Connor Freff Cochran
In 1973, forced conscription ended in favor of an all-volunteer military. As
the gap between the capacity of US armed forces and the demands of current deployment
widens, the likelihood of a reinstated draft grows.
Reports circulated recently that a special skills draft was on the table specifically for people skilled in computers and foreign languages. The Selective Service System (SSS) countered the allegations on its website (<www.sss.gov>), saying that the SSS is merely fulfilling its role and hasnt ramped up in anticipation of a coming draft: Selective Service is not getting ready to conduct a draft for the US 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.
The Need for More Troops
However, the Bush Administrations military goals cannot be met without conscription. Consider these facts: Twenty-one of the US Armys 33 regular combat brigades are now on active duty in the hot zones of Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea, and the Balkans. Thats 63% of the Armys fighting force...all without factoring in additional troops stationed in Saudi Arabia, Germany, Britain, Italy, Japan, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere. This is a huge overextension. History suggests that long-term military operations can only be sustained if there are twice as many soldiers in the pipeline as are in the field. By that rule of thumb, the regular military is now 125,000 soldiers short a gap the Bush administration has temporarily plugged by calling up more than 150,000 Army Reserve and National Guard troops into active service.
There are 135,000 US troops in Iraq, just under half of them guardsmen, women and reservists. To maintain that number, 22,000 more have already been sent there and brought home dead, wounded, or medically unfit for service. Since last years invasion of Iraq there have been more US military casualties than in all the years since the end of the Viet Nam war combined.
The human well is drying up. Enlistment rates in the regular armed forces and the National Guard have dropped sharply. According to a poll conducted by the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, a whopping 49% of soldiers stationed in Iraq say they dont intend to reenlist even with the Army offering a $10,000 bonus.
In January 2004, Dick Cheney gave a speech in San Francisco outlining a further expansion of the military. In no uncertain terms he announced that US armed forces would be set up in more overseas bases, so the United States could wage war quickly around the globe. One of the legacies of this administration, he said, will be some of the most sweeping changes in our military, and our national security strategy as it relates to the military and force structure, and how were based, and how we used it in the last 50 or 60 years, probably since World War II. I think the changes are that dramatic.
A Return to the Draft?
Despite statements to the contrary, quiet preparations for the return of the draft have been under way for some time. The SSS Annual Performance Plan for Fiscal Year 2004 with its obfuscatory jargon, acronyms, and bureaucrat-speak - cant quite manage to bury all of its bombshells.
Strategic Objective 1.2 of the 2004 plan commits the SSS to being fully operational within 75 days of an authorized return to conscription. Strategic Objective 1.3 then commits them to be operationally ready to furnish untrained manpower within DOD [Department of Defense] timelines. By next year the government intends to set up a mobilization infrastructure of 56 State Headquarters, 442 Area Offices, and 1,980 Local Boards. Theres even funding this year to run whats called an Area Office Prototype Exercise to test the activation process from SSS Lottery input to the issuance of First Armed Forces Examination Orders.
Strategic Objective 2.2 is all about bumping up the SSSs High School Registrar Program. Whats that? Its a plan to put volunteer registrars in at least 85% of the nations high schools, up from 65% in 1998. Consider these the SSS troops on the ground, making sure that the smallest possible number of eligible draftees manages to slip through the net. (In the school arena, by the way, the Bush administration has already pulled a fast one. Buried deep in the 670 pages of its No Child Left Behind Act is a provision requiring public high schools to give military recruiters access to facilities and also contact information for every student or face a cutoff of federal aid.)
The 2004 plan commits the SSS to report to the President by March 31, 2005, that the system is ready for activation with in 75 days. If they manage the task, the first lottery could happen as early as June 15, 2005.
Approving the Draft: RIPS
The job of approving a draft officially belongs to both the President and Congress, working together to pass new legislation, and officially it can only happen if the country is at war. But given the examples of the last three years, these safeguards are hard to call firm and reassuring. First, as far as the Bush administration is concerned, we are perpetually at war. Thus Mr. Bush has skated around the strict language of the Constitution and has invaded two countries, despite the fact that only Congress is supposed to have the power to declare war. Second, the White House is supported by Republican majorities in both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court. While it is certain that any Presidential decision to reactivate the draft would be hotly debated in Congress, and resisted by most of the public, it is by no means clear that the draft could be effectively blocked especially with prominent Democrats such as Rep. Charlie Rangel and Sen. Hillary Clinton on record as supporting the possibility of some kind of conscription.
Of course, the SSS doesnt call it a draft. In their lexicon of acronyms its a Registrant Integrated Processing System: RIPS, for short. The acronyms horrible irony Rest In Peace, anyone? has been lost on the bureaucrats.
© 2004 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from: <www.alternet. org/story.html? StoryID=18225>
Connor Freff Cochran is a film producer and former magazine/television journalist. He spent four years as a US on-air correspondent for the BBC.
LOCAL DRAFT WORKSHOPS
Many ask: Will there be a draft?
There is now, already in operation, Draft Registration.
Each day, hundreds of 18-year-olds just register, ignorant of their rights and options. Current procedures give registrants (Selective Service calls them consumers) only 10 days after receiving an Induction Order to file claims, including conscientious objection. Not the time to start thinking about war and killing on command.
Bills are already sitting on congressional desks, giving the President the power to Induct. Dont wait!
Contact Pax Christi Syracuse (315-475-2811; firstname.lastname@example.org) to arrange a workshop on how the draft currently works and how to prepare for Inductions.