Congressmen Charles Rangel (NY) and John Conyers (MI) are correct
in advocating a return to universal military service. In the 30
years since the last young American was drafted, the U.S. has constructed
a volunteer military machine that is disconnected from the life
of the nation, a foreign legion-like force to which whole sectors
of the population have only the most tenuous ties or - among the
most privileged - none at all.
existence of this volunteer force has encouraged much of the U.S.
citizenry to disassociate themselves from the consequences of their
franchise. They are spectators, having invested nothing more in
the ghastly dramas unfolding upon the world than their tax dollars
and vague, sports fan-like notions of national prestige. They have
opted-out of responsibility for crimes perpetrated in their name.
No longer liable to become citizen soldiers, Americans act less
and less like citizens of any kind. Collectively, they have become
a threat to humanity at large - including their oblivious selves.
all-volunteer Army, for which anti-war activists of three decades
ago claimed far too much credit, has produced social distortions
that fundamentally threaten the national polity. The U.S. military
has become an alienated instrument of a piratical oligarchy that
is quite content to extend the privilege of non-service to most
of the non-interfering population. In turn, the people abrogate
their role as citizens, and call it freedom.
Rangel and Conyers wouldn't put it that way, but they were blunt
enough. Said Rangel, in a New Years Eve article:
believe that if those calling for war knew that their children
were 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. A
renewed draft will help bring a greater appreciation of the consequences
of decisions to go to war.
in our nation's armed forces is no longer a common experience.
A disproportionate number of the poor and members of minority
groups make up the enlisted ranks of the military, while the most
privileged Americans are underrepresented or absent.
need to return to the tradition of the citizen soldier - with
alternative national service required for those who cannot serve
because of physical limitations or reasons of conscience.
Raises Draft Issue," January 2, for full text.)
past Tuesday, children frolicked in the halls and aisles of the
U.S. House and Senate, a family-day tradition on the opening of
each new Congress. Most of the members gave George Bush a blank
check on Iraq, last session. Yet they plan to keep their own children
immune from future conscription and insure that the privilege of
non-service remains nearly general, a shield against the unpleasantness
of war. Deluded, they fail to realize that nothing can truly insulate
the congressional children and their playmates from the blowback
of wars waged by other Americans. Rather, the delusion guarantees
that there will be permanent war, fought by kids they'll
never meet, against people they care nothing about - spectacles
that will inevitably consume the spectators.
Conyers remarked that his fellow lawmakers might be more concerned
about death and destruction abroad "if their own family members
and neighbors faced the prospects of serving in the military on
the front line.'' That also applies to the bulk of the upper middle
classes, who support the War Party while physically opting out of
war. Forget moral questions, for a moment. The volunteer Army, which
many Seventies-era supporters naively (selfishly?) hoped would purge
the nation of militarism, has instead given armchair and soccer
mom militarists immunity from direct family and class participation
in the deadly games. They are like citizens of Rome, bloodthirsty
in their Coliseum seats, yet not a gladiator among them, fatly and
flatulently demanding gore and honor! This is what the volunteer
military has bestowed on the nation: privileged noncombatant video
war-watchers. According to surveys, well-educated white youth are
the most grizzly-minded - and least likely to enlist - of them all.
Pentagon believes it has the war machine it needs to wage two major
and several minor
conflicts simultaneously. They want no part of a draft force, because
citizen soldiers are anathema to an imperial military. Generals
seldom share such thoughts with the public, but War Party civilians
like Rep. John McHugh (R-NY), of the House Armed Services Committee,
are familiar with how the brass feel about a draft. "My read
at this time is that there is not a lot of enthusiasm or support
for it, either within the civilian community or perhaps most importantly
within the military services themselves.'' Rep. McHugh chairs the
military personnel subcommittee, so he knows what kinds of soldiers
the generals prefer. Universal service is at the top of the Pentagon's
list - of things it does not want.
soldiers hobble the empire. That was the military's Vietnam
lesson. Anti-war protesters, although absolutely essential on the
domestic political front, were of little concern to the men who
moved brigades and divisions across the landscape of Vietnam. Their
problem was the citizen soldier who, they discovered, refused to
act or be treated like foreign legionnaires.
sooner had Rangel and Conyers spoken, than the Associated Press
relayed the military's ready response: "The Pentagon opposes
a return to the draft. The all-volunteer force has provided a military
'that is experienced, smart, disciplined and representative of America,'
the Defense Department said in a statement."
entirely true, of course. As Rep. Rangel pointed out, of the members
of Congress who voted for Bush's war against Iraq, only one has
a child in the enlisted ranks. A few other congressional children
are officers. The scarcity of uniforms is reflective of the classes
from which the Congress is drawn. What the generals really mean
is that today's military is whiter than the Vietnam-era ranks, is
largely disconnected from important sectors of civilian society,
and will do as it is told without political or moral qualms.
very utility of this force encourages its use. The same qualities
that recommend the volunteer force to war planners, also make endless
aggression thinkable. Bush's Permanent War envisions multiple military
engagements at any given time, anywhere on the globe, until the
entire planet submits to an American-imposed order. (See "Permanent
War, Permanent National Emergency," October 17.) Such a
strategy is inconceivable under a citizen soldier - universal service
- regime, which is why a recall of the draft is anathema to the
War requires the political acquiescence of broad sections of the
middle and upper middle classes. Immunity from conscription guarantees
a high level of acceptance of the current rulers' global military
real war story
and anti-draft are not the same things, although the issues were
at the height of the Vietnam War, when the unlucky draftee could
pretty much count on being sent to that particular destination at
the end of his brief training. Selective Service shutdown in 1973
rendered the argument moot for millions of "anti-war"
proponents who were, in reality, simply "anti-draft."
Having disentangled themselves from the apparatus of conscription
(and mistakenly taking full credit for its demise), these young
cohorts and their families became disengaged from U.S. foreign policy
troop strength in Vietnam reached 536,000 in 1968, the year of the
Tet Offensive, the My Lai Massacre, and the war's worst American
casualties: 11,000 killed and 45,000 wounded. Large-scale troop
withdrawals began in 1969, by which time it had become painfully
clear to commanders in the field that the Army, in particular, was
no longer an effective force. Racial tensions exploded into full-blown
firefights involving large numbers of men. Military prisons rebelled
and burned. Every soldier counted his days before return to "the
world." The citizen army was not suited to the mission.
internal disintegration of the U.S. Army in Vietnam was at least
as crucial to the eventual American exit as anti-war (or anti-draft)
protests at home. The protestors disbanded in synch with American
troop withdrawal, while the generals dived enthusiastically into
the task of building an all-volunteer force. Thirty years later,
they are preparing to turn the machinery loose on the planet - confident
that the disengaged, non-serving classes will cheer the exploits
of somebody else's boys and girls.
generals have good reason to be confident that they will enjoy free
rein abroad. Americans don't care who they kill. "As far as
I can see, Americans don't care about foreign casualties,"
said John Mueller, an expert on U.S. public opinion about war. "When
we ask people point-blank in polls, they say it does matter. But
the polling evidence suggests it really doesn't in the end,"
said the Ohio State University political scientist. For example:
"How many American lives is worth one Somali life? Not one."
the bulk of this cocooned population, which has the power to extinguish
the species, cares only about itself. Before they will embrace humanity,
they must first be given cause for personal anxiety. A draft is
both moral and a practical necessity, if there is to be any impediment
to Americans' second-hand, long-distance, mass killing sprees -
crimes that we will all pay for, eventually, in poisoned water,
irradiated cities, crippled communications or any other vengeance
that aggrieved foreigners can inflict against the people behind
the war machine: us.
of us may also get trampled by our own, self-selected troops. This
is anything but a people's army.
Blacks to arms!
publishers Peter Gamble and Glen Ford are veterans of the Sixties-era
U.S. Army, ill-educated volunteers at the time. Our support of universal
service is based on democratic principles as well as the political
exigencies of the day. In a society stratified by money, universal
service may be the only institutional means to maintain national
ties of commonality. Political equality - equal citizenship - means
shared obligations to the larger community, the kind you can't cash-out.
believe that's what Congressman Conyers was addressing when he said,
"Once the conscription process for service in the military
becomes universal and mandatory for all those who meet the criteria...
it removes the long-held stigma that people of color and persons
from low-income backgrounds are disproportionately killed and injured
while serving as ground troops on the front line."
universal service, and in a society where wealth is the measure
of men and women, the soldier is devalued. Although they will never
admit it, generals like that arrangement; it allows them freedom
of action. The troops may be dear to their families, but are mainly
abstractions to the majority of citizens. Highly paid TV talking
heads call them heroes, but can't find their neighborhoods.
and Conyers appear to have assumed that Blacks remain clustered
in the most hazardous "line" units, as during the Vietnam
era, a misperception shared by the general public. (This lingering
assumption may be an example of society's devaluation of soldiers
- such duty must be disproportionately African American.)
In fact, the 1970s Pentagon blamed the collapse of the Vietnam army
on the massive draft- and poverty-driven infusion of assertive ghetto
outfits were often majority-African American, especially in elite,
airborne units. When Blacks rebelled, command and control evaporated;
for military purposes, the unit ceased to exist. Rebellion - active
and bloody, or passive and smoke-enshrouded - was common. This is
the open secret of Vietnam.
generals vowed never to repeat the Vietnam manpower mistake. Over
decades and at huge national expense, the Pentagon gradually whitened
the combat specialties, attracting and retaining the prize demographic:
white high school graduates. By rejecting dropouts, volunteers with
low standardized test scores, and persons with minor criminal records,
the Pentagon succeeded in dramatically shrinking the potential pool
of Black enlistees.
side effect of this variety of "selective service" is
that African American soldiers are, on average, better educated
than their white counterparts and, therefore, more suited to the
support specialties. Blacks make up 20 percent of the military,
but they are much scarcer on "the line." Minorities comprise
37 percent of all servicemen and women.
you take a look at the distribution of minorities by military specialty,
you will find that it's not blacks who are going to die in combat.
It's whites and Hispanics," said Heritage Foundation military
analyst Larry Wortzel, a retired colonel. "That's who's in
infantry and armor. Blacks are underrepresented in infantry and
armor. They're clustered in support services."
rightwing think-tanker intended to undermine Reps. Rangel's and
Conyers' argument for universal service. He failed, since their
brief for the draft is not based on fine-tuning racial numbers,
but on deeper issues of social responsibility, citizenship, and
forging a true national consensus on questions of peace and war.
is here that we must state unequivocally that the publishers of
oppose and fear the intentional whitening of the Army's combat ranks.
Our fears are grounded in recent historical realities.
force excludes Blacks
Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in April 1968, co-publisher
Glen Ford's 82nd Airborne Division was sent to occupy Washington,
D.C. At that time, the division's line units were 40 - 60 percent
Black; African Americans patrolled the nation's capital. Nearly
every Black soldier was familiar with events of the previous year
in Newark, New Jersey, where lily-white, suburban National Guardsmen
were called in to smother a ghetto rebellion. The Guard drove up
and down Springfield Avenue, a major thoroughfare, M-16s blazing
away at apartment blocks and Black-owned businesses (all unburned
businesses were suspect.) It was a prolonged, racist, military riot,
leaving many dead and no one prosecuted.
Black troops of the 82nd were determined that African American civilians
would not be abused by white troops in Washington. And no one dared.
27 years. In December 1995, three white soldiers from the same 82nd
Airborne Division randomly selected, stalked and executed a Black
couple on the streets of Fayetteville, North Carolina, just outside
Fort Bragg. Nazi literature was found in the troops' trailer home.
In the course of covering the murders, the New York Times discovered
that the elite 82nd had become the "whitest" division
in the entire Army.
investigation revealed that 22 soldiers were affiliated with "skinhead"
groups, the self-styled "storm troopers" of the Aryan
advertised their activities at Fort Bragg, which is also
home base to the very, very white Special Forces (Green Berets).
In April 1995, 23 year-old paratrooper Robert Hunt rented a billboard
at the front gate of the base. "Enough! Let's start taking
back America! National Alliance" it shouted for all incoming
traffic to see. The National Alliance, whose telephone number was
listed on the billboard, is one of the country's most notorious,
violent hate groups. Its guru is William Pierce, author of the infamous
Turner Diaries, the book that advocates (fictionally) a war of extermination
against non-whites and inspired Timothy McVeigh's atrocity in Oklahoma
than 30 years before, such activities would have been unthinkable
in the 82nd, or any other Army division. The U.S military is doing
something more than just "whitening" its elite units.
The National Alliance's billboard message, "Let's start taking
back America!" appears to resonate in the ranks, where Blacks
can no longer muster enough critical mass to kick ass.
of the 82nd are now active on the Afghan-Pakistani border, sowing
such terror and anger among the local population that the U.S. Special
Forces deride them as "cowboys." An all-volunteer American
foreign legion is in the field, acting out white fantasies, fears
draft would cure what ails the 82nd Airborne, counter the military's
purposeful exclusion and tracking of potential Black soldiers, and
introduce the non-serving classes to the experience of wartime vulnerability
- something they can write home about.
U.S. military has done a grave disservice to Black America through
its profoundly suspect policies of social engineering. Under the
guise of creating a volunteer military that is "representative
of America," it has excluded large chunks of Black youth from
the possibility of service, packed the ranks with the white working
class, and left the more prosperous half of the nation to go about
draft military would be forced to accept the Black youths that the
all-volunteer force so enthusiastically rejects: dropouts (about
half of Black youth of both sexes in many cities), low testers (disproportionately
Black), and previous offenders (astronomical proportions). We know
what civilian path these young people are walking. We also know
that the nation cares not one whit about their safety on the streets,
or in the prisons. The all-volunteer military also washes their
hands of them, not for fear that they will die in too large numbers
if inducted, but in dread of a return to the days of the ghetto
will be frank.
is not concerned that African American representation in the combat
services will increase under universal service. That is to be expected.
Blacks under arms are not the root cause of the disconnect between
the American people and the consequences of U.S. foreign policy.
The absence of upper income whites from representation in
the armed services is the political cancer that threatens planetary
survival. American class-plus-race privilege has become a menace
to humanity. For Black America, lack of access to the military is
the far greater problem. Let us not become confused by hypocrites
who claim to care about Black youth mortality.
statistics are stark. 7,264 African Americans were killed during
the course of the Vietnam War (total death toll: 58,193). The mortality
figure averages to about 1,000 a year, only slightly higher than
the number of Black juveniles (under 18) murdered every year in
the U.S. Homicide is the leading cause of death among Black juveniles.
mortality rates get higher after the kids reach selective service
registration age. They are more likely to die of mayhem as civilians
than in a war scenario.
than 300,000 African Americans are in the military. More than three
times that many reside in prison, the grossest racial disproportion
on America's public record. Many of these incarcerated men and women
would have made fine paratroopers, who would never have tolerated
the posting of racist billboards at the entrance to Fort Bragg or
skinhead activity in the barracks. Relatively few, however, would
have been acceptable to the volunteer armed forces, based on the
life profiles that brought them to prison.
representation in the armed forces is a red herring. The social
and political obscenity lies in the absence of soldiers from the
Posse Comitatus Act forbidding the use of federal troops as police
has been repeatedly sidestepped during civil disorders, as late
as 1992 in Los Angeles. The wild "cowboys" of the 82nd
Airborne Division are certain to show up in a city near you when
George Bush feels it convenient to declare a terror-related national
emergency. On the streets, race will matter. African Americans cannot
and should not feel secure under the guns of the volunteer military.
Unlike Washington, 1968, the brothers will not be numerous enough
to contain white mischief.
and wars without end
January 15 we will commemorate the birthday of Martin Luther King,
Jr. That weekend, demonstrations
against the impending invasion of Iraq are set for Washington and
San Francisco. Although we will not attempt to interpret Dr. King,
as do so many self-servers, we believe that his remarks at New York
City's Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, have direct relevance
to the current discussion of the Iraq war and the draft.
encouraged "all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial
exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors," a clear
renunciation of privilege. "We must all protest, " he
is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending
us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade
against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter the struggle,
but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing.
The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within
the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we
will find ourselves organizing clergy-and laymen-concerned committees
for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala
and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia.
They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will
be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies
without end unless there is a significant and profound change
in American life and policy."
here for full text of Dr. King's speech)
Bush plans to wage wars without end. There is no choice but to build
networks of popular mobilization, to protest with no end, if need
be. Sober activists should understand that the anti-draft War Party
is at a tremendous advantage. By immunizing 95 percent of American
families from the immediate consequences of war - but not the account
that will become due - the militarists have purchased consent to
use the armed forces as they see fit. The deal was concluded in
1973. At some point, in order to make "a significant and profound
change in American life and policy," that agreement will have
to be broken. Or we will perish in an orgy of war.
on Dr. King's birthday, Congressman John Conyers will join with
activists at New York's Shalom Center in support of medical and
food aid to Iraq, part of National Fast for Peace Not War.
proposes a return to the draft, as he labors in service of peace.
There is absolutely no contradiction.