Washington – Known primarily through his combative, and self-confident, press conferences on C-SPAN, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has won boffo reviews from critics who rarely agree.
Rumsfeld’s “wit and charismatic candor” were praised on the liberal New York Times op-ed page, while the editorial page chief of the conservative Washington Times, proclaimed as “most charismatic” of the year the defense secretary “who’s the heartthrob of neo-cons and mature women around the country, and Republicans everywhere.”
Well, this is a different year, and in his first 2003 press conference, Rumsfeld shamefully smeared American veterans and then deliberately fibbed about how there is absolutely “no need ” to consider reinstating the draft because the nation’s all-volunteer military was, he assured us, working perfectly.
First, the smear of veterans. Speaking of the 11 million Americans who, during the Vietnam years, answered their country’s draft call and the 2 million who served in Vietnam, Rumsfeld alleged that these draftees “added no value, no advantage, really, to the United States armed services over any sustained period of time, because the churning that took place, it took enormous amount of effort in terms of training, and then they were gone.”
I’ll say “then, they were gone!” Of the 58,152 Americans who gave their lives in Vietnam 20,352 of them were draftees. How dare the secretary of defense say these good and brave Americans “added no value, no advantage, to the United States armed services?”
Why would he slander the sacrifice of these brave men, dishonor their memory and rub salt in their families’ wounds?
Certainly a man as smart as Rumsfeld knows that the draft was specifically intended to trigger volunteers. Faced with the certainty of a future draft call, many young men chose to “volunteer” because then they could select which branch of the service they preferred and, if qualified, the specialized training they desired.
So, the overwhelming majority of the American veterans — from 1940 to 1973 — had entered the service directly — or indirectly — because of the draft law.
Rumsfeld, himself, was “drafted.” He chose, after graduating from Princeton in 1954, to serve three years on active duty as a Navy aviator. More than two out of three of his Princeton classmates, also motivated by the reality of the draft, served on active duty. Two years ago — with no draft — exactly two members of the Princeton graduating class chose to become officers in the United States military.
Now to Rumsfeld’s fiction about the all-volunteer service. Asked about legislation introduced to re-institute the draft on the eve of war, Rumsfeld was emphatic: “We’re not going to re-implement the draft. There is no need for it at all. … We have people serving today — God bless ’em — because they volunteered. They want to be doing what it is they’re doing.”
Sounds good, except that it is not true. Two days after these unequivocal words, the United States Marine Corps — which reports to the secretary of defense — froze for the next 12 months every one of its 174,312 members currently on active duty. Marines who had completed their voluntary enlistments or their 20 years and had chosen to return to civilian life or retirement will instead remain, involuntarily, in the service.
Marines being Marines, they will answer their country’s call. But let us be clear: This action, along with other more limited freezes affecting other thousands in uniform imposed by the other services, means the volunteer U.S. military is no longer all-volunteer.
The unavoidable question that now must be answered by Rumsfeld and the president is not whether Americans ought to be “drafted” to defend the country, because we are already doing that, but exactly which Americans will be drafted.
Maybe the war-hawk Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill can now explain why it is more just to retain on active duty involuntarily an American who has fulfilled his voluntary obligation to his country than it would be to bring to active duty involuntarily those Americans — including the sons of senators and CEOs — who have yet to serve.
Now before the bullets fly and before the bombs drop and before the brave young widows again climb the hill at Arlington Cemetery, we must face that test of whether we have the will to stand together on individual sacrifice for the common good and determine whose brothers, whose sons and whose fathers will fight in war.