Rethink the draft

John C. Reiger is a Sacramento Peace and Freedom Party activist and former candidate for Congress.

How does the occupation of Iraq differ from the Vietnam War? From my perspective as an anti-war activist during both conflicts, the major difference is that this war really doesn’t affect many Americans. There is no draft that might reach out and take you, your son or daughter, your brother or sister. If every draft-age American were a potential participant, I believe there would be a lot more opposition to the current U.S. military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Should we bring back the draft in order to foster more anti-war sentiment, as Representative Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., suggests? That drastic tactic might work, though neither the anti-war movement nor the country as a whole support the reinstitution of a draft. But there are reasons to reconsider the anti-war movement’s rejection of the draft.

The current so-called “volunteer” system has resulted in a military that does not reflect society. It is filled with economic draftees, along with some military-minded true “volunteers.” It’s basically a mercenary military that the Pentagon bribes people to join. Fewer and fewer citizens have any military experience, which makes it hard to judge military advice and options.

But if we are going to start a new draft, let’s not go back to the old one. Let’s think about how a new draft might be structured. It should be part of a new Citizen Service Corps, where military service would be just one possible choice. Other options might include the Peace Corps, community service in neglected neighborhoods or rural areas, environmental-restoration efforts, or other service needs that the country decides upon. Terms of service could help channel people to areas of greatest need.

It must include everyone. No more deferments for college, marriage, privileged connections, religious reasons or disability. Everyone can contribute something. A short period of “basic training” for everyone prior to their eventual assignments might be useful to recapture a sense of shared experience that seems to be fading in contemporary America.

A Citizen Service Corps with a universal draft might not stop the current military disaster or the next war, but it could be the beginning of a renewed sense of community involvement in this country, with a recommitment to the progressive ideals of community involvement, equality, compassion and democracy.