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Renewed Draft Would Make Service Fairer

María T. Padilla

April 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved. 

War raises troubling questions. Here's one: Should we resurrect the military draft? I think so, although it's extremely unlikely that Congress would agree.

Several months ago, Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., asked the question, based on his perception that minority soldiers are likelier to be on the front lines than non-Hispanic whites.

He was wrong about that.

It turns out that since the mid-1970s, minority soldiers are an increasing proportion of recruits -- nearly 40 percent -- but it doesn't necessarily follow that they make up a disproportionate share of soldiers at the front lines of battle.

That said, there's still a compelling argument for the draft based on the all-important concepts of equality, fairness and shared sacrifice. For it is also increasingly true that America's leaders (your state legislator, congressional representative and Washington bureaucrat) are unlikely to have served. These are often the armchair hawks who are gung-ho for the military and the war, but have never spent a day in basic training.

There's something fundamentally wrong with this picture.

They may be more pro-military precisely because they are politically vulnerable, overcompensating for their lack of service and sacrifice by rushing your children to war. They are quick to condemn any criticism of the war as unpatriotic. Hooey.

The truth is, today's leaders don't know jack about the military or war. If the nation had kept its draft policy in place, today's leaders would be a different lot. Let's bring back the draft because it's fair and just.

There's something positive to be said for a country where sacrifice is shared, where it's likely that everyone older than 18 may be called up for military duty and where an entire generation can share this experience. And in the year 2003, a draft would include not just men but women as well.

In addition, there's nothing fair about a country whose military increasingly relies on reservists. For all intents and purposes, reservists have become full-time military, creating hardships for their families, communities and workplaces, although that's not the way it's supposed to be. And in a new draft, college students shouldn't be permitted to hide behind their above-average educations, as happened during the Vietnam War. If we all are to share the fruits of this country, we all also should share its burdens.

Defense Department statistics show that isn't necessarily the case. While non-Hispanic whites are the overwhelming majority of America's military force, they sign up in lower numbers than their proportion of the population. That is true for white men as well as women.

Minorities, on the other hand, sign up in numbers greater than their share of the population, owing perhaps to a lack of opportunities elsewhere. Black men make up 16 percent of the Marines and 26 percent of the Army, while blacks are only 13 percent of the U.S. population. Black women comprise 46 percent of women in the Army.

Hispanics, like non-Hispanic whites, are underrepresented. However, Hispanics are as likely as whites to be in infantry positions, while blacks are not. Meanwhile, the percentage of Asians in the military is very low. Let's fix this picture.

For the sake of America's credibility, bring back the draft.

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