Saturday, August 11, 2007

Bush administration general concedes draft reinstatement could be considered

The Washington Post is reporting that a top Bush administration official admitted publicly that a return to the draft (conscription) could be put on the table again if military needs become serious enough. There is obviously considerable public pressure to withdraw from Iraq (despite the need for heavy troop presence to stop insurgencies) but one scenario could be the eruption of another war (like Korea).

The story is by Josh White, “Army Recruiting Rebounds in July to Exceed Goals: War Czar Says Draft Still and Option,” page A3, Saturday August 11, 2007 here:

The article reports that Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute said in a National Public Radio (NPR) “All Things Considered” interview, [the draft] “has always been an option on the table” and “it makes sense to consider it.” The Pentagon and President have repeatedly said, however, that the all volunteer military has served the nation well ever since Nixon ended the draft in 1973 (and there was brief talk of reinstatement in 1980 after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, a development now seen with a certain historical irony).

The story summarizes the Army’s recent performance in recruiting. The Army exceed its goal in July but had fallen behind in May and June.

Of course, many people regard the extended and repeated deployments in Iraq, especially of Reserve and Guard units, as a “backdoor draft.”

During the Vietnam war General William C. Westmoreland repeatedly asked Johnson to increase troop levels about the time I was drafted. I had finished my M.A. in Math and was put in a “sheltered” position (Mathematician 01E20). A draft lottery was put into effect in 1969 (I went in February 1968). For several years there were student deferments, a cause of social divisiveness as they implied that some young men’s lives were more “expendable” than others, a moral inconsistency in a society that is supposed to value human life for its own sake. The deferment issue helped shaped many of my own internal attitudes about others, because with it the government is suggesting that some men are "better" than others. The need for “brainpower” in the military helped favor the “survival” of geeky people with better grades, at the expense or greater risk of the “Average Joe” types, and this angered many activists greatly. But in the early 60s (when Kennedy was president) there had been attempts to defer married men and fathers, and these were eventually ditched.

Right now, the draft would apply to men only. The Supreme Court has upheld a male-only draft. Men 18-25 must register for Selective Service. However, if a draft were reinstated there would obviously be considerable pressure to draft women. A likely alternative would be universal national service, with strong carrots as well as sticks. This has come up a couple of times in the presidential debates.

Another issue that could come up with the draft is, what happens to “don’t ask don’t tell.” During the Vietnam era, as Randy Shilts pointed out (in “Conduct Unbecoming”), the Army often looked the other way on the rules against homosexuality in the military in order to prevent “malingering” by falsely claiming homosexuality, in an era where it was starting to become more socially acceptable. Often the Army silently accepted it even within the ranks when troop needs were dire enough, which would again be the case during the Persian Gulf War. It has been more mixed in the wars since 2001. Media reports indicate that the Pentagon has quietly begun to accept that scrapping "don't ask don't tell" (by having Congress reverse an enclosure in a 1993 law) is desirable, and public polls are now favoring letting gays serve with some openness. All 2008 democratic presidential candidates have favored repeal of DADT.

Hillary Clinton rebuked Bush and encouraged him to "say it isn't so", politicalticker blog here.

On Aug. 14, Gen. William Casey said that the Army was stretched very thin in Iraq, and that demand exceeded supply, but he denied that this means a draft is near.

Update: Aug 27. Josh White writes in The Washington Post "Many Take Army's 'Quick Ship' Bonus; $20000 is Lure to Leave Within Days, p A01, link.

Earlier essay (2004) here.

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