Dependable Erection

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Charlie Rangel's draft bill

As i've gotten older, i've come to support a national service program. All citizens should be required to give 2 years of service, between the ages of 18 and 28.

This would include, but not be limited to, military service. Teaching kids to read, distributing vaccinations, restoring our national parks are all tasks that could be included in this program.

The military service component, though, is a key piece.

Part of the reason for universal military service is expressed, albeit inadvertently, by noted chucklefuck Richard Cohen, in his WaPo column today:

Things are precisely the same with Iraq, and here, too, I originally had no moral qualms about the war. Saddam Hussein was a beast who had twice invaded his neighbors, had killed his own people with abandon and posed a threat -- and not just a theoretical one -- to Israel. If anything, I was encouraged in my belief by the offensive opposition to the war -- silly arguments about oil or empire or, at bottom, the ineradicable and perpetual rottenness of America.

On the contrary, I thought. We are a good country, attempting to do a good thing. In a post-Sept. 11 world, I thought the prudent use of violence could be therapeutic. The United States had the power to change things for the better, and those who would do the changing -- the fighting -- were, after all, volunteers. This mattered to me.

I'm sure you know some right-wing mouthbreather, the kind who thinks Bill O'Reilly is really, really smart, who'll tell you that our soldiers are volunteers, they knew when they signed up that they could be losing limbs, suffering permanent brain damage, getting killed in service to their country. And because they're volunteers, it's OK to send them to Iraq, or Iran, or wherever the president decides our national pride requires.

So the conventional wisdom, espoused by the esteemed inside-the-beltway pundit Mr. Cohen, is that if our army had been composed of draftees, well then, that would have mattered, and maybe going into a foreign country and overthrowing their government following a concerted government propaganda effort aimed at marginalizing anyone who disagreed might not have seemed like such a good idea.


No, what would happen if we instituted a program of universal, compulsory, service to the country is that people like Richard Cohen would soon find that their petty opinions about what matters no longer form the conventional wisdom.

Josh Marshall, on the other hand, makes a very good case for why Charlie Rangel needs to rethink his bill:

I understand that Rangel's proposal is in the manner of a Modest Proposal. If more political and opinion elites had close relatives in uniform we'd probably be a lot less eager to sign on to new wars for frivolous or inane reasons.

On the draft issue, I get the concept behind Rangel's call for a draft. I understand the separate argument for a draft on national service grounds, though I think that's a bit different from where Rangel is coming from. But this isn't the way people hear this proposal on first contact. We've just had a national election that became a massive repudiation of the Iraq War. If you're a casual news consumer who went to polls to say, enough! on Iraq, I think a vote on reinstituting the draft has got to come off to you, at best, really out of the blue. At worst, I imagine it registers with a big 'What the hell are they thinking?'

It would be one thing if a draft would materially change our present options. But it won't. The US military has been all-volunteer for three decades. Whatever is on paper, it would take a really, really long time for a draft to actually start putting real soldiers on the ground anywhere.

But these are both* highly divisive issues, ones tailor made for Republicans hoping to trip up the new Democratic congress right out of the gate.

You start with broadly popular and critically needed changes. That allows you to build up the electorate's confidence in your governance and gains you political capital to tackle more difficult problems. This isn't about following a timorous legislative agenda that will offend no one. There is a war going on. Two actually. Our military faces a readiness crisis in the very near future. We are in a soldier-slaughtering drift in Iraq. These are complicated questions requiring bold solutions.

I can understand Josh's call not to fritter away the opportunity for Democrats to show the nation that they understand how to take the reigns of government. But eventually, and i think sooner is better than later, the issue of Bush breaking the military has to dealt with. And if the conventional wisdom is that it's OK to treat volunteer soldiers as dead men walking, while drafted soldiers would, well, matter, then i think the conversation that Rangel's bill will start is worthwhile having.

* - Josh also talks about Barney Frank wanting to revisit "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."


  • One of the bumper stickers of my youth carried the phrase "What if they gave a war and nobody come."

    Pretty much everybody I know who signed up for the military did so during peacetime, and they did so for practical personal reasons, such as a cheap way of getting training in computers, or getting a college loan at the end of their stint. A couple joined for adventurous reasons, because they wanted to jump out of airplanes for a living. I supposed there are people who sign up because they want to defend freedom or democracy or the US or whatever, but I've never met anyone who signed up for those reasons.

    As the chance of getting legs blown off in Iraq outweighs the benefits of the GI bill, more young Americans are thinking that the local community college might be a safer career path than the military. The problem with an all-volunteer army is that you need to have people volunteer.

    I cringe at the prospect of a draft, quite frankly. My emotional reaction is too deep and immediate for me to even begin to look at the issue rationally. And although "national service" with a non-military option is slightly more palatable, I don't think it would solve the dilemma of not enough soldiers: young Americans would still choose renovating houses in the inner city before they'd choose the option that includes the possibility of getting your legs blown off.

    By Anonymous cd, at 10:19 AM  

  • I don't think of "not having enough soldiers" as a dilemma, and certainly the idea of a universal, compulsory service requirement is not primarily directed at making sure we have enough soldiers.

    What it would do, especially after a generation or two, is to make sure we have a cohort of leaders and decision makers who had all been through the common experience of having given a couple of years of their lives in service to the country.

    Over the lifetime of a nation, i think that makes a profound difference.

    By Blogger Barry Ragin, at 11:32 AM  

  • I'm sure bringing back the draft is a great idea.... let's teach EVERYONE TO KILL !!!!!!!!!!!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:20 PM  

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