An Ill-Conceived Proposal

The first Democrat I heard calling for a reinstitution of the military draft was Frank Lautenberg last November during my Green Party campaign for the U.S. Senate seat from New Jersey that he ended up winning. This was perhaps the most dramatic of his efforts to counter the charge of Republican candidate Doug Forrester that he was wimpish when it came to supporting and spending money on the military.

Charles Rangel and, surprisingly, John Conyers, seem to have drunk from the same political water as Lautenberg as they have recently come out in favor of the same thing. The difference, however, is that they are doing so, in Rangel’s words in the N.Y. Times of December 31, 2002, “to help bring a greater appreciation of the consequences of decisions to go to war.”

I was shocked when I read Rangel’s piece and even more shocked when I heard more-progressive John Conyers on the radio defending this position. To me this is disturbingly reminiscent of the Bill Clinton/Joe Lieberman/DLC approach of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” the adoption of Republican positions on major issues.

Rangel seems to think that he’s being slick with what he sees as an outflanking maneuver, that his efforts to reinstitute the draft will lead to heightened anti-war sentiment as all sectors and classes of society experience “shared sacrifice.”

This is a dangerous, highly questionable proposition.

It would be as if the civil right movement of the 50’s and 60’s had called for the expansion to all voters of poll taxes, literacy tests and other impediments to African Americans’ voting—“shared sacrifice.”

It would be like the women’s movement demanding not personal choice on the issue of abortion but, instead, government surveillance and police action to crack down on abortions that women with money were able to get illegally before the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973—more “shared sacrifice.”

Or it would be as if the peace movement trying to stop the Vietnam War had advocated not U.S. withdrawal but expansion of the war to every country in the world where alleged communists were trying to overthrow unjust and repressive governments.

Rangel is really playing with fire, and a close reading of his Times piece makes that clear. At one point he makes the argument that the so-called war on terrorism “will severely strain military resources already burdened.” He refers to “long-term troop commitments” and “military trainers” throughout the world, including such countries as the Philippines, Colombia and Korea. Significantly, he does not question any of those commitments or trainers, instead saying, “we can expect the evolving global war on terrorism to drain our military resources even more, stretching them to the limit.”

He concludes with these ominous words: “Those who would lead us into war have the obligation to support an all-out mobilization of Americans for the war effort, including mandatory national service that asks something of us all.”

Just what we need: a Bushite-led, or perhaps a Lieberman-led, repressive government of empire being given the power to mobilize and conscript the entire country in support of their imperialist designs.

I know it may seem naive, and maybe I’m just not sophisticated enough to get it, but wouldn’t it make more sense to introduce legislation to deal with the poverty draft–the realities of racism, unemployment, poor housing, miseducation and little hope–that lead many low-income and working-class people to join the armed forces in the first place?

Or has the Bill Clinton, “as Republican as the Republicans” approach to politics spread so far and so deep within the Democratic Party that we can no longer count on leading members of the Congressional Black Caucus to do the right thing on the major, clear-cut issues of the day?

It is urgent that all of us speak up loudly and clearly against this ill-conceived proposal.