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Think the Days of the Draft are Gone? Think Again

Think the Days of the Draft are Gone? Think Again

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
September 11th., 2002

2.7 million Americans served in Vietnam. 304,000 of them were wounded in action, and over 75,000 of those were disabled by their injuries. As of Memorial Day 1996, there were 58,202 names listing the dead on the long, black monument in Washington, D.C. Approximately 1,300 men are still listed as missing in action.

There are many reasons why people today believe a return of the draft is an absurd notion, and the names on that wall stand tall among them. The insanity loosed within this nation when the draft was violently resisted stands as another firebreak against a politician who would call for its reinstatement. Finally, most Americans believe that our armed forces are utterly invincible and fully capable of performing any task we require beyond our borders. We stomped the Iraqi army, then the largest mechanized military force in the Middle East, like a roach back in 1991. After 9/11, we rampaged through Afghanistan.

Perceptions of this nature are dangerous, for they depart in the extreme from reality. Though we have succeeded in shattering the Taliban and dispersing al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the threat posed by the latter terrorist organization remains quite real. The cultural and tribal rifts in that region will require a massive American military presence there for years. The recent car-bomb attack against Afghan president Karzai demonstrates that, though we may have won all the battles over there, we are far from obtaining victory.

The situation in Afghanistan will be a significant tax on our military resources, unless we walk away as we did once the Soviets disengaged in 1989, which would guarantee once again the rise of fundamentalist chaos there. We have reaped that whirlwind once already, and will hold this tiger by the tail until further notice. The fact that we have significant interest in the natural resources of that region only cements the permanence of our presence there.

Our military presence in the Middle East is already significant, and has begun to steadily increase since George W. Bush began to beat the war drum against Iraq. A great many officers ensconced in the Pentagon strongly believe our military will become far too stretched in a repeat engagement with Saddam Hussein's forces. Few will say openly that they fear defeat, and in fact the odds of losing a war in Iraq are extremely low, but the pressure placed upon our military resources will be extreme. The potential for explosive upheaval in the Middle East should we make war on Iraq further exacerbates this. Between Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States military is reaching mission capacity.

Still, the idea that forced military conscription of Americans could come again is a foolish one, right? Consider the following scenario. Consider it with particular care if you have loved ones of battle age.

In July of 2002, the Defense Policy Board - a powerful group at the ear of the Bush administration which is chaired by former Reagan Defense Department official Richard Perle - listened with great interest to a briefing delivered by emissaries from a Rand Corporation think tank. The thrust of the briefing was that Iraq should be considered only the beginning of a protracted campaign to bring "regime change" throughout the Middle East. The final Powerpoint slide of this presentation described "Iraq as the tactical pivot, Saudi Arabia as the strategic pivot, (and) Egypt as the prize."

Though the administration publicly distanced itself from this briefing once it was exposed on the pages of the Washington Post, going so far as to have Bush abase himself before visiting Saudi royalty, the substance of that talk surely resonated within the men calling the shots in D.C. Richard Perle is a famously hawkish neo-conservative who springs from the same think-tank environment as those who gave the briefing. The same goes for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and his assistant Paul Wolfowitz. These three men, along with the like-minded Vice President Cheney, are fully in control of both American foreign policy and the War on Terror. A plan for region-wide regime change in the Middle East suits them right down to the ground.

Noted MIT professor Noam Chomsky, writing earlier this week in the Guardian, described the invitation for more terrorism on American shores should we attack Iraq. "No one," wrote Chomsky, "including Donald Rumsfeld, can realistically guess the possible costs and consequences. Radical Islamist extremists surely hope that an attack on Iraq will kill many people and destroy much of the country, providing recruits for terrorist actions." The inference is clear: Any war in that region will spawn a new and terrible wave of attacks against this country. Any war in that region is exactly what the terrorists are hoping for. Fresh recruits, soaked in rage, will flood into their open arms.

The unfolding scenario becomes all too clear. If Bush is pressed into a conflict with Iraq by the hawkish, neo-conservative platoon of Perle, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Cheney, America will once again suffer a catastrophic terrorist attack. The result will be the complete militarization of America, complete with martial law and the suspension of all basic civil rights. Bush administration officials have already admitted as much when asked in the last year what the result of another attack would be. In the aftermath, the Bush administration will assuredly push for that region-wide regime change in the Middle East, but will be unable to do so without forced conscriptions, because the military is currently stretched too thin. Thus, the draft.

Farfetched? Hardly. In fact, there is presently in Congress a bill pending that would require military conscription. H.R. 3598, entitled "Universal Military and Training Act of 2001," was introduced into the House of Representatives on December 20th, 2001 by Republican Rep. Nick Smith of Michigan. It calls for the drafting of all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 22 for military service. Even those who would declare themselves conscientious objectors would be drafted and given military training, whereupon they would be peeled off to another Federal agency to serve out their term.

At present, H.R. 3598 languishes in the Subcommittee on Military Personnel, which is attached to the House Committee on Armed Services, because it has not enjoyed enough support in Congress. Should the very real scenario described above unfold, and specifically if this nation is attacked again, H.R. 3598 could well enjoy an incredible surge in popularity.

There is a high-stakes game of poker being played within the administration right now. The hawks are holding aces and betting them. Around them on the card table, the chips are piled high. Your sons, your brothers, your friends are in that pile. So are you, if you are of age. After September 11th, the only thing likely to happen is that which was previously inconceivable. Could war in Iraq bring terrorism back to our country? Could it lead to a regional conflagration in the Middle East? Could it lead to another draft?

I wouldn't bet against it.


- William Rivers Pitt is a teacher from Boston, MA. His new book, 'The Greatest Sedition is Silence,' will be published soon by Pluto Press.

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