Number 24 - January 9, 2003
The size of the type may be changed by clicking on view at the top of
your browser and selecting "text size". The document will
print in the size you select.
Congressmen Charles Rangel (NY) and John Conyers (MI) are correct in
advocating a return to universal military service. In the 30 years since
the last young American was drafted, the U.S. has constructed a volunteer
military machine that is disconnected from the life of the nation, a
foreign legion-like force to which whole sectors of the population have
only the most tenuous ties or - among the most privileged - none at
existence of this volunteer force has encouraged much of the U.S. citizenry
to disassociate themselves from the consequences of their franchise.
They are spectators, having invested nothing more in the ghastly dramas
unfolding upon the world than their tax dollars and vague, sports fan-like
notions of national prestige. They have opted-out of responsibility
for crimes perpetrated in their name. No longer liable to become
citizen soldiers, Americans act less and less like citizens of any kind.
Collectively, they have become a threat to humanity at large - including
their oblivious selves.
all-volunteer Army, for which anti-war activists of three decades ago
claimed far too much credit, has produced social distortions that fundamentally
threaten the national polity. The U.S. military has become an alienated
instrument of a piratical oligarchy that is quite content to extend
the privilege of non-service to most of the non-interfering population.
In turn, the people abrogate their role as citizens, and call it freedom.
Rangel and Conyers wouldn't put it that way, but they were blunt enough.
Said Rangel, in a New Years Eve article:
believe that if those calling for war knew that their children were
likely to be required to serve - and to be placed in harm's way -
there would be more caution and a greater willingness to work with
the international community in dealing with Iraq. A renewed draft
will help bring a greater appreciation of the consequences of decisions
to go to war.
in our nation's armed forces is no longer a common experience. A disproportionate
number of the poor and members of minority groups make up the enlisted
ranks of the military, while the most privileged Americans are underrepresented
need to return to the tradition of the citizen soldier - with alternative
national service required for those who cannot serve because of physical
limitations or reasons of conscience.
Raises Draft Issue," January 2, for full text.)
past Tuesday, children frolicked in the halls and aisles of the U.S.
House and Senate, a family-day tradition on the opening of each new
Congress. Most of the members gave George Bush a blank check on Iraq,
last session. Yet they plan to keep their own children immune from future
conscription and insure that the privilege of non-service remains nearly
general, a shield against the unpleasantness of war. Deluded, they fail
to realize that nothing can truly insulate the congressional children
and their playmates from the blowback of wars waged by other Americans.
Rather, the delusion guarantees that there will be permanent war,
fought by kids they'll never meet, against people they care nothing
about - spectacles that will inevitably consume the spectators.
Conyers remarked that his fellow lawmakers might be more concerned about
death and destruction abroad "if their own family members and neighbors
faced the prospects of serving in the military on the front line.''
That also applies to the bulk of the upper middle classes, who support
the War Party while physically opting out of war. Forget moral questions,
for a moment. The volunteer Army, which many Seventies-era supporters
naively (selfishly?) hoped would purge the nation of militarism, has
instead given armchair and soccer mom militarists immunity from direct
family and class participation in the deadly games. They are like citizens
of Rome, bloodthirsty in their Coliseum seats, yet not a gladiator among
them, fatly and flatulently demanding gore and honor! This is
what the volunteer military has bestowed on the nation: privileged noncombatant
video war-watchers. According to surveys, well-educated white youth
are the most grizzly-minded - and least likely to enlist - of them all.
Pentagon believes it has the war machine it needs to wage two major
and several minor conflicts simultaneously. They want no part of a draft
force, because citizen soldiers are anathema to an imperial military.
Generals seldom share such thoughts with the public, but War Party civilians
like Rep. John McHugh (R-NY), of the House Armed Services Committee,
are familiar with how the brass feel about a draft. "My read at
this time is that there is not a lot of enthusiasm or support for it,
either within the civilian community or perhaps most importantly within
the military services themselves.'' Rep. McHugh chairs the military
personnel subcommittee, so he knows what kinds of soldiers the generals
prefer. Universal service is at the top of the Pentagon's list - of
things it does not want.
soldiers hobble the empire. That was the military's Vietnam lesson.
Anti-war protesters, although absolutely essential on the domestic political
front, were of little concern to the men who moved brigades and divisions
across the landscape of Vietnam. Their problem was the citizen soldier
who, they discovered, refused to act or be treated like foreign legionnaires.
sooner had Rangel and Conyers spoken, than the Associated Press relayed
the military's ready response: "The Pentagon opposes a return to
the draft. The all-volunteer force has provided a military 'that is
experienced, smart, disciplined and representative of America,' the
Defense Department said in a statement."
entirely true, of course. As Rep. Rangel pointed out, of the members
of Congress who voted for Bush's war against Iraq, only one has a child
in the enlisted ranks. A few other congressional children are officers.
The scarcity of uniforms is reflective of the classes from which the
Congress is drawn. What the generals really mean is that today's military
is whiter than the Vietnam-era ranks, is largely disconnected from important
sectors of civilian society, and will do as it is told without political
or moral qualms.
very utility of this force encourages its use. The same qualities that
recommend the volunteer force to war planners, also make endless aggression
thinkable. Bush's Permanent War envisions multiple military engagements
at any given time, anywhere on the globe, until the entire planet submits
to an American-imposed order. (See "Permanent
War, Permanent National Emergency," October 17.) Such a strategy
is inconceivable under a citizen soldier - universal service - regime,
which is why a recall of the draft is anathema to the War Party.
War requires the political acquiescence of broad sections of the middle
and upper middle classes. Immunity from conscription guarantees a high
level of acceptance of the current rulers' global military ambitions.
real war story
and anti-draft are not the same things, although the issues were largely
conflated at the height of the Vietnam War, when the unlucky draftee
could pretty much count on being sent to that particular destination
at the end of his brief training. Selective Service shutdown in 1973
rendered the argument moot for millions of "anti-war" proponents
who were, in reality, simply "anti-draft." Having disentangled
themselves from the apparatus of conscription (and mistakenly taking
full credit for its demise), these young cohorts and their families
became disengaged from U.S. foreign policy concerns.
troop strength in Vietnam reached 536,000 in 1968, the year of the Tet
Offensive, the My Lai Massacre, and the war's worst American casualties:
11,000 killed and 45,000 wounded. Large-scale troop withdrawals began
in 1969, by which time it had become painfully clear to commanders in
the field that the Army, in particular, was no longer an effective force.
Racial tensions exploded into full-blown firefights involving large
numbers of men. Military prisons rebelled and burned. Every soldier
counted his days before return to "the world." The citizen
army was not suited to the mission.
internal disintegration of the U.S. Army in Vietnam was at least as
crucial to the eventual American exit as anti-war (or anti-draft) protests
at home. The protestors disbanded in synch with American troop withdrawal,
while the generals dived enthusiastically into the task of building
an all-volunteer force. Thirty years later, they are preparing to turn
the machinery loose on the planet - confident that the disengaged, non-serving
classes will cheer the exploits of somebody else's boys and girls.
generals have good reason to be confident that they will enjoy free
rein abroad. Americans don't care who they kill. "As far as I can
see, Americans don't care about foreign casualties," said John
Mueller, an expert on U.S. public opinion about war. "When we ask
people point-blank in polls, they say it does matter. But the polling
evidence suggests it really doesn't in the end," said the Ohio
State University political scientist. For example: "How many American
lives is worth one Somali life? Not one."
the bulk of this cocooned population, which has the power to extinguish
the species, cares only about itself. Before they will embrace humanity,
they must first be given cause for personal anxiety. A draft is both
moral and a practical necessity, if there is to be any impediment to
Americans' second-hand, long-distance, mass killing sprees - crimes
that we will all pay for, eventually, in poisoned water, irradiated
cities, crippled communications or any other vengeance that aggrieved
foreigners can inflict against the people behind the war machine: us.
of us may also get trampled by our own, self-selected troops. This is
anything but a people's army.
Blacks to arms!
publishers Peter Gamble and Glen Ford are veterans of the Sixties-era
U.S. Army, ill-educated volunteers at the time. Our support of universal
service is based on democratic principles as well as the political exigencies
of the day. In a society stratified by money, universal service may
be the only institutional means to maintain national ties of commonality.
Political equality - equal citizenship - means shared obligations to
the larger community, the kind you can't cash-out.
believe that's what Congressman Conyers was addressing when he said,
"Once the conscription process for service in the military becomes
universal and mandatory for all those who meet the criteria... it removes
the long-held stigma that people of color and persons from low-income
backgrounds are disproportionately killed and injured while serving
as ground troops on the front line."
universal service, and in a society where wealth is the measure of men
and women, the soldier is devalued. Although they will never admit it,
generals like that arrangement; it allows them freedom of action. The
troops may be dear to their families, but are mainly abstractions to
the majority of citizens. Highly paid TV talking heads call them heroes,
but can't find their neighborhoods.
and Conyers appear to have assumed that Blacks remain clustered in the
most hazardous "line" units, as during the Vietnam era, a
misperception shared by the general public. (This lingering assumption
may be an example of society's devaluation of soldiers - such duty must
be disproportionately African American.) In fact, the 1970s Pentagon
blamed the collapse of the Vietnam army on the massive draft- and poverty-driven
infusion of assertive ghetto youth.
outfits were often majority-African American, especially in elite, airborne
units. When Blacks rebelled, command and control evaporated; for military
purposes, the unit ceased to exist. Rebellion - active and bloody, or
passive and smoke-enshrouded - was common. This is the open secret of
generals vowed never to repeat the Vietnam manpower mistake. Over decades
and at huge national expense, the Pentagon gradually whitened the combat
specialties, attracting and retaining the prize demographic: white high
school graduates. By rejecting dropouts, volunteers with low standardized
test scores, and persons with minor criminal records, the Pentagon succeeded
in dramatically shrinking the potential pool of Black enlistees.
side effect of this variety of "selective service" is that
African American soldiers are, on average, better educated than their
white counterparts and, therefore, more suited to the support specialties.
Blacks make up 20 percent of the military, but they are much scarcer
on "the line." Minorities comprise 37 percent of all servicemen
you take a look at the distribution of minorities by military specialty,
you will find that it's not blacks who are going to die in combat. It's
whites and Hispanics," said Heritage Foundation military analyst
Larry Wortzel, a retired colonel. "That's who's in infantry and
armor. Blacks are underrepresented in infantry and armor. They're clustered
in support services."
rightwing think-tanker intended to undermine Reps. Rangel's and Conyers'
argument for universal service. He failed, since their brief for the
draft is not based on fine-tuning racial numbers, but on deeper issues
of social responsibility, citizenship, and forging a true national consensus
on questions of peace and war.
is here that we must state unequivocally that the publishers of
oppose and fear the intentional whitening of the Army's combat ranks.
Our fears are grounded in recent historical realities.
force excludes Blacks
Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in April 1968, co-publisher
Glen Ford's 82nd Airborne Division was sent to occupy Washington, D.C.
At that time, the division's line units were 40 - 60 percent Black;
African Americans patrolled the nation's capital. Nearly every Black
soldier was familiar with events of the previous year in Newark, New
Jersey, where lily-white, suburban National Guardsmen were called in
to smother a ghetto rebellion. The Guard drove up and down Springfield
Avenue, a major thoroughfare, M-16s blazing away at apartment blocks
and Black-owned businesses (all unburned businesses were suspect.) It
was a prolonged, racist, military riot, leaving many dead and no one
Black troops of the 82nd were determined that African American civilians
would not be abused by white troops in Washington. And no one dared.
27 years. In December 1995, three white soldiers from the same 82nd
Airborne Division randomly selected, stalked and executed a Black couple
on the streets of Fayetteville, North Carolina, just outside Fort Bragg.
Nazi literature was found in the troops' trailer home. In the course
of covering the murders, the New York Times discovered that the elite
82nd had become the "whitest" division in the entire Army.
investigation revealed that 22 soldiers were affiliated with "skinhead"
groups, the self-styled "storm troopers" of the Aryan movement.
advertised their activities at Fort Bragg, which is also home
base to the very, very white Special Forces (Green Berets). In April
1995, 23 year-old paratrooper Robert Hunt rented a billboard at the
front gate of the base. "Enough! Let's start taking back America!
National Alliance" it shouted for all incoming traffic to see.
The National Alliance, whose telephone number was listed on the billboard,
is one of the country's most notorious, violent hate groups. Its guru
is William Pierce, author of the infamous Turner Diaries, the book that
advocates (fictionally) a war of extermination against non-whites and
inspired Timothy McVeigh's atrocity in Oklahoma City.
than 30 years before, such activities would have been unthinkable in
the 82nd, or any other Army division. The U.S military is doing something
more than just "whitening" its elite units. The National Alliance's
billboard message, "Let's start taking back America!" appears
to resonate in the ranks, where Blacks can no longer muster enough critical
mass to kick ass.
of the 82nd are now active on the Afghan-Pakistani border, sowing such
terror and anger among the local population that the U.S. Special Forces
deride them as "cowboys." An all-volunteer American foreign
legion is in the field, acting out white fantasies, fears and malevolence.
draft would cure what ails the 82nd Airborne, counter the military's
purposeful exclusion and tracking of potential Black soldiers, and
introduce the non-serving classes to the experience of wartime vulnerability
- something they can write home about.
U.S. military has done a grave disservice to Black America through its
profoundly suspect policies of social engineering. Under the guise of
creating a volunteer military that is "representative of America,"
it has excluded large chunks of Black youth from the possibility of
service, packed the ranks with the white working class, and left the
more prosperous half of the nation to go about its business.
military would be forced to accept the Black youths that the all-volunteer
force so enthusiastically rejects: dropouts (about half of Black youth
of both sexes in many cities), low testers (disproportionately Black),
and previous offenders (astronomical proportions). We know what civilian
path these young people are walking. We also know that the nation cares
not one whit about their safety on the streets, or in the prisons. The
all-volunteer military also washes their hands of them, not for fear
that they will die in too large numbers if inducted, but in dread of
a return to the days of the ghetto soldier.
will be frank.
is not concerned that African American representation in the combat
services will increase under universal service. That is to be expected.
Blacks under arms are not the root cause of the disconnect between the
American people and the consequences of U.S. foreign policy. The absence
of upper income whites from representation in the armed services
is the political cancer that threatens planetary survival. American
class-plus-race privilege has become a menace to humanity. For Black
America, lack of access to the military is the far greater problem.
Let us not become confused by hypocrites who claim to care about Black
statistics are stark. 7,264 African Americans were killed during the
course of the Vietnam War (total death toll: 58,193). The mortality
figure averages to about 1,000 a year, only slightly higher than the
number of Black juveniles (under 18) murdered every year in the U.S.
Homicide is the leading cause of death among Black juveniles.
mortality rates get higher after the kids reach selective service registration
age. They are more likely to die of mayhem as civilians than in a war
than 300,000 African Americans are in the military. More than three
times that many reside in prison, the grossest racial disproportion
on America's public record. Many of these incarcerated men and women
would have made fine paratroopers, who would never have tolerated the
posting of racist billboards at the entrance to Fort Bragg or skinhead
activity in the barracks. Relatively few, however, would have been acceptable
to the volunteer armed forces, based on the life profiles that brought
them to prison.
representation in the armed forces is a red herring. The social and
political obscenity lies in the absence of soldiers from the comfortable
Posse Comitatus Act forbidding the use of federal troops as police has
been repeatedly sidestepped during civil disorders, as late as 1992
in Los Angeles. The wild "cowboys" of the 82nd Airborne Division
are certain to show up in a city near you when George Bush feels it
convenient to declare a terror-related national emergency. On the streets,
race will matter. African Americans cannot and should not feel secure
under the guns of the volunteer military. Unlike Washington, 1968, the
brothers will not be numerous enough to contain white mischief.
and wars without end
January 15 we will commemorate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
That weekend, demonstrations against the impending invasion of Iraq
are set for Washington and San Francisco. Although we will not attempt
to interpret Dr. King, as do so many self-servers, we believe that his
remarks at New York City's Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, have direct
relevance to the current discussion of the Iraq war and the draft.
encouraged "all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial
exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors," a clear
renunciation of privilege. "We must all protest, " he said,
is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending
us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against
the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter the struggle, but I wish to
go on now to say something even more disturbing. The war in Vietnam
is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit,
and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing
clergy-and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation. They
will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned
about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique
and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other
names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant
and profound change in American life and policy."
here for full text of Dr. King's speech)
Bush plans to wage wars without end. There is no choice but to build
networks of popular mobilization, to protest with no end, if need be.
Sober activists should understand that the anti-draft War Party is at
a tremendous advantage. By immunizing 95 percent of American families
from the immediate consequences of war - but not the account that will
become due - the militarists have purchased consent to use the armed
forces as they see fit. The deal was concluded in 1973. At some point,
in order to make "a significant and profound change in American
life and policy," that agreement will have to be broken. Or we
will perish in an orgy of war.
on Dr. King's birthday, Congressman John Conyers will join with activists
at New York's Shalom Center in support of medical and food aid to Iraq,
part of National Fast for Peace Not War.
proposes a return to the draft, as he labors in service of peace. There
is absolutely no contradiction.