Families plan to skip military draft
ASHLAND, OREGON — Opposed to the Iraq war, some Ashland and Talent teens and their parents are getting their ducks in a row, fearing a revival of the military draft.
They are creating conscientious objector files and searching out safe-haven countries, all in case what they consider likely or even inevitable comes to pass, regardless of who is elected president.
Nationwide rumors of a renewed draft, dormant since the end of the Vietnam War, have reached fever pitch with a hotly contested presidential election and the Selective Service System’s stepped-up efforts to recruit volunteers for the 1,980 draft boards around the country. That attempt at readiness appeared to propel speculation that was already traveling fast.
The U.S. House moved quickly Tuesday to quell draft fears by killing a long-dormant Democrat-sponsored bill that would have required two years of mandatory military service. The House vote was 402-2, with only two Democrats voting for the measure.
Republicans charged that Democrats created the bill to stir up fear and distrust of the Bush administration, while Democrats countered that Tuesday’s quick vote avoids a substantive discussion of how the military will accomplish its goals in Iraq and elsewhere with a volunteer force that is stretched too thin.
Although she expressed her opinion for this article before Tuesday’s House vote, Beckie Elgin, mother of three teens, was clearly worried about the possibility.
“I’m very concerned and scared about it and so are my kids,” said Elgin. “The lives of our children are more valuable than any reasons we’re at war.
“… I’ll do whatever I have to do to not to let this happen. If it takes hiding them, I will.”
For the last five months, Ashland-based Peace House, the Quaker church and a committee of “worried, anxious parents” have set up a draft counseling network, said Ashland activist Wendy Harris, mother of four boys ages 13 to 21.
“About 20 people came to the first meeting where we all shared our fears about the draft coming back,” she said. “The issue is resonating in the community.”
Many peace activists, conscientious objectors and military veterans from the Vietnam War era have joined the effort, creating a volunteer staff that will conduct training on draft resistance, Harris added.
One veteran of the 1970s draft-resistance movement, Dr. Robin Rose of Ashland, said she’s advising teen patients who have a “particular appreciation for world peace” on the need to establish their status as conscientious objectors early on, because “you just can’t show up and say you’re a CO like in the old days.”
Rose said she sees this as part of her “holistic health perspective to help patients not participate in military action, because it’s bad for their health.”
Rose said a well-documented file for conscientious objectors could include letters from ministers, doctors and others attesting that the draft-age person has a long, deeply held belief in peace that precludes participating in military conflict and committing violence against other humans.
Ashland High School nurse Susan Bizeau, mother of an 18-year-old boy, said they found guidance on the Web — even from the Selective Service’s own Web site — on how to apply for conscientious objector status to avoid the draft.
Bizeau’s son has joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a longtime interfaith peace group. She also said her son practices Tibetan Buddhism, whose followers vow not to kill.
While Bizeau’s son didn’t want to register with Selective Service as required by law when he turned 18, he did to get access to college financial aid, she said.
Many parents have filed forms with Ashland High School requesting their child’s name not be reported to the Selective Service during their junior year as required by President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, said Principal Jeff Schlecht, who mails the “opt-out forms” quarterly with the school’s newsletter to parents.
Schlecht also enforces a policy barring military recruiters on campus except in counseling offices and only if a student requests an appointment.
Army recruiter Sgt. 1st Class James Kaetzel of Medford said schools provide a list of all students and that becomes the database for volunteer recruiting.
Krista Johnson, mother of two teen boys, said she’s “alert, but not joining in the hysteria” because stories on National Public Radio have reported Congress will not revive the draft. She has not started conscientious objector files for her sons.
But others see what they think is a clear slide toward mandatory military service.
“Anytime you’re attacked on your own soil, it’s a different ball game,” Bizeau said. “If there aren’t enough soldiers to fight and if the National Guard isn’t allowed to come home after one and two tours, it’s only logical the draft will be used.”
Harris agreed: “Both Bush and Kerry say ‘no draft,’ but they’re also not elected yet. If there’s another terror attack or if we go to war in Iran or North Korea, there won’t be enough troops.”
Harris said she is researching countries that wouldn’t extradite draft evaders and so far has come up with Nigeria, New Guinea and the Seychelles Islands.
“My sons are very dedicated to peace,” said Harris. “Most kids can’t grasp what’s happening, but we should all have a plan. I’m in wait-and-see mode now, but I wouldn’t rule out leaving the country. It’s just not my first choice to live on a Third World island for the duration.”
John Darling is a free-lance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at email@example.com
The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.