Every citizen, men and women, ages 18 to 26. No college deferment. A new Canadian border policy to return dodgers. Two years of service, regardless of war or peacetime commitment. This is not an exaggeration. This is the language it uses. In the House, it's House Resolution 163. In the Senate, it's Senate Bill 89. Collectively, it's known as the Universal National Service Act of 2003. To you and me, it's called the draft.
If it seems like a good time to panic, you may want to hold off just a little longer. Odds are this particular bill will never see the light of day. But that doesn't mean a draft is out of the question.
So where is all the coverage? Where are the major op-eds and political witch-hunts? Where are the campaign ads and the outpouring of useless-but-angry hippies? Why aren't draft-age people running around like chickens with their heads cut off who are about to be sent to war?
The bill is not a rumor created by paranoid stoners who have inferred it from Bush's accent. A quick search of www.senate.gov proves the legitimacy of the bill.
Something doesn't smell right. This is news, major news, but coverage of it (in mainstream sources anyway) is scarce.
The bill is being held up in the Armed Services committees of both houses. On the surface, it appears an obvious Republican ploy to bottle the issue until after the election. But dig a little deeper (and not much, mind you), and you will find some interesting contradictions.
Like the fact that the bill was introduced by Sen. Fritz Hollings, a South Carolina Democrat. And that the bill's most vocal supporter in the House is Rep. Pete Stark, another Democrat. And that the bill was written by Reps. Charles B. Rangel and John Conyers, Jr., both Democratic members of the Congressional Black Caucus. In fact, Democrats are the only people who have attached their names to this bill.
Add to this that the Republicans were immediately critical of a draft, and you've got yourself a noodle-scratcher. The day the legislation was introduced, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that a draft would not be necessary, describing notable disadvantages to conscription. Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers said that the effectiveness of our military was based on its all-volunteer composition. Has Washington gone topsy-turvy?
The Republicans have a different idea. According to them, this is the kind of political play that voters don't pick up on. They called the bill, which was introduced on Jan. 7, 2003, a cynical effort to drum up anti-war support.
Rangel actually stated as much in a commentary in The New York Times. "I believe that if those calling for war knew their children were more 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," said Rangel.
In his Jan. 8, 2003, defense of the bill, Stark said, "I ardently oppose war with Iraq. I believe America ought to be an advocate for peace, not imperialism." Co-sponsoring a draft bill certainly weighs in contrast to opposing war.
The stated reasoning of the Democrats isn't a whole lot sounder. Hollings has actually introduced a draft bill four times in the last three decades, once as part of his platform during a presidential run in 1984. Said one staffer, "He genuinely believes that all Americans should have to bear this burden."
Stark said roughly the same thing in his defense. "Without a universal draft," he argued, "this burden (of war) weighs disproportionately on the shoulders of the poor, the disadvantaged and minority populations." That would also explain the involvement of members of the Congressional Black Caucus. But it doesn't explain why a draft is a better idea than legislatively opposing Bush's foreign policy.
If it was meant to scare the public away from war with Iraq, it quite obviously failed. (Note to Democrats: In the future, when you want to make a point, make sure that people hear it.) Now it looks like the Democrats have a draft bill on their hands, which will be a real help in gathering the pro-military leftist voters in the election. (Second note to Democrats: Stop confusing your supporters.)
Since the Republicans buried the issue when it first arose, it's now the Democrats' turn. That's why this bill has spent more than a year in Armed Services instead of moving on to the Foreign Relations committees. The language is unrealistic, and more than likely it will never see the light of day.
So we can all relax, right? Try again.
Rep. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., spoke to the House on April 20, saying that it's time to consider how we're going to meet our force commitment, according to one senior aide.
"The thought of bringing back some form of mandatory national service is understandably troubling," wrote Hagel in an article for the Omaha World-Herald. "If the All Volunteer Force, which I strongly support, finds itself unable to meet the current and future manpower demands required to maintain American security, the nation must be prepared to act to correct that dangerous possibility."
So what should potential draftees think? The Selective Service System, the national draft board commission, had this to say:
Notwithstanding recent stories in the news media and on the Internet, Selective Service is not getting ready to conduct a draft for the U.S. Armed Forces -- either with a special skills or regular draft. Rather, the Agency remains prepared to manage a draft if and when the President and the Congress so direct. This responsibility has been ongoing since 1980 and is nothing new. Further, both the President and the Secretary of Defense have stated on more than one occasion that there is no need for a draft for the War on Terrorism or any likely contingency, such as Iraq. Additionally, the Congress has not acted on any proposed legislation to reinstate a draft. Therefore, Selective Service continues to refine its plans to be prepared as is required by law, and to register young men who are ages 18 through 25.
So we can all sleep soundly. Until we can't.