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Issue No. 102 (December 1, 2006) -- Mark Satin, Editor

Dear Congressman Rangel: Yes, let’s bring back the draft

. . . but a better one than you’re proposing!

The Honorable Charles B. Rangel (D-NY)
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Congressman Rangel:

I am delighted that you recently told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that, when the next session of Congress begins in 2007, you’ll be re-introducing your bill to restore the draft.

As a Vietnam war resister who emigrated to Canada in 1967, I had no problem with my government asking me to give something back in return for all the wonderful opportunities I’d been given here.

I just couldn’t accept that what I was required to do in order to “give back” was to kill, maim, and intimidate Vietnamese people for no good reason.

And I wasn’t real thrilled that others (often with better-off parents or different sexual identities) weren’t required to give anything back at all.

If the draft was set up to require every young person to serve this country -- and to permit young people to choose how they’d serve -- then I’d support it in a heartbeat.

And I think you’d be surprised, stunned, to discover how many Americans might support such a draft. (Statistics aren’t available because the exact right question hasn’t been asked yet by the pollsters.)

Unfortunately, the bill you introduced (and then slightly modified) during the last session of Congress, which you say you’ll be re-introducing in 2007, is neither truly universal nor truly choice-oriented.

It is full of loopholes -- millions of people would be able to “legally” avoid their service, just as they did in the 1960s.

And it only permits people to choose how they’d serve if they’re not drafted into the military!

Please, don’t pay attention to short-sighted politicians like House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi and House Majority-Leader-elect Steny Hoyer, who’ve rudely suggested you just drop the subject. (Pelosi: “Mr. Rangel will be very busy with his work on the Ways and Means Committee.” Hoyer: “We did not include [Rangel’s bill]” in our legislative plans.)

Please focus, instead, on how you can improve your bill so that it provides the rationale, the choice, and the universality you’ll need to turn it into a winning proposition.

I’ve examined the bill you introduced at the beginning of the last session of Congress -- the Universal National Service Act of 2005 -- and the improvements I’m suggesting would be easy to implement:

Express a better and broader rationale!

Although your bill doesn’t begin with “Findings” or “Purposes,” as many bills do now (see, e.g., HERE), on your “Face the Nation” appearance and in your November 21, 2006 press release that followed, you offered several purposes for your bill.

Boiled down, you suggested that a draft would (1) force us to think twice before starting wars, and (2) spread military service more equitably among our different racial and income groups.

Your first purpose is great. It is certainly true that, the more personal responsibility each of us must bear for national service, the more willing (even eager) each of us may be to make thoughtful decisions about how to defend and strengthen our nation.

Your second purpose is outmoded though. Your war (Korea) may have been fought by disproportionate numbers of minorities and poor people, and mine (Vietnam) certainly was. But the military isn’t like that anymore.

One recent paper, by policy analyst Tim Kane and researcher Alana Finley, shows that in the year 2003, U.S. military recruits were 75.8% white, 15.0% black, and 11.5% Hispanic. The general population was 77.4% white, 11.3% black, and 12.1% Hispanic. While the correlations aren’t perfect, I don’t think there’s evidence of racial or ethnic exploitation there.

The statistics by income level are even more heartening. According to Kane and Finley, 22% of U.S. military recruits in 2003 came from the richest fifth of neighborhoods, 23% from the next richest fifth, 21% from the middle fifth, 20% from the next poorest fifth -- and only 15% from the poorest fifth.

The problem with both your purposes, Congressman Rangel -- both the great one and the outmoded one -- is that they treat the draft as a kind of castor oil.

If we really want to build support for a draft, then we have to offer some purposes that are positive in spirit!

Fortunately, many good people have been articulating such purposes, especially since 9/11. I suggest you write some of their positive purposes into your bill (as a new “section 1”).

Here are ten I like:

1. to promote a generation of citizens who feel more bonded with their nation [see Hartmann, and note that all references in this sequence are listed in the RE:SOURCES section below];

2. to build a sense of national unity and moral seriousness, a sort of "social glue," by combining all races, classes, and temperaments in a common series of endeavors [see Galston, Litan, and Moskos];

3. to promote a generation of citizens who have experienced more of America and the world than just their own community or communities [see Hartmann];

4. to accomplish many vital domestic missions that only the young can fulfill in an economical fashion, such as helping seniors avoid nursing homes, helping young people with their studies, and helping guard airports, dams, and nuclear power plants [see Carter, Glastris, Litan, and Wagner];

5. to contribute to the forming of character, including the inculcation of the responsibility of caring for the well-being of others [see Gerber and Wagner];

6. to improve future economic productivity by developing such virtues as hard work, responsibility, and cooperation [see Satin (citing sociologist Amitai Etzioni)];

7. to ensure that the civilian and military sectors of society do not become dangerously separate spheres [see Galston and Kennedy];

8. to ensure that everyone in the future America has made a significant contribution to our freedom and welfare [see Galloway];

9. to promote civic engagement [see Galston and Litan (citing sociologist Robert Putnam)]; 

10. to establish the principle that with rights for ourselves come responsibilities to others [see Galston and Litan].

Give us choice!

Although your 2005 bill requires everyone to perform military, homeland-security, or community service (see section 2(b)), many reporters -- including some major mainstream reporters -- missed a crucial fact:

Your bill would not allow many draftees to choose HOW to serve.

Everyone would be subject to a MILITARY draft.  Only those who are NOT drafted to perform military service (and then chosen by the military to be soldiers) would be eligible to perform homeland-security or community service.

Even you didn’t make that sufficiently clear in your November 21 press release. But it is crystal clear from sections 2(d) and 2(e) of your bill.

I believe that is a fatal flaw in your bill.

First of all, the Pentagon has made it clear that it infinitely prefers a volunteer army to a conscripted one. To fail to permit individual choice in this matter is therefore, practically speaking, to consign your bill (or any such bill) to the dump heap.

Second of all, the whole healthy thrust of the post-Vietnam era (aka Information Age) is away from the premise that we are a passive people that needs to be done-to, and toward the premise that we flourish best by learning to listen to and follow our inner selves.

So even if a draft is necessary (as you and I both believe it is -- see the “purposes” section above), there is NO legitimate Information Age reason to force draftees into boxes where they might not fit.

We should permit draftees to go where their inner selves tell them to go -- into military OR homeland-security OR community service. Today’s world works better that way.

And if not enough of us choose to pursue our national service obligation in the military, there are plenty of ways to sweeten the pot -- e.g., by varying standards for “compensation and benefits” in the military, homeland-security, and community service sectors (which you already appear to allow for in section 4(b)(6) of your bill).

Make it better tailored!

All young people owe a national service obligation, and I deeply appreciate your rhetoric about making the draft universal. However, your 2005 bill is both overbroad and full of loopholes.

Section 10 requires women to register for induction. That’s one big step in the right direction.

But section 2(a) is overbroad.  It requires induction into national service for everyone between the ages of 18 and 26 ("It is the obligation of every citizen of the U.S., and every other person residing in the U.S., who is between the ages of 18 and 26 to perform a period of national service as prescribed in this Act"). That's approx. one-fifth of all working age Americans! And section 2(a) of your 2006 bill, introduced in the middle of the last session of Congress, requires induction for everyone between 18 and 42!

Both the 2005 and 2006 versions of 2(a) telegraph that your bill is really just a stalking horse meant to alarm people about the human and political consequences of the Iraq war.

Dear Congressman Rangel, the draft issue is too serious -- and we are both too old! -- to be messing around with mere stalking horses.

If all recent high school graduates plus all 18-year-old dropouts were drafted into national service each year (as suggested by former Clinton White House policy advisor William Galston HERE), we’d be inducting nearly four million people a year. That’s quite enough to accomplish all the military, homeland-security, and community service tasks we might want to accomplish.

Make it truly universal!

Another aspect of your bill that belies your rhetoric is the exemptions you’ve provided. I don’t need to remind you how many millions of people -- including our last Democratic President! -- took advantage of loopholes when we last had a draft.

Please, no loopholes this time. Let’s make it truly universal.

In section 6(b) you state that “deferments from national service . . . may be made for (1) extreme hardship; or (2) physical or mental disability.”

You know as well as I do what’s going to happen under section 6(b). Half the personal-injury lawyers in the country will go into the business of concocting deferments for draft-age citizens. Whining about hardships and disabilities will become a national pastime . . . among the young!

It would be infinitely more affirming of hard-pressed and disabled young Americans if you, as a Congressman, conveyed something like this:

“We are all One People. As Senator Obama says, we are all becoming one beautifully blended people; and we all have something to give each other; and in national service, we’ll be committed to working with even the least fortunate of you until you’re able to identify something useful you can do for our nation. Even watching over parks is an important gift in this day and age. And every draftee will be compensated, of course.”

The other stunning exemption you’ve provided is in section 8(a), which not only exempts conscientious objectors from combatant training and service, but defines “conscientious objector” incredibly loosely, as anyone who opposes war “by reason of sincerely held moral, ethical, or religious beliefs.”

Do I really need to tell you that that gives a leg up to any kid who’s been well-off (or lucky) enough to go to an excellent private (or public) high school and had a good philosophy teacher? Even you’d be tempted to laugh when you saw how many CO’s were being hatched in such schools in senior year!

Fortunately, if you accept my suggestion above that draftees should be allowed to choose the kind of national service they’d give, then all of section 8 (“Conscientious Objection”) could be eliminated from your bill.

Conclusion: Let’s say “Yes!” to our inner selves, and to a new vision of ourselves as a caring and grateful people

Dear Congressman Rangel, for 40 years I have felt badly that, when I was called upon to serve, my inner self would not permit me to prepare to attack the Vietnamese people (who meant us no harm), which my government said was required of me.

I have felt badly because I wanted to do something on behalf of this country. But not that thing, which I felt would diminish my country and tarnish its values. I ended up emigrating to Canada, and was forced to remain there for a decade.

It may be that, had my country said “Yes!” to my inner self 40 years ago, at that formative time in my life, I’d have been able to make an even more substantial contribution to our world than I have.

I am convinced that, if you alter your bill to require every young person -- and I mean EVERY young person -- to spend up to two years doing what their inner self tells them is most worth doing (in the military or homeland-security or community service spheres), then you’ll not only have a bill that could garner support.

You’ll have a bill that will offer a wonderful new vision of ourselves as a caring and grateful people.

You’ll have a bill that, if implemented, could help restore our standing in the world -- which all by itself would strengthen our national security!

Sincerely, -- Mark Satin



Since 9/11, calls for a UNIVERSAL U.S. draft with civilian AND military options have come from such diverse sources as:

Phillip Carter (attorney and former Army captain), “The Case for the Draft,” Washington Monthly, March 2005;

Joe Galloway (military correspondent and former special consultant to Gen. Colin Powell), “Time for a National Service?,” Military.org, March 9, 2006;

William Galston (professor of "civic engagement" and former deputy assistant to Pres. Bill Clinton), "The Case for Universal Service," chap. 6 in Will Marshall and Marc Magee, eds., The AmeriCorps Experiment and the Future of National Service, Progressive Policy Institute, 2005, pp. 98-109;

Robin Gerber (senior fellow, Academy of Leadership), “For a New Kind of Draft,” Christian Science Monitor, November 13, 2001;

Paul Glastris (journalist and policy analyst), “A New Draft for a New Time,” The Responsive Community, Spring 2002, pp. 40-43;

Thom Hartmann (radio talk show host), “Rangel and Jefferson Agree on a National Service Program,” CommonDreams.org, November 21, 2006;

David Kennedy (professor of history), “The Best Army We Can Buy,” New York Times, July 25, 2005;

Robert Litan (economic policy analyst), "September 11, 2001: The Case for Universal Service," Brookings Review, Fall 2002; reprinted as chap. 14 in E.J. Dionne Jr. et al., eds., United We Serve: National Service and the Future of Citizenship, Brookings Institution Press, 2003, pp. 101-07;

Charles Moskos (professor of sociology), “Now Do You Believe We Need a Draft?,” Washington Monthly, November 2001;

Mark Satin (journalist and Vietnam war resister), Bring Back the Draft -- For Everyone! -- and Offer Community and Military Options," Radical Middle Newsletter, March 2002; revised and expanded as chap. 12 in Radical Middle: The Politics We Need Now, Westview / Perseus, 2004, pp. 125-34;

Paul Wagner (professor of ethics), “Rangel Is Right About the Need for National Service,” Houston Chronicle, November 23, 2006.


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