Issue Number 24 - January 9, 2003

No Draft, No Peace
Rangel and Conyers are right




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Black 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 all.

The 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.

The 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.

Congressmen Rangel and Conyers wouldn't put it that way, but they were blunt enough. Said Rangel, in a New Years Eve article:

I 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.

Service 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 or absent.

We 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.

(See Briefs, "Rangel Raises Draft Issue," January 2, for full text.)

This 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.

Rep. 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.

Hobbling the empire

The 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.

Citizen 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.

No 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."

Not 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.

The 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.

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.

The real war story

Anti-war 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.

U.S. 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.

The 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.

The 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."

No, 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.

Some of us may also get trampled by our own, self-selected troops. This is anything but a people's army.

More 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.

We 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."

Absent 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.

Rangel 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.

Infantry 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 Vietnam.

The 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.

One 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 and women.

"If 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."

The 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.

It 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.

Volunteer force excludes Blacks

When 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 prosecuted.

The Black troops of the 82nd were determined that African American civilians would not be abused by white troops in Washington. And no one dared.

Fast-forward 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.

Further investigation revealed that 22 soldiers were affiliated with "skinhead" groups, the self-styled "storm troopers" of the Aryan movement.

Racists 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.

Less 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.

Elements 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.

The 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.

The 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.

A draft 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.

We 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 youth mortality.

The 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.

The 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 scenario.

Fewer 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.

Black representation in the armed forces is a red herring. The social and political obscenity lies in the absence of soldiers from the comfortable classes.

The 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.

Rallies and wars without end

On 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.

King 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, but

There 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."

(Click here for full text of Dr. King's speech)

George 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.

Also 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.

Conyers proposes a return to the draft, as he labors in service of peace. There is absolutely no contradiction.

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