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My View: On the Draft
By John Zutz
There have been recent attempts to eliminate the Selective Service system and draft registration. These attempts are likely to be affected by the recent shortfalls in military recruiting. It seems our military can't recruit as many warm bodies as it needs. Several reasons have been advanced for this shortage:
- The economy is too good, so there are plenty of higher-paying civilian jobs available.
- The baby boomers, though aging, are still pretty much anti-military and are less likely to emphasize military service as an option to their kids (who are now of prime recruitment age).
- Young adults today just aren't as patriotic as they were in the past.
Whatever the reasons, government leaders and the media have been floating a trial balloon, presenting the possibility of reintroducing the draft. There has been little opposition raised so far.
Interestingly enough, one institution that has attempted to downplay this proposal is the military itself. The Pentagon is fairly firmly urging an all-volunteer force. Anti-draft activists have theorized that the military position recognizes ROTC's and JROTC's increased presence in high schools and colleges, and that conscription might create a backlash causing the armed services to lose rather than gain influence in the long run.
Everyone interested is quick to reiterate that the draft isn't likely to be reinstated in the next few years.
Since the current draft registration system has run along untouched and largely unnoticed since our war in Vietnam ended, perhaps now is a good time to debate whether a draft is necessary or desirable.
It is apparent that the current system, registering eighteen-year-old males, is vulnerable to a court challenge on discrimination grounds. The military services currently have a significant percentage of females serving in almost all capacities. Any proposal to draft only males seems destined to fail.
One possible resolution, which hasn't received much consideration, is a requirement for universal national service, with no exceptions. Everyone reaching the age of eighteen would be responsible for two years of public service. Options for that service should not be limited to the military, but should include something like a new CCC, or Job Corps.
The Pentagon ought to like this proposal. It would widen the pool of possible recruits. It would maintain the "all-volunteer" nature of the military. Those opting for the military on a voluntary basis would be more likely to remain in the service longer than outright conscripts.
The civilian options for national service ought to provide pay scales and benefits similar to the military: job training, housing, health care, and the ability to earn money for college similar to the GI Bill.
Though no exceptions would be considered, there could be deferments. If eighteen-year-olds wanted to continue immediately to college, or even graduate school, they could be required to serve immediately after leaving school. Their increased skills and knowledge would then be used for the public good. Their GI Bill earnings might be applied to paying off their student loans.
Penalties for dodging the system could be similar to those for desertion.
Though the costs of running this system would be enormous, the benefits to society, directly through the services provided, and indirectly through the increased training and education provided to individuals, would outweigh the costs.
John Zutz is a member of the Milwaukee chapter and a VVAW national coordinator.