Charlie Rangel wants to bring back the draft. Whew! That takes me back 45 years. We had the draft back then, all right. I ought to know. I dodged it. You see, the way I figured it, if they sent me to Vietnam, there were people over there that were going to try to kill me. Fortunately, I managed to sleaze one right past draft board. But enough about me.
As reported by The Hill, Rangel’s reason for wanting to reinstate the draft is that of fairness. It is a matter of shared sacrifice: “Reinstating the draft and requiring women to register for the Selective Service would compel the American public to have a stake in the wars we fight as a nation.” And a beneficial consequence of this shared sacrifice is that we would be less likely to go to war in the first place: "Take my word for it, if every time a president was about to put our kids in harm's way, we were thinking about our kids and grandkids, it just wouldn't happen."
The idea of shared sacrifice makes sense to me, at least in the abstract. It didn’t really appeal to me in 1968, but that’s neither here nor there. In any event, Rangel’s proposed legislation would undo this very principle that is supposed to justify it, because it would allow the draftee to perform his two years of national service in AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps. Are we to believe that there is some kind of equivalence between after-school tutoring on the one hand, and being maimed, crippled, or killed on the other; or between building homes and killing lots of people? One thing I can attest to from my many conversations with my fraternity brothers, as we counted down the days until our student deferments ran out, is this: given the choice between staying home and doing a little community service, or going to fight a war in Southeast Asia, there was not a single one of us that would have put on a uniform. In other words, given the civilian option, there would be no shared sacrifice in any real sense of the word.
To give Rangel’s legislation some bite, let us assume that the civilian option would be available only in peacetime, or to those who were not physically capable of serving in the military. Only by limiting the civilian option in this way would there be anything like the sort of draft we had until about 40 years ago.
Let us now turn to Rangel’s second reason for reinstating the draft. As he sees it, the draft will prevent war. Exactly when, I have to ask, did that ever happen? It sure didn’t slow them down during the Vietnam War. There were students burning their draft cards; there were sit-ins, rallies, and marches; there were even a few riots. But in 1968, the Democratic Party, the more dovish party, could not even nominate its anti-war candidate, Eugene McCarthy. Instead, Hubert Humphrey got the nomination, and he was all for staying in Vietnam, just like president Johnson. Even so, the more hawkish party, the Republicans, won the election with Richard Nixon. Then, in 1972, the Democratic Party finally nominated an anti-war candidate, George McGovern, who lost in a landslide to Nixon again. In other words, given the choice, Americans voted twice to stay in Vietnam. Rangel’s belief that the draft will restrain the government from waging war must be based on intuition. It sure isn’t based on experience.
The draft was a nuisance, however. It didn’t stop the Vietnam War, but it did disturb our domestic tranquility. Once we got rid of the draft, we found that we could fight wars abroad while enjoying peace at home. And Rangel thinks we’re going to give that up? Not a chance.
Let’s face it. The draft is no longer useful. We simply do not need as much manpower to fight these wars as we used to. That is why the only reason given by Rangel for reinstating the draft is a moral one. And that is not a sufficient reason, because we are not that good. The only chance his legislation has of passing will be if the civilian option is unrestricted, which means it will be a draft in name only. And then it will be a shared sacrifice in name only.