The debate on the draft, to the extent it
exists, focuses too heavily on the U.S. military crisis in Iraq and
far too little on American domestic arrangements that enabled the
Bush Pirates to launch their War Against All, in which Iraq was supposed
to be only the first, triumphal episode. Although it is unquestionably
true that Iraqi resistance has strained U.S. forces to the breaking
point – compelling the Bush men to torture their own soldiers with
extended tours of duty and to prepare a selective draft of
citizens possessing special skills – it does not follow that a draft
will rescue the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld Grand Plan. Quite the opposite:
a universal military and national service draft such as proposed
by Harlem’s Charles Rangel and a small group of other congressmen
would utterly wreck the social compact that makes endless war politically
possible, by forcing Americans to ponder the consequences of U.S.
foreign policy to their own families and friends for the first time
in 32 years.
Anti-war appeals based on morality have
only marginal impact on those who believe they are the living embodiment
of human civilization – or even God’s plan on Earth. White America
is largely unmoved by the deaths of foreigners, especially people
of color. Indeed, a huge slice of Euro-Americans actively revel in
punishing dark people in lands they cannot find on a map – a vicarious
thrill experienced from a great distance. Although support for the
Iraq war has declined from a little over three-fifths of
the general public in the weeks just before the invasion, to about
two-fifths at the time of Bush’s second inauguration, it seems clear
that the slippage is due more to disgust at the administration’s
endless blunders and lies, than to revulsion at the treatment of
Iraqis under occupation.
From the beginning of the aggression, there
has been precious little empathy for Iraqis among American whites.
A Zogby-Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll conducted in February 2003,
six weeks before Shock and Awe commenced, found that 62 percent of
whites and 60 percent of Hispanics supported an invasion, but only
23 percent of African Americans did. But the most revealing responses
came when Zogby pollsters asked: “Would
you support or oppose a war against Iraq if it meant thousands of
Iraqi civilian casualties?” As we reported in :
A solid majority of white men answered
in the affirmative, as did more than a third of white women.
Only seven percent of African Americans favored a war that would
Hispanics lost some of
their bloodlust when confronted with the prospect of mass Iraqi
civilian casualties; only 16 percent are willing to support such
Bush’s social base gave him their mandate
to slaughter innocents. There has been no evidence of general revulsion
at the flattening of Fallujah, or the near-destruction of Najaf.
The “German excuse” – that the public was not aware of the atrocities – doesn’t
wash, since these crimes against whole cities received ample coverage
in the mass media.
Spikes in American casualties during
the battles for Najaf and Fallujah did cause support for the war
to dip. However, according to a Scripps Howard News Service survey conducted this month:
“Most Americans guess wrong when
asked to estimate how many troops have died in the U.S. occupation
of Iraq, a sign that many are giving scant attention to the nation's
most dangerous military operation since the Vietnam War.
“A new survey of 1,001 adults conducted by Scripps Howard News
Service and Ohio University found that fewer than half said they ‘very
closely’ follow news coverage of the military occupation. Less
than a third named ‘the war on terror’ or ‘peace in the Mideast’ as
the most important issue facing America. Most others preferred
domestic concerns like the economy, Social Security, education
or health care.”
Only about 40 percent of respondents got
within 500 of the death toll, which stood at about 1,450 at the
time of the survey.
Recent polls indicate that a majority
of the 70 percent of America that is white still support the war – that
is, the social base for Bush’s war policy remains intact. Moreover,
the 58 percent general opposition to the war recorded in the mid-January
ABC-Washington Post poll was not intense enough to deny Bush an
overall approval rate of 52 percent.
Two years of polling indicate that, 1)
at least half of white America condones (or cheers) war crimes
against Iraqis, 2) much of the opposition to the war is weak in
intensity, and 3) the public feels, in general, only distantly
connected to the war, or to the soldiers who are fighting it.
All three outcomes are directly related
to the all-volunteer nature of the U.S. military. After a generation
and a half without a draft, the citizens of the world’s hyper-aggressive,
sole superpower, packing more armaments than the rest of the planet
combined, have only the most tenuous links to their armed forces.
A fraction of American families contribute members to the military,
drawn from Black America (22 percent), Latino America (less than
10 percent) and mainly small town and southern whites from the
mid to lower income groups. The remainder of U.S. families do not
feel directly “at risk” and may therefore cheer, bemoan or ignore
U.S. military adventures from the psychological distance of their
A true national dialogue on war
Congressman Rangel’s office says he will
resubmit his draft bill “in a couple of weeks.” supports HR
163 for the same reasons that the Bush regime and the Joint
Chiefs of Staff oppose it: a universal draft would drastically
alter the composition of the armed forces, destroy much of the
social base for Bush’s plans for endless warfare, and create the
conditions for a truly national conversation about U.S. foreign
policy. Rather than empower Bush or any future president to make
war at will, a draft (or even the serious threat of a draft) would
act as a break on deployment of the U.S. military.
Creation of a volunteer force in 1973
solved a number of critical problems for U.S. military and civilian
war planners. The officer class had emerged from Vietnam totally
traumatized by its experience with what was a largely Black and
poor ground force, especially in “line” combat units. This “Black
Street Army” (see , July
3, 2003) had been recruited and
drafted at the height of the war in order to avoid dipping further
into the politically influential white middle-class manpower pool,
which would have further eroded the social base for the war. (The
upper strata insulated their youth through a variety of exemptions
and devices.) However, white officers could not handle the heavily
Black units – “They are the ones who ain't going to take
no more shit,” said a Black lieutenant of the era – resulting in
something resembling a race war within the Vietnam war.
The Pentagon vowed never to allow such a military demographic pattern
Contrary to the received wisdom of many past and present anti-war
activists, the top brass welcomed the end of the draft, as did their
civilian counterparts. By offering much better pay and living conditions
in a scaled down force, the Pentagon was able to methodically shape
the military it desired. Escape from the ghetto to the barracks became
increasingly difficult in “peacetime” as recruitment standards were
raised (just in time for the onset of mass Black incarceration as
national policy). The combat arms of the Army got whiter – and later,
more heavily Latino. As a result of selective recruiting combined
with discrimination in the private sector, African Americans entered
the military with higher scores and better qualifications than whites,
resulting in Black clustering in support units. The days of the “Black
Street Army” in the combat arms were definitively over.
Selective recruitment and racially tailored standards yielded the
desired political results for both commanders and civilian war makers.
Increasingly, the Red (and redneck) regions and districts were supplying
the bulk of military manpower. (The exception is Army women, over
half of whom are African American.) According to an exhaustive 2003
study by the New
York Times, by 2000 42 percent of enlistees
came from the South, as opposed to only 14 percent from the Northeast.
The political attitudes of the officer class hardened, as well. The
NYT study reported:
“Those who warn of a warrior class cite a study
by the Triangle Institute for Security Studies in North Carolina
showing that between 1976 and 1996 the percentage of military officers
who saw themselves as nonpartisan or politically independent fell
from more than 50 percent to less than 20 percent. The main beneficiary
of this shift has been the Republican Party.”
The full-time military is led by Right-leaning officers and staffed
by whites from conservative, smallish places and politically marginal
Blacks and Latinos. Civilian war planners believed this was an ideal
mix: a relatively small force whose family connections did not effectively
penetrate most of the body politic, particularly the influential
sectors of society. If missions went awry, only a fraction of the
citizenry would have a personal stake in the matter – and a politically
weak fraction, at that. In other words, the force was eminently deployable.
The military-industrial-complex also favored a smaller, but much
more high-tech, military – that’s where the huge contracts come from.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld held the same job under President
Gerald Ford in 1975 and 1976, the formative years of the “fewer boots,
bigger bang” all-volunteer project. By 2003, the strategy had morphed
into Shock and Awe and the (racist) delusion that a small force of
wired soldiers could pacify Iraq and then march on to Iran, Syria
The Iraqi resistance has succeeded in bringing the high-tech, all-volunteer
U.S. Army and Marines to the brink of collapse, causing the Bush
men to utterly shred the spirit of the contract with the Reserves
and National Guard. The Bush regime confronts a classic Catch-22.
Having exhausted the existing system’s human resources (despite the
hiring of highly expensive mercenaries from around the globe), they
must somehow secure a quick and general infusion of new manpower
or abandon the Iraq mission as currently deployed. But a general
draft – or even the perception that such was imminent – would almost
immediately cause the social base for this war to implode.
Thus, Secretary Rumsfeld bombastically denies that anything resembling
a draft has ever been on the table. “…the idea of reinstating the
draft has never been debated, endorsed, discussed, theorized, pondered
or even whispered by anyone in the Bush administration,” lied Rumsfeld,
quoted in Tim Dickinson’s superb January 27 Rolling Stone article,
Return of the Draft.”
Instead, the administration explores involuntary call-ups of citizens
with “special skills, such as medical personnel, linguists, computer
network engineers, etc.," according to a Selective Service memo
revealed under the Freedom of Information Act. The Rolling Stone
report continues: “The memo then proposes, in detail, that the Selective
Service be ‘re-engineered’ to cover all Americans – ‘men and (for
the first time) women’ – ages eighteen to thirty-four.”
That’s a lot longer than Rangel’s bill, which would affect all citizens
of both sexes from age 18 to 26. And the Selective Services’ targeted
skill sets typically emerge from very vocal, rather than marginalized,
classes – a no-go for this war, which is supported by only
a slim majority of white people.
As a practical matter, and with the Iraq clock ticking toward an
unknown zero hour, the Bush regime has no choice but to hold the
lives of current uniformed personnel hostage. “The Pentagon has…involuntarily
extended the enlistments of as many as 100,000 soldiers,” under the “stop
loss” policy, writes Dickinson. Forty thousand National Guard troops
in Iraq “have been informed that their enlistment has been extended
until December 24th, 2031.”
There is actually a perverse and evil poetry in threatening to retain
soldiers for 27 years. In World War Two, soldiers served “for the
duration.” Bush envisions constant warfare until the “enemies of
freedom” are vanquished, everywhere – a war whose “duration” could
stretch beyond the horizons of imagination.
Anti-draft but pro-war
The situation on the ground in Iraq has long been beyond U.S. control,
and even a selective draft could not save the monstrous mission as
originally conceived. Yet the Pirates are determined to continue
their eternal offensive by any means at their disposal as long
as there is no domestic check on their freedom of action. Where
there is not enough manpower, they will use airstrikes, as during
the long lead-up to the assault on Fallujah. If they cannot invade
Iran or Syria with conventional U.S. columns, they will deploy proxies
and special forces, backed by aircraft and missiles.
The Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson notes, correctly, that a “societywide
draft would…make it more difficult for politicians to commit troops
to battle without popular approval.” believes that universal national
service is necessary to bring the Pirates’ global project to a permanent
halt. As we wrote on January 9, 2003, soon after Rangel and his small
band of colleagues first introduced HR 163:
”Permanent 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.”
Short of a global catastrophe, the only force on Earth that can
pull the plug on the Pirate project, is an aroused American people.
Yet the vast majority of the public perceive no direct stake in foreign
policy; they either applaud or fail to decipher the codes of war-talk,
because “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
has no quarrel with our friends who oppose militaries in all
forms, on principle. However, even as the U.S. declines, it will remain a huge power, with
an awesome military – a curse on the world – unless the Pirate class
is deprived of the domestic social base for its aggressions. A draft
will do that. We also believe that “national service” is anything
that democratically elected governments want it to be – and Lord
knows, much of this nation needs servicing.
Let’s be clear: an anti-draft movement
is not necessarily an anti-war movement. This is evident in the
February 14 press
release of Mothers Against the Draft (MAD):
"Those who choose to serve in the military have our respect," [MAD
national chairperson Janine] Hansen
said, "but we worry when we hear that our precious young sons
and daughters may be forced to fight for others in foreign lands.
In the 'land of the free and home of the brave,' those who are
drafted and forced to fight are not free… .
"Support for Mothers Against the Draft crosses all ideological
and political lines. We have individuals from all political parties
who are helping in this effort. Support is coming from every quarter.
Americans may be hawks or doves, they may or may not support this
war, but they are overwhelmingly opposed to a draft," said
Nancy Spirkoff, MAD Secretary.
No less a rightwing celebrity than Phyllis Schlafly, national President
of the conservative Eagle Forum, recoils at the thought that people
from her own circles might be subjected to conscription. “If America
wants to remain a free nation, we must reject all proposals for a
military draft. Liberty cannot coexist with involuntary servitude.”
Schlafly, and doubtless many others whose support is sought by MAD,
have no problem with the Iraq war, as long as small town white folks,
Latinos and Blacks “choose” to fight it for her. It is precisely
this 32-year-long ability to opt-out of war – while voting for it – that
makes the nominal U.S. democracy so dangerous.
The Schlaflys of this world must be forced to “choose” between withholding
support for U.S. adventures, or risking the lives of their own kith
and kin. Only then will we witness a real national dialogue on war
and peace – among people who are all stakeholders in the balance.
A twilight struggle
When we first endorsed HR 163 just before the invasion of Iraq in
2003, readers argued, essentially, that the rich will always find
a way to avoid national service. Not easily, under this bill. Rep.
Pete Stark (D-CA), co-sponsor of the legislation along with
Rangel and Representatives John Conyers (D-MI), Jim McDermott (D-WA),
John Lewis (D-GA), and Neil Abercrombie (HI), explained:
“This bill requires all young Americans – men and
women between 18 and 26 – to perform a two year period of national
service in a military or civilian capacity as determined by the President.
For those who conscientiously object to war, the bill assures that
any military service would not include combat. Otherwise, there would
be no preferences, no deferments, no chance for the well-off or the
well-connected to dodge military service for their country, as did
We have no illusions that national service will come anytime soon.
However, the Pirates’ strategy is one of constant escalation, as
they attempt to shatter world order and then replace it with their
own edifice. Hyper-aggression tends to accelerate the political process.
Talking in war-code to a Parisian audience, Condoleezza
Rice made it clear that she sees warfare throughout the entirety of our
The primary question is not the Pirates’ ability to sustain particular
military operations of one kind or another, but their capacity
to sustain political support for their wars of aggression. At
this stage in U.S. history, a draft would break their backs.