Re-instituting the draft

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(Host) Commentator Bill Seamans reflects on recent call for resuming the draft.

(Seamans) The “D-word” has been avoided by our representatives in Washington because it is a very sensitive political subject. That D-word is “draft” and it brings President Bush’s war talk right into every home that has an eighteen-year-old registered with Selective Service, as required by law. Talk about a draft penetrates our mood of national denial. It wakens us to the real burden of sacrifice a war brings home to every American.

But President Bush says he does not foresee the need for resuming the draft, which ended in 1973. At the same time he talks about fighting a global war against “evil” that, he says, is likely to continue for years. It’s said that much of the next war will be fought remotely with electronic weaponry and by our air force. But in the current bestseller, “Bush at War” by Bob Woodward, who was given extraordinary access to insider White House deliberations, the need for what was called “boots on the ground” was often mentioned despite all our smart-weapon wizardry. “Boots on the ground” means infantry, and ground combat means casualties.

The question is, will we have enough troops to do the job without, as President Bush says, the need to resume the draft to supply replacements for our dead and wounded in an endless global war. Representative Charles Rangel, the New York Democrat and veteran of the Korean War, brought the “D-word” out into the open on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times. He said he will introduce legislation to resume the draft because he believed “that if those calling for war knew their children were more likely to be required to serve and be placed in harm’s way, there would be more caution and a greater willingness to work with the international community in dealing with Iraq.” If there is a new draft, Rangel said it should be a “shared sacrifice” by all able young Americans, not by what he called the “disproportionate number” of minorities who make up our enlisted forces today. Thus Rangel echoed the critics of the Vietnam war draft who noted that the burden of sacrifice fell on lower class youth who had none of the pull that enabled more privileged youth to legally avoid the war.

If indeed events force President Bush to resume the draft then I think we can expect a very loud public demand that the exemptions used by the well-connected members of our society to get out of Vietnam will not be tolerated again. Our minority population is now much better informed by our saturation news media, thus more politically astute than they were back in the Vietnam draft days. They will be more aware if a military burden is imposed on them that is not the “shared sacrifice” called for by Mr. Rangel.

This is Bill Seamans.

Award-winning journalist Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East.

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