|Should the Military Draft be Re-instituted for All Americans?
New sounds are reverberating in Rio Piedras and on other college campuses in Puerto Rico. Amidst the usual din of frolicking sophomores and the booming declamations of political orators, there is now the distant thud of marching boots echoing over the islands spires of higher education.
With the massive mobilization of U.S. military units to the Persian Gulf region now underway, added to the extensive commitment of U.S. troops in other world theaters, college-aged men are beginning to wonder if they might soon be called to arms in defense of the flag. There is virtually no one on the island that does not know the name of some Puerto Rican reservist or National Guard member deployed with a military unit over the past several years.
Last Tuesday, in one of the first pieces of business in the 108th Congress, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) introduced a bill to reinstate Universal Military Training ("The Draft"). This initiative comes on the heals of a recently announced provision of the new Educational Reform Act (PL 107-110 -"No Child Left Behind") requiring educational entities receiving federal funding to provide basic contact information on its students to the Department of Defense, ostensibly so that recruiters may reach students with information about the advantages of the volunteer military service. The requirement extends to youngsters of high school age and has become controversial in Puerto Rico and elsewhere. The Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP) assails the provision as an invasion of privacy and plans to span the island lecturing parents to oppose it. The Puerto Rican Senate will hold hearings on the many provisions of PL 107-110 within the next several weeks.
In 2001, Rep. Nick Smith (R-MI) introduced HR 3598, a bill to re-introduce Universal Military Training, or "the Draft," providing for all U.S. males between ages 18 and 22 to be subject to armed forces active duty training. Had the bill passed into law, it would have required young men registered under the Military Selective Service Act to receive basic military training and education for a period of up to one year. It would have authorized women in the same age category to "volunteer" for such training. The training would have included basic Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine "basic training" and other courses relating to military history, international relations and U.S. foreign policy.
Proponents of the legislation said that it would provide the Defense Department with a ready "pool" of trained youth to answer the call to arms should the national defense require it. The bill became an immediate lightning rod for opponents of the draft and of President Bushs military oriented foreign policy initiatives. There has been no military draft since 1973 when it ended amid protests over the Viet Nam War.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, reacting to the Rangel initiative, says that the nation does not need a draft, that the 1.4 million active duty personnel - backed up by reservists and the National Guard is sufficient to meet military requirements in the foreseeable future. Besides the build-up for a possible war with Iraq, which could involve a force of some 250,000 land, air and sea borne troops, the U.S. maintains peacekeeping efforts in Afghanistan and the Balkans. There are new tensions on the Korean Peninsula, where an American fighting force of some 38,000 has been billeted since 1953, backed up by another 40,000 in Japan. The nation still has over 100,000 men and women stationed in Europe as part of the NATO force.
Rangel argues that that pool is disproportionately made up of minorities and the poor and that it is "time to give the rich a chance" to display their patriotism and prowess. Rangel, a combat veteran from the Korean War, says he believes in the concept of "shared sacrifice." He has been a voice of opposition to President Bushs Iraq policy and says he feels that if legislators and other government policy makers had family members in the military, they would be less likely to commit American forces into harms way.
This week the Herald asks readers to express an opinion on the advisability of instituting some form of universal military conscription. Is the time right for Rep. Rangels idea of "shared sacrifice" to prevail or is the current concept of an all volunteer military appropriate, even though its composition is disproportionately weighted towards minorities and the poor?