The Concepts Behind the US Draft Proposal Betrayed by the Reality of the Military
By Katherine Gibson
It is clear that U.S. Imperialism as expressed in the "Project for a New American Century" is proceeding with vigor, ensuring that the right people and the right corporations gain wealth and power. According to Richard Perle, "The United States may not be able to lead countries through the door of democracy, but where that door is locked shut by a totalitarian deadbolt, American power may be the only way to open it up." (1) As long as the powerful elite, and those close to them, are immune from the attendant suffering and violence, then they don't appear to mind inflicting it upon others. This includes the American soldiers who lose their lives in these conflicts, and those who return home either injured or afflicted with diseases like Agent Orange and Gulf War Syndrome. After all, depleted uranium particles are not irradiating their lungs and kidneys for the rest of their lives.
However, the unrestrained use of force will be a dim memory once the Universal National Service Act of 2003 is authorized by congress (2). The author of H.R.165, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), argues that equal sharing of the burdens of war will discourage those who promote the Bush doctrine of pre-emption now on display in Iraq. With mandatory military service, the probability that a family member will be required to fight in a conflict is high, and this is a sacrifice that decision-makers may refuse. As a congressman who voted against authorizing the president to go to war against Iraq, Rangel initiated the draft legislation with the goal of decreasing public support for this war. In contrast, the twin Senate bill S. 89 was written by Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-NC), who voted for presidential discretion with regard to Iraq. He now argues that the Bush administration and the Department of Defense have failed in Iraq because there are too few troops to secure the country.
These active bills have been submitted to the committee on armed services, and pending passage, the program will allow activation of the draft in the spring of 2005. Presumably in preparation, the Selective Service System has received a $28 million increase in its budget and has begun to advertise over 20 thousand positions nationwide in order to fill the draft and appeals boards(3). The legislation stipulates that all citizens and resident nationals between the ages of 17 and 27 will be required to perform their civic duty for two years in either a military or civilian capacity. In comparison to the consignment schemes utilized previously (during our Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Korean and Vietnam Wars), this new formulation includes women and all students. Interestingly, the president is provided with the authority to determine who serves in a military versus a civilian capacity. Given the current administration's unashamed favoritism towards corporate and political allies, it is unclear how this national draft guarantees protection for the have-nots from the wartime needs of the haves.
Serious considerations should be made with regard to the prevalent violence against women in our society before induction of the draft. Sexual harassment and domestic abuse of female soldiers and soldier's wives have been a persistent problem in the military. For instance, domestic violence in the homes of military personnel rose from 1.9% to 2.6% between the years 1990 to 1996, and in the year 2001 alone, there were 18, 000 cases of spousal abuse reported (4). With regard to female soldiers, 30% of all female veterans reported being victims of rape or attempted rape, and of these women, 37% had been assaulted more than once. In the article "By Force of Arms," Duke University law professor Madeline Morris points out that rape is the most prevalent crime committed within our military (5).
Kate Summers of the Miles Foundation, a non-profit organization that both researches and aides victims of sexual abuse associated with the military, has said "There are definitely intersections between the sexual assault in Abu Ghraib and the abuse against women -- which is the gendered violence, as well as the issue of leadership response." (5) In May 2004, the military released yet another study concerning sexual harassment of female soldiers in the military (6).
However, advocates for women associated with the
military, including Amnesty International, maintain that this Pentagon report does little in the way of providing, much less implementing, solutions to this serious problem. Given the present environment within the military of sexual discrimination and violence against women, executing a mandatory nation-wide draft is a particularly negligent and dangerous means of ensuring equity in the sharing of our country's military liabilities. It appears to trade the current lower- and middle-class military burden for one that profoundly affects women.
As committed as the military is regarding sexual and racial harassment, it has become apparent that they are much less committed to preventing and redressing harassment based on sexual orientation. A report released this year contends that the failure to prevent anti-gay abuse derives from the discriminatory principle inherent in the "Don't Ask/ Don't Tell" policy of the military regarding gay and lesbian soldiers (7). For instance, almost 10,000 people have been discharged from the military just for being gay. The policy has been defended by the military as a requirement for troop readiness and productivity. With regard to civil rights, Army Col. David Hackworth claims "The military simply must not and need not adhere to the same rules as civilian employment. Although the military defends the principles of a democratic society, it cannot fully embody them. Its end is victory, not equity; its virtue is courage, not justice; is structure is authoritarian, not pluralistic." (8) Given this mindset, it is not so surprising that the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has documented nearly 1,000 cases of abuse, ranging from verbal gay-bashing to assault and murder, during the year from February 1999 to February 2000 (9). The brutal murder of Private First Class Barry Winchell at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, was the culmination of six years of anti-gay harassment and violence left unchecked by his military leaders.
The potential for violent anti-gay harassment is quite real. However, even under the most ideal of circumstances, the civil rights of gay and lesbian service members and their partners are severely limited. The military will not contact a gay or lesbian soldier's partner when they are injured or killed in combat because they are not legally considered next of kin. For the same reason, a soldier's partner is ineligible to receive the pension benefits normally granted to a straight soldier's spouse.
Gandhi said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." For many
Americans this means decreasing the militarization of our society, not perpetuation of it.
1. Frum, David and Richard Perle. "Beware the Soft-Line Ideologues." AEI Online
(January 8, 2004).
2. http://www.congress.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d108:HR00163: and
3. Sutherland, John. "Draft dilemma." Guardian (May 31, 2004).
4. The Miles Foundation, Inc. http://hometown.aol.com/milesfdn/
5. Morris, Madeline. "By force of arms: Rape, War and Military Culture." Duke Law
Journal (February 1996).
6. Hong, Cathy. "When will the U.S. military tackle the problem of sexual abuse?"
Salon.com (May 18, 2004.)
7. Terman, Sharon. "The Practical and Conceptual Problems with Regulating Harassment
in a Discriminatory Institution." (May, 2004).
8. Hackworth, David. "The Case for a Military Gay Ban." Washington Post (June 28,
9. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. http://www.sldn.org/templates/index.html