Iraq: No to war – US Congressman proposes re-instating the Draft

"If our great country becomes involved in an all-out war, the sacrifice must be shared. In that regard, I am preparing legislation to authorise instatement of the universal draft and other forms of mandatory national service."

No to war in Iraq. Report from New York

US Congressman proposes re-instating the Draft

These are the words of US Congressman Charles Rangel, known as a liberal Democrat from New York. Rangel, along with Michigan’s John Conyers and other prominent members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are preparing legislation to bring back the military draft, which has not been in effect since 1973.

The bill has little support from either Democrats or Republicans. The history of the soldiers’ revolt and the widespread public opposition to the draft during the Vietnam War era has not been forgotten by the US ruling class. Today, the large anti-war movement, combined with economic crisis in the US, means a conscript army would pose major problems for the military and ruling class.

Despite the lack of support for the bill, an ongoing US military offensive, or a major drawn-out war, in which the US is forced to deploy increasing numbers of troops, could place draft re-instatement on the political agenda.

Rangel argues that his bill would end the current discriminatory system where the poor and people of colour disproportionately enlist in the armed forces, see combat, and die in battle. This is graphically illustrated by the fact that only one member of Congress currently has a son enlisted! Rangel’s legislation is posed as a way to expand the blood-letting to the children of the rich.

Racist poverty draft

Joining the military provides access to a job, skills, and a college education that are otherwise unavailable to many poor youth of colour (and the present economic downturn means rising unemployment and tuition). For young people the official unemployment rate is 16.8% and rising fast; joblessness among 16-24 year olds not attending school has grown by 12% since 2000. For many, the reality of life under capitalism means the only ’options’ are either jail or joining the military.

The presence of US army recruiters at schools with predominantly poor and minority students, speaks volumes about how the current volunteer army is in reality a racist poverty draft.

Entry into the military comes with major consequences. These include suffering the physical and psychological effects of war, and then – for those who survive – being thrown into the waste bin by the government upon returning home.

Would a draft be fairer than the current system, as Rangel suggests? No. In the first place, the rich and powerful would be sure to find loopholes for their children. The example of the Vietnam draft clearly shows this. George Bush Junior and one of his key Whitehouse acolytes, John Ashcroft, and many others from the elite, all found ways out of serving in Vietnam with the help of their daddy’s wallets. But thousands of poor blacks, whites, and Latinos died in South Asia.

Furthermore, a draft would only increase the power of the state, which could be used to repress anti-war, civil rights, and socialist activists, along with anyone else the government perceives as a threat.

The slogan of the anti-war movement to Rangel’s draft bill must be: ’Military draft: ’Hell no, we won’t go!’

We do not need a draft – we need money for jobs and education, not war!

This article will also appear in the next issue of Justice, the bi-monthly paper of the Socialist Alternative (CWI in the US)

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February 2003