscience.

Of course, there's little or no support for his measures.  Repeated polls have shown that about seven in 10 Americans oppose reinstatement of the draft and officials say they do not expect to restart conscription any time soon.  It's just not going to happen.  In 2004, Rangel proposed a draft covering people aged 18 to 26. It was defeated 402 votes to just two. This time around he may very well get a few more votes but in essence there will not be a change in the country's policy. Still, that's not his point. His point is that wars are fought for greed. When our own personal lives stack up against that greed, it becomes an altogether different choice.  

I have lived in New York for almost 15 years. I have three young children. Two of them would be eligible for a draft in a decade. If there were to be a draft, I would be posed with a dilemma, I suppose. But the answer is easy enough. I'd simply leave. That's it.  Goodbye. God bless. Nice knowing you. I would leave behind a city, a life, a country for which I have much fondness and respect.  And one of the reasons for that fondness is that there still are politicians like Rangel around who can force us to think by showing us exactly what road we walk upon.