Since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the United States has pledged vast resources to an ever-expanding war on terrorism. Many Americans have made sacrifices in order to meet the government demand for money, time and resources. Too often, these sacrifices are borne by those whose only choice is to sacrifice their civilian lives in favor of service in the armed forces. This played out in Vietnam, as the poor and many ethnic minorities shouldered much of the burden of fighting an extremely unpopular war.
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) intends to introduce legislation that would institute the draft for the first time since the Vietnam War. However, Rangel’s legislation would end the excessive deferments of the Vietnam era to create a more egalitarian military. He has done so not out of a military necessity; rather, he has introduced this proposal – knowing it is doomed to fail – in hopes of demonstrating that the duty to serve the nation is not the responsibility of a few, but the responsibility of all. This is appropriate, given that we as a nation have for far too long sent somebody else to fight what should be the battles of the entire nation.
The necessity of war is a highly debatable subject, but if our elected officials choose to commit American men and women to a conflict whose outcome will certainly leave many dead or wounded, then they must do so understanding that they too may have to sacrifice. All too often, the rich, elite and powerful are zealous in their declarations and rhetoric, but soft-spoken in deed. If Saddam Hussein is in fact the threat he is made out to be by many government officials, then these same leaders should be the first to volunteer their sons and daughters to meet the challenge. In fact, as Rangel points out, only one member of Congress has a son who is in the enlisted ranks of our military and only a few more have offspring in the officer ranks. The burden of fighting, even in our most recent conflicts, is still primarily left to the poor and minorities. If a cause were really worth fighting for, it would be left not to these few segments of the population.
Americans have been jaded by our experience in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. As a result, many feel that this latest confrontation with Iraq will be a quick skirmish that will last no more than a few months and only involve few casualties. This view is not only erroneous, but also extremely dangerous. War does not always run on our timetable, and opposing forces do not always give up at the first sight of U.S. forces. Are we willing to pursue this all the way? Is this war worth the rich, poor, white and black all sacrificing and dying on the same ground? Maybe and maybe not, but these are questions yet unanswered by an elite all too willing to send the common man to Arlington National Cemetery, while their sons and daughters find other, less hazardous means of service.