WASHINGTON – Trying to head off a proposal to reinstate the military draft, the Pentagon Monday disputed charges that blacks and poorer Americans bear an unfair burden in fighting the country's wars.
"Contrary to myth, data show that the enlisted force is quite representative of the civilian population," the Defense Department said in an 11-page paper arguing the merits of the all-volunteer force that has been in place for nearly 30 years.
The position paper was in response to a proposal by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., to require military service and other types of national service.
A veteran of the Korean War and opponent of military action in Iraq, Rangel says he believes Congress would be less likely to support war against Saddam Hussein if their children were the ones to be put in harm's way.
He said late last month that military service should be a "shared sacrifice" asked of all able young Americans and that minorities make up a "disproportionate number" of troops.
The Pentagon countered Monday that while blacks make up 20 percent of enlistees and only 12 to 14 percent of the general recruit-age population, there tends to be fewer in combat jobs. They make up only 15 percent of the combat force, while accounting for 36 percent of support and administration and 27 percent of medical and dental positions, the Pentagon said, citing a 1999 report.
On social and economic status, it said 32 percent of recruits come from homes where the father is a high school graduate compared to 31 percent of the general population in their age group. Twenty-two percent of recruits have fathers who have at least a college education, compared to 30 percent of the general population in their age group.
The paper was released at an hour-long briefing by a senior defense official who appeared before reporters on condition he not be identified by name.
Saying America's armed forces today are more professional and efficient because they are comprised of people who have chosen to join, the official said military leaders are "horrified by Mr. Rangel's proposal to return to the days when people were forced to serve."
Under the current system, however, men are still required to register with the Selective Service System within 30 days of their 18th birthday.