Monday, November 20, 2006

Reinstating the Draft

Charles Rangel, D-NY, has decided there's just not enough fairness in an all-volunteer army, so he plans to introduce a bill to bring back the draft.

"There's no question in my mind that this president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq, especially on the flimsy evidence that was presented to the Congress, if indeed we had a draft and members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm's way," Rangel said.

Rangel, a veteran of the Korean War who has unsuccessfully sponsored legislation on conscription in the past, has said the all-volunteer military disproportionately puts the burden of war on minorities and lower-income families.

It's too bad Rangel doesn't give what evidence he's using to jump to his conclusions about the war in Iraq, nor why an all-volunteer army isn't better morale-wise than drafting people who don't want to go. And Rangel's assertion that the all-volunteer military puts a disproportionate burden on minorities and lower-income families (read: less educated) isn't true. According to Fred Kaplan at Slate,
In 2002 (the most recent year for which official data have been compiled), 182,000 people enlisted in the U.S. military. Of these recruits, 16 percent were African-American. By comparison, blacks constituted 14 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds in the U.S. population overall. In other words, black young men and women are only slightly over-represented among new enlistees. Hispanics, for their part, are under-represented, comprising just 11 percent of recruits, compared with 16 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds.

Looking at the military as a whole, not just at those who signed up in a single year, blacks do represent a disproportionate share—22 percent of all U.S. armed forces. By comparison, they make up 13 percent of 18-to-44-year-old civilians. The difference is that blacks re-enlist at a higher rate than whites.

In other words, blacks are deciding that the military is a good career choice for them. Voluntarily.

Kaplan also points out that the average recruit is, in fact, better educated than the average American citizen:
The average recruit has an 11th-grade reading level; the average civilian can read at a 10th-grade level. Nearly all recruits—97 percent of female, 94 percent of male—graduated from high school; 79 percent of civilians have high-school diplomas. Officers are better-educated still: All are now required to have college degrees.

In short, today's armed forces are not the downtrodden, ethnically lopsided social rejects that they tended to be after the Vietnam War, when the all-volunteer military came into being.

Obviously, there's more to Rangel's proposal than just military preparedness. He's really not interested in that. Just like other quota systems, he wants to make sure the military is fair. Only in this instance, he thinks fairness is a Phi Beta Kappa peeling potatoes and marching 10 miles because his number came up. Is that good for troop morale? I doubt it. Rangel is stuck in a Vietnam-era mentality in which many people did what they could to avoid the draft. But today's military doesn't have that same problem.

Kaplan explains:
There is a still more basic question: What is the purpose of a military? Is it to spread the social burden—or to fight and win wars? The U.S. active-duty armed forces are more professional and disciplined than at any time in decades, perhaps ever. This is so because they are composed of people who passed comparatively stringent entrance exams—and, more important, people who want to be there or, if they no longer want to be there, know that they chose to be there in the first place. An Army of draftees would include many bright, capable, dedicated people; but it would also include many dumb, incompetent malcontents, who would wind up getting more of their fellow soldiers killed.

I realize we dare not question Rangel's patriotism, but the idea that our military would contain more anti-military personnel seems to be at least part of what drives Rangel's perennial "bring back the draft" legislation.
At a time when some lawmakers are urging the military to send more troops to Iraq, "I don't see how anyone can support the war and not support the draft," said Rangel, who also proposed a draft in January 2003, before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. "I think to do so is hypocritical."

I think proposing a draft when we neither need one nor want one (seven in 10 Americans oppose a draft) is politics as usual. And disgusting.