Now that the United States has settled in for what appears to be a substantial war with Iraq, the fear of a draft is now on the minds of college students. However, any talk of the draft right now, a system of compulsory military service, is just that-talk.
Although the draft has not been used since 1973, males are still required to register for the Selective Service program within 30 days of turning 18 and are eligible for a draft until they turn 26.
Currently, all 2.7 million men and women in active-duty service and the reserve forces are volunteers.
In January, Reps. Charles Rangel and John Conyers introduced legislation to reinstate the draft. Rangel’s rationale for proposing the draft was the fact that the military is disproportionately made up of the poor and minorities and that the burden of war should be equally distributed.
“I believe that if those calling for war knew that their children were likely to be required to serve…there would be more caution and a greater willingness to work with the international community in dealing with Iraq,” Rangel said in U.S. News and World Report.
Despite Rangel’s efforts, legislation has not been passed. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has insisted that there will be no draft. However, this promise is only a “small comfort to parents who recall promises made-and broken-during the Vietnam War,” according to U.S. News and World Report.
If the draft were reinstated, there are two options for those opposed to war: conscientious objection or jail.
“I think there are plenty of reasons to desire to resist and to go to jail,” senior Matt Warrick said. “The negative thing about going to jail is that your ability to affect change is effectively none. If you’re in prison you can’t vocalize, you can’t resist, at least not publicly anyway.”
Warrick said he would either file for conscientious objector status or go to Canada to avoid military service.
Conscientious objector status, as stated in the Military Selective Service Act of 1967, would provide those who qualify with substitute civilian work or allow them to work in the military without handling weapons. Objector status may be granted based on religious affiliation or opposition to war in general.
“My upbringing as a Christian, but also my upbringing in my family, has shaped my views,” said senior Sean McRoberts. “Just the amount of destruction war brings to everyone involved is enough to make me oppose war. It follows from the Christian heritage, the Christian church [is] completely pacifist in nature. There have always been pacifist groups within the Christian church.”
Although McRoberts could probably qualify for conscientious objector status if a draft was called now, he said that he would rather go to jail.
“The way I understand the program is that once you enroll, they’ll find an alternate service place for you,” McRoberts said. “Seems like a good idea. But at the same time it’s supporting the war effort, supporting the government’s actions in going to war. I don’t want to support that at all. I think that if it were to come to a draft, I would prepare to be arrested.”
However, many oppose this war because of their views on the justifications for war on Iraq. The same is true of some young men during the Vietnam draft.
According to the “Handbook for Conscientious Objectors,” published in 1970, “Many a young man is conscientiously opposed to participating in the military at this time because he is convinced the United States’ role in Vietnam is morally and legally indefensible. He is clear about this war, but not war in general.”
“I think I’m somewhere between the beliefs of pacifism and ‘Just War,'” Warrick said. “I think in defense of your own safety, your own well-being, force can be used-but only a necessary amount of force, and an overt invasion of another country is definitely not just.”
The first conscription law was passed in 1798 to bolster Napoleon’s French military. A draft was used for the first time in the United States during the Civil War.
However, possibly the most easily remembered is the unpopular draft during of the Vietnam War.
From 1965 to 1973, 2.15 million people served in Vietnam while 170,000 received CO status. At least 40,000 people fled the country while others served time in prison.
Twenty-nine servicemen were granted CO status last year and over 500 applied for CO status during the Gulf War, according to data from the Department of Army Recruiting in Des Moines. It is unknown how many in America would file for CO status or flee the country, if a draft was instated again.
Iowa Rep. Wayne Ford echoed the call for a draft made by Rangel and Conyers. However, his reasoning was to ensure an American victory in Iraq.
“The bottom line is it boils down to numbers,” Ford said in the Des Moines Register. “If we’re going to take Baghdad building by building, we’re going to need a lot of infantry.”
Warrick said he feels that a draft is not likely or needed.
“I don’t think realistically that there will be a draft for two reasons,” senior Matt Warrick said. “One, I think we’ve got plenty of armed service people that are available. Because of September 11, a lot of people went out and said, ‘Hey, I want to do what I think is right for my country.’ So I think they have enough soldiers. And, secondly, I don’t think it would be well supported by the American public.”
Those in the military also feel that a draft is not necessary.
“We can handle this without drafting anybody,” Marine Cpl. Juan Nielson said in Newsweek. “We’d rather have people going with us who want to be there than people sitting and complaining.”
Both Warrick and McRoberts said they would feel differently about the war if the United States were in immediate danger.
“I don’t think there’s any material threat,” Warrick said. “As far as the missiles they have that violated United Nations law, they can go 90 miles. Well, we’re a lot further than 90 miles from Iraq. I don’t see any direct threat to this nation. I think that if push came to shove and I was threatened directly, I would be willing to fight back.”