Mr. Rangel Wants A Debate

U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel’s proposal to reinstate the military draft is an idea that for political reasons hasn’t gained traction. But a national debate about sharing sacrifice in time of war would be healthy nonetheless.

Members of Congress of both parties are voicing opposition to conscription, which was dropped in 1973 in favor of volunteering as a means of filling the ranks.

Mr. Rangel, a New York Democrat, has been arguing throughout the conflict in Iraq that a war’s burden should be shared by all elements of society. He says the sacrifice now falls disproportionately on the poor and members of minority groups who flock to the military because they can’t find jobs.

But that’s always been the case. The armed forces have traditionally been a magnet for frustrated job-seekers of all races and kids who need structure and discipline, as well as those who are simply motivated by patriotism to serve no matter their race or class.

The socioeconomic makeup of the military today is not dramatically different than it was in the past – although on average those serving are better educated now, the services rely slightly less on minority groups and the troops are a little older.

Mr. Rangel also asserts that U.S. leaders wouldn’t be so quick to go to war if the children of the elites were subject to being drafted. That doesn’t appear to be the case, however. In America’s experience, the draft hasn’t been a great democratizer; at least it wasn’t in this nation’s last big war – Vietnam – until the lottery was introduced.

While some children of the “elites” volunteered for service in Vietnam or didn’t try to beat the draft, deferments for college and marriage, medical exemptions, and assignments to Guard and Reserve units spared many young men of privileged backgrounds from going to the front. Poor and minority youth were spared, too, but not in as great a proportion. A draft would have to be iron-clad if it were to catch equally all elements of society – and that would be hard to guarantee.

As to Mr. Rangel’s argument that a draft would restrain a government’s appetite for war, where’s the history? During the Vietnam War, the draft produced an endless supply of cannon fodder. Public opposition finally stopped that misguided and costly adventure, but only after more than a decade of fighting.

Mr. Rangel is right, however, when he talks about the concept of a mandatory national service commitment. Young Americans would have the option of choosing either the military or non-military roles – joining the Peace Corps or its domestic equivalents. National service could turn out generations of committed young citizens.

Another way to widely share the burden in time of war is to pay for it through a broad-based tax.

The Iraq war, now in its fourth year, coupled with the war in Afghanistan, has cost some $500 billion so far – in contrast to early estimates of a measly $60 billion. There is no end in sight.

A recent study by Harvard and Columbia University academics projects that the ultimate bottom line for the war in Iraq could reach a staggering $2 trillion when such factors as the long-term care of psychologically and physically wounded veterans are added.

But there has been no tax increase to pay for the war. The cost is just being added to the national debt. The Bush administration is simply printing money to pay for this costly, draining quagmire. The war is being fought by volunteers on future generations’ dime.

That’s the ultimate passing of the buck.

The Hartfoed Courant, November 26, 2006

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~ by anick on November 26, 2006.

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