As citizens of the greatest nation on Earth, we profit tremendously from our nation’s hegemony. Each April, the Internal Revenue Service asks us to contribute a slice of that profit in the form of income tax. We make this sacrifice, some more grudgingly than others, to provide for a variety of government services. Sacrifices such as these are non-negotiable.
All able-bodied citizens have the obligation to contribute in order that the whole remain strong and intact. We contribute so heavily monetarily to our nations prosperity, yet we shudder when we are expected to contribute to its defense. Though not entirely analogous, one can certainly make a case that given our dependence on one another in all other aspects of our lives, that we should be equally dependent on one another on the battlefield in meeting threats at home or abroad. It is by this logic, that I whole-heartedly support Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel’s (D-N.Y.) proposal to reinstate the draft to meet the challenge of possible intervention in Iraq.
Some would argue that when the threat is great enough and public support is high, there is no need to conscript a fighting force. This is not entirely the case. In the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II, a draft was utilized despite excellent public support for each conflict. Conscription helps solve the collective action problem, which in this case is the tendency for some or all of a population to assign military responsibility to others, but never themselves. The necessity of military action is not always connected with public support, especially given that the public rarely has all the facts. While in a perfect world we could be totally informed of every foreign policy initiative, national security dictates that this not be the case. Therefore, we must be expected to contribute to its resolution as a whole, regardless of how we perceive its legitimacy individually.
Furthermore, no one group should be asked to contribute more than any other to a cause which, if it is worthy, affects us all equally as U.S. citizens. I speak of the poor and of minorities, who at times have borne the brunt of U.S. foreign policy initiatives. It is well documented that while involved in Vietnam, the middle- and upper-classes avoided combat duty by seeking deferments at colleges and in a variety of other government services like the National Guard and the Peace Corps. Ironic, given that it was these same classes of men and women who ultimately were making the decision to expand and lengthen a war that ultimately cost more than 56,000 American lives. Many of these lives were of a class faceless and expendable to the social elites hurling them into a bloody and tragic guerrilla war. The rich and poor should be expected to serve as equals, especially with stakes as high as open combat, and a draft is one means to that end.
In the case of Vietnam, we too often refer to the draft as though it were the cause of the trauma. We blame the draft, when it was presidenta like John Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon Johnson who all made the decision to continue U.S. action in the name of the infamous “Domino Theory.” Certainly they were erroneous in believing that South Vietnam was the lynchpin of Southeast Asia and, in retrospect, action could have been avoided. Is Iraq a cause worthy of military action?
That remains to be determined, but perhaps the knowledge that it will not be the lower classes, but all Americans fighting and dying in this new war, that will ultimately stave off a second, potentially more dangerous Persian Gulf War. Diplomacy is always preferable to war, and perhaps the threat of a draft is enough to jolt President Bush from his persistent and reckless attitude toward what will certainly mean the deaths of thousands of Americans.
Rangel has hit a nerve with an otherwise complacent American populace. Content with the progress of the “War on Terrorism,” many Americans accept out of hand Bush’s allusions to a process he has dubbed “regime change,” making it sound more like housekeeping and less like what it is: the deadly serious confrontation with a cornered and dangerous leader.
Yet support for action remains very high. Americans are all too willing to support this war, but are they willing to send their son to fight? We should expect casualties. We should expect sacrifice. This sacrifice should not be borne on the backs of the poor as in past wars. Rangel’s proposal to reinstate the draft is, in many ways, a sort of litmus test for our commitment. Serious threats call for serious action and if we cannot justify a draft, how can we justify the war?
Adams is an LSA sophomore and a member of the Daily’s editorial board.