Not Down With the Draft

recruitsCan you imagine giving up two years of your life (if not all of it) to old men in suits and uniforms who won’t even raise taxes to pay for the war they’ve committed your life to?

Before buying into this draft, consider what it means to be forcibly enlisted into our military, an institution grounded in violence, discipline, and power structure. Think about surrendering your freedom of speech to some old guy ranked above you, your will to question authority, and your freedom to choose the way you impact the world. These are the inalienable rights of a young person, though they are too often infringed upon already.

Reinstating the draft in Congress to make a point is risky, serves a pre-emptive war agenda that many Americans across racial lines never voted for, and puts young people on the front line whether we like it or not.

With their proposal, Charles B. Rangel (D-NY) and John Conyers (D-MI)—both members of the Congressional Black Caucus-- have forced the real and pressing issues of race, class and privilege to the forefront of American dialogue and consciousness. And it is definitely high time to address the question of how to deal with a "Congress that voted overwhelmingly to use force in Iraq" and yet doesn’t have to send its own offspring into combat (Charles B. Rangel, "Bring Back the Draft" The New York Times 12/31/02).

A Wall Street Journal editorial, not a traditional source of anti-draft sentiment, predicted that the bill would die quickly ("Draft Dodge" The Wall Street Journal 01/06/03). Advocates of the draft bill contend that the Rangel-Conyers strategy was a politically safe move to raise valid issues. But who is to say what’s safe these days? In the interest of peace, this draft proposal seems counter productive and dicey.

So why is a draft a bad idea?

The recent WSJ editorial suggests that it is not in the military’s interest to enact a draft, since even minimal military training takes over a year and many drafted soldiers exhibited disobedient, unenthusiastic or incompetent behavior inVietnam. It’s true, our age group doesn’t have a great track-record of following orders.

Reps. Rangel and Conyers astutely point out that old men seem to have a disturbing habit of dreaming up wars for young men to fight. Indeed, many of the congressmen supporting the use of military force in Iraq have never fought in a war themselves. But where is the evidence to suggest that it will be any different this time, that the families of these privileged political schemers won’t duck the draft just as they’ve always done in the past?

An article in the Afro Centric News Network worries that the Rangel-Conyers bill is a bad strategy which could play into the hands of a warmongering political administration at a time when our nation faces violent conflict across the globe. ( Yes. Young people also hate being played out by politicians, especially when their lives are at stake.

Writer-activist David Harris, who was imprisoned during Vietnam for draft resistance, says, "Rangel and Conyers have written Bush a blank check on the lives of young Americans. Using the draft as an equalizer is a nice theory that never worked. In the Vietnam draft, two times as many black people died as white and three times as many Hispanic." Thanks guys, but we were old enough to write our own checks before we got out of high school.

Reinstating the draft in Congress to make a point is risky, serves a pre-emptive war agenda that many Americans across racial lines never voted for, and puts young people on the front line whether we like it or not.

Ask almost any adult from our parents’ generation what they remember about the draft during the Vietnam War. It’s like asking anyone in San Francisco where they were at the last big earthquake—they remember where they were and what they were doing at the exact moment it struck. Not only do our parents remember the draft; they remember the reactions of their mothers, fathers and siblings, the wonderful friends they lost to it, and the diseases they invented to dodge it.

Our generation would also be victimized by the draft. Will we tell our children these stories of heartbreak, loss and insanity? Rangel emphasized that if our country must go to war, "the governing principle must be shared sacrifice" (New York Times 12/31/02). Must we share the sacrifice of hope for a peaceful world to raise the issue of racial inequality in this country?

In the end, it is extremely important that anti-war movements of this generation focus on a common undivided goal. We cannot split with that goal or betray the needs of many communities of color in this nation, communities that were most victimized in the past by the draft.

The greatest risk of proposing a draft is that we might actually get it. The Rangel-Conyers draft bill proposes to drag many young people into a carnage many of them never chose and don’t believe in.

Erica Terence, 19, is student at Seattle University and a freelance writer for NEXT, a youth news project of the Seattle Times. Read an interview with an editor of NEXT.


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