The United States and the military draft



Trần Bình Nam


Note: This is the English version of an article in Vietnamese posted in this home page on November 22, 2006. Please link to:

Since military draft is a compulsory service, nobody wants to hear about its war-related term. It was initially established during the Civil War (1861-1865) and reenacted in both World Wars: 1914-1918 and 1941-1945. It was enforced again in 1948 during the cold war and terminated in 1973 with the US signing the Paris Accords and withdrawing all its troops out of Vietnam.

The US Armed Forces have since had only volunteers, making the draft unknown to most American youths, including even some politicians. Representative Nancy Pelosi, who will be the next Speaker of the House, has hurriedly and simply said “No” in response to a question from the press about the draft proposed by Representative Charles Rangel (D, NY), who disclosed he would submit another similar bill to deal with the ongoing war. Beside Rep. Nancy’s reaction, the public and elected officials seem to be cool about the issue.

Had the proposal come from a different Congress member or had it made by the Iraq Study Group co-chaired by former Republican Secretary of State James Baker III and former Democratic Representative Lee Hamilton, the public reaction might be different, since it was not the first time Representative Charles Rangel made his proposal about the draft. In 2003, following the US getting rid of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and fighting a war in Iraq, he recommended that youngsters between the ages of 18 and 26 be drafted for military service. Nevertheless, his bill was defeated by a ratio of 402/2. At the beginning of this year, as the Defense Department debated on the shortage of troops for a possible new front, he repeated without success the same draft proposal, this time for youngsters between 18 and 42.

After the election on 11-7-2006 with the Democrats becoming the majority in Congress, Representative Rangel’s position has changed (with his chance to be Chairman of powerful Ways and Means Committee) and his voice would have more weight. His proposal, unfortunately, was obstructed by Ms. Pelosi’s quick reaction.

Although it has not been well received due to the public psychology at this time, the idea of Representative Charles Rangel sounds right in many aspects. If the Democrats failed to take advantage of this opportunity to ameliorate the US position in the world, the US might not get rid of its serious problems. The 11-7 election was on one hand a measurement of the public anger for President Bush’s policies in Iraq, but on the other hand, the Democrats were not given the Congress to run away but to find a solution for the war without damaging the US super power image. The US prestige is actually more critical since it relates to the long-term security of the country and peace of the world. Its strength has to be perceived through diplomacy and poise, not just action. A super power will lose its place when it has to resort to force to command respect in the world.

At the start of the war in Iraq, US military leaders believed their troops would be back home within a year at most; however, what happened there was beyond their expectations. With over 140,000 American soldiers remaining in Iraq much longer, what if another front is needed? That might be the reason why Iran keeps working on its uranium project (for atomic bombs), and  North Korea continues to conduct its underground atomic weapons tests. Both countries have had no respect for the US because they know the US has no means to act. What the US can do is verbal threats, despite its huge atomic arsenal. At present, the US is regarded as a colossal knight-errant with two hands made of clay that should be reinforced with the re-establishment of the military draft.

The current US army of volunteers has shown defects, evidenced by the Defense Department’s repeated failure to keep its promise to the troops as a result of its manpower lacking and its having to be engaged simultaneously in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many units have to be sent back to the front more than once with only a short time at home to spend with their loved ones. As volunteers for military service they have no rights to complain, but packing and going. Their officers shared the same situation and frustration among the military and their families have been unavoidable.  The country is in a state of war. But the fighting is the duty of all able people and not strictly the duty of those volunteered.

As for reservists, they serve the country according to the contracts they sign with the government as stable civilians. Their life and job, and those of their family, are affected by the repeated military call-up.

The present military picture depicts some unfairness for both volunteers and reservists alike. This does not mean not to sacrifice. Spilling blood to defend the country is a noble cause for all its citizen. Without this sacrifice a country is doomed to failure. But a falling soldier for the country must be an honor for him and for the whole nation and not a tragedy.

As long as the national leader can maintain that spirit, all problems of the country could be fixed, especially with a country full of potentials like the US. Volunteers know very well their duty to the country through their tour of service at the front, and they should feel comfortable if their tour are respected. Their death, even happened at the last day of their tour will not be a tragedy for his family.

But if their tour is lengthened due to the shortage of replacements, and they will die for that it may be a tragedy. Where are other million able young peoples?

President Bush has planned to change his Iraq policy, which the Democratic party will like to encourage. Responsible authorities are believed to have a solution (not the immediate military withdrawal indeed), provided the US armed forces can maintain enough strength for three or even four fronts, as required by the national security. Diplomacy is critical, however, but it must be backed by  military strength.

The history of the world has shown that a military power may waned by a military defeat or retreat, as in the case of the French-Spanish alliance in the naval battle at the Trafalgar Cape near Gibraltar when it was won in 10-1805 by a British fleet, commanded by Admiral Nelson. In World War II, following its advance into the Soviet Union, the Nazi troops suffered a serious defeat due to the terribly cold winter weather at the end of 1944, leading to the Allied’s landing in Normandy early in 1945 and the surrender of Germany. The retreat of the British (and French) forces from the battle for the Suez Canal in 1956, after Colonel Nasser nationalized it, was a webbing tide for the British Empire. Likewise, the defeat of the French forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1955 marked the termination of the French colonialism; and the defeat of the US army in Iraq could bring down the US super power. Except…

Except a re-positioning of the US stand is made through diplomacy in a changing world and an armed force strong enough to support it. Iran and North Korea would know that they should not play with fire by provoking the United States.

All that would be impossible without military draft since the US is at war, a multi-front war. The draft would give back confidence to the nation and to the people.

Representative Nancy Pelosi, after 12 years in opposition, to be too familiar with obstructive strategies, probably had lost her vision and became nearsighted. Now as Speaker of the House, she acted not wisely at first by hurriedly supporting Representative John Murtha (D, Pennsylvania), the strong advocate of a military retreat from Iraq, for the position of leader of House majority instead of supporting Representative Steny Hoyer (D, Maryland) as his rank deserves. She also behaved improperly when she rejected on the spot the proposal to re-establish the draft made by an experienced colleague of hers. If she fails to quickly adapt herself to her new responsibilities, she would turn herself into a liability for the Democratic Party and adversely affect the US interests in the world.

In two years when a new president was elected, if the military draft still has not been enacted, the US position in the world would be very fragile. It is the demand of the reality of the world. There’s no other choice./.

Tran Binh Nam

December 16, 2006





Trần Bình Nam