Experts see military draft as inevitable

News Journal (Delaware)

Experts see military draft as inevitable

Anti-war activists fear revival of selective service

There may come a day when Uncle Sam wants Wayne Flenniken for the U.S. Army.

In many ways, he’s an ideal candidate for military service. At 15, he already has finished high school and is enrolled at Delaware Technical & Community College studying Spanish and English. There is a problem, however. Wayne doesn’t want any part of Uncle Sam’s Army – or anyone else’s, for that matter.

“I don’t believe in war and I don’t like the military in any way, shape or form,” he said. “I don’t think anyone should be forced to die prematurely.”

That’s why he went to a draft resistance training session Friday in his hometown of Newark. It’s why Wayne has begun building his case as a conscientious objector.

The United States no longer has a military draft and hasn’t since 1973, when it converted to an all-volunteer military.

But some anti-war activists say it’s only a matter of time before the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress bring it back. Meanwhile, conservatives and moderates outside the administration have taken a hard look at America’s military commitments and are urging Congress to beef up the Army and Marines.

Many elected officials say there is no way the draft will be brought back any time soon.

“Our current all-volunteer force is highly effective, well-trained, well-disciplined and capable of handling our global and national security commitments,” said Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del. “[Defense] Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs of Staff have continuously stated their opposition to reviving the draft and the House of Representatives overwhelmingly rejected such a proposal last year. I personally oppose it.”

Others aren’t so certain.

“I don’t see the need for a draft, but we need to prepare now in order to avoid having one forced on us in the future,” said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. “We can reduce the stress we are placing on our armed forces by increasing the number of ground troops in the Army and Marine Corps and bringing the size of our military in line with our expanded responsibilities in a post-9/11 world,” he said.

Looking for help

A few believe, however, that the White House should get other nations to share the burden in Iraq.

“We have 12 [combat] divisions and 10 are locked down in Iraq, either coming or going,” said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del. “Our ability to have any flexibility with ground forces anywhere else is diminished. If we had to move into Iran, Syria, North Korea or anywhere else, we’d be in real difficulty.”

In addition, he said, “we have absolutely spent, exhausted, and in some instances misled the National Guard and the reserves. I’ve been in Baghdad and Fallujah and I’ve spoken with them. When they enlisted in the Guard, they never anticipated being sent for two tours of duty in Iraq lasting a year or 18 months. We can’t keep asking citizen soldiers to do that.”

In a highly critical memo on the use of Reservists, Lt. Gen. James Helmly said virtually the same thing late last year. Helmly, chief of the Army Reserve, said that “overuse” in Iraq and Afghanistan could result in a “broken force.”

Biden co-sponsored legislation with Republican Sen. John McCain and others that allows the Army to increase its active duty strength by 30,000 troops. The Defense Department said earlier this month that it expects to meet that goal by 2007.

Anti-war activists agree with Biden and Helmly that the military needs additional troops.

“We already have our troops stretched to the limit,” said J.E. McNeil, executive director of the Center on Conscience & War. The Guard and Reserve cannot continue to provide about 40 percent of the nation’s combat troops, Biden said.

As a result, McNeil and other anti-war activists such as Sally Milbury-Steen, executive director of the Wilmington-based peace organization Pacem in Terris, said they think a draft is on the horizon.

“I think there’s a very good chance of a military draft in the next two years. We have soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq and now they’re heating up the rhetoric on Iran. Where else will the soldiers come from?” Milbury-Steen asked.

Peace activists aren’t the only ones thinking seriously about compulsory military service. In a well-publicized letter sent to congressional leaders in late January, conservatives and moderates said flatly that “the United States military is too small for the responsibilities we are asking it to assume.”

In that letter, retired military leaders such as Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey joined with defense analysts such as Michele Flournoy and political commentators such as William Kristol in asking Congress “to take the steps necessary to increase substantially the size of the active duty Army and Marine Corps. … it is our judgment that we should aim for an increase in the active-duty Army and Marine Corps, together, of at least 25,000 troops each year over the next several years.”

They do not call for a draft but anti-war activists say they see no other certain way to boost military strength.

“The most probable way they will start is to do a selected draft of medical people, those with specialized computer skills, and those with Arabic language skills and let it spread further,” Milbury-Steen said.

‘Everything is in place’

If a new draft law is enacted, the government could start sending new recruits to military training very quickly. The reason: Former President Jimmy Carter put the framework of the current Selective Service system in place in 1980. Although Carter never activated it, as part of the framework, young men must register with the government when they turn 18.

That means, Milbury-Steen said, that new recruits could be sent to boot camp within two weeks of the draft law’s passage.

“Everything is in place, ready to go,” she said.

Charles Pena, director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, a conservative Washington-based think tank, does not see a military draft in the future. Instead, he said, the federal government is more likely to require compulsory national service.

“We won’t have a draft like we had in the Vietnam era,” Pena said. “There are two important stumbling blocks to bringing that back. First, what do you do about women? They weren’t drafted before but are now an important part of the military. Second, what happens if someone who is drafted says that he or she is a homosexual?”

Discussion reflects support

There is no groundswell for national service legislation now, Pena said, but it is being discussed by lawmakers and at policy seminars throughout the nation’s capital.

“It’s lurking right below the surface. There are enough people willing to get behind it on Capitol Hill that it’s something that could be done. Right now no one’s pushing for it, but just as importantly, no one’s pushing against it,” he said.

Under national compulsory service, no one would be exempt, he said. People could join the military or perform some other form of community service, Pena said.

Newark resident Jane Curschmann isn’t sure there will be a draft. She went to last week’s anti-draft training because she has a 13-year-old son and wanted to be better informed about his rights. Judy Butler also attended the session. She doesn’t know if there will be a draft but is suspicious of the Bush administration’s forceful denials that there are plans to reinstitute one.

“I have a problem with credibility with this particular administration,” she said.

Wayne Flenniken’s father, Eric, a former Army Reservist, went to the draft resistance training with his son because, while he doesn’t have a problem defending the country from enemies, he has a problem sending his son to fight in Iraq.

“I used to be gung-ho when I was younger but this war in Iraq, it all boils down to oil and oil interests. You want to send my son to Iraq to defend Enron? No,” he said, “I don’t think so.”

Contact Mike Billington at 324-2761 or

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