Democratic Representative Charles Rangel of New York has renewed his long-time quest to reinstate the military draft. While all signs from the incoming Democratic leadership indicate that the issue is dead in the water, Mr. Rangel's arguments still warrant examination, and refutation. His points, and my counterpoints, are presented here.
The first argument made by Rep. Rangel centers on the charge that elitist politicians are quick to commit to armed conflict because their children are not the ones being sent to fight. Mr. Rangel believes that having a draft will make it less palatable for the president and Congress to choose the military option when the possibility exists that their own children could be forced to go to war and die in some far away land.
Such an argument is not only ridiculous, it is one that should deeply offend the president and every member of the House and Senate. To accept this idea would be the equivalent of saying that the president and our elected officials in the Congress, because their kids are not directly affected, somehow consider our volunteer military as something less than human, not even worthy of the basic feeling and compassion our government representatives extend to their own children.
Rep. Rangel's second argument makes the claim that an all-volunteer military disproportionately puts the burden of conflict on minorities and lower-income families. However, in a report for Congress published in June of this year, the Congressional Research Service found that white soldiers accounted for about 74 percent of all deaths in Iraq and about 80 percent of all deaths in Afghanistan. African-Americans suffered 10 percent of the deaths in Iraq and 8 percent in Afghanistan, while Latinos/Hispanics accounted for 11 percent in Iraq and 9 percent in Afghanistan.
Simply put, the numbers just don't support Mr. Rangel's claim that an all-volunteer military unfairly puts the burdens of war on minorities. I was unable to find data for casualties by family income level, so that portion of Mr. Rangel's claim cannot be refuted with certainty. But the bottom line is that there is nothing unfair or biased about people choosing of their own free will to enlist in the Armed Forces. Reasons for joining are as varied as the individuals who make up the ranks, and range from economics to patriotism to family tradition and everything in between. What is unfair is to force people to serve in the military when they don't want to be there.
Mr. Rangel's final argument is that we cannot continue to confront countries like Iran and North Korea unless we have more forces available. The argument asserts that our military is stretched too thin and a draft would provide the government with desperately needed manpower for the Armed Forces.
There has been a lot of reporting by the mainstream media over the past couple of years detailing the reluctance of our nation's youth to choose military service when they risk being sent to active combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. It is true that enlistment rates lagged for a while, but have rebounded of late with all services, including the Army and Marine Corps (who are suffering the majority of casualties in the War on Terror), meeting or exceeding their recruiting goals.
The other side of the manpower coin, one that is often overlooked by the press, is retention, and it is just as important to manpower levels as first-time enlistments. While the number of new recruits decreased, the number of service men and women choosing to re-enlist skyrocketed, especially in units forward deployed to combat zones. Retention levels are at all-time highs and have compensated for those months when recruitment efforts fell short of desired goals.
What this tells us is that the government has done a terrible job selling this war. The average American doesn't understand what is at stake or what our military goals are. But the people actually doing the fighting understand, and they overwhelmingly choose to stay in rather than get out.
One other consequence of instituting a draft must be addressed here. Forcing people to serve in the military against their will produces an inferior force and lowers morale. The focus becomes one of numbers and not one of professionalism and competence. Discipline problems increase as people who want out focus their energies on achieving that goal, and not on the job for which they were drafted.
Ask anyone in the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps and they will all tell you the same thing: we want to fight alongside other people who want to be there with us. We don't want people who are forced to serve, because we cannot be sure that we can rely on them when the bombs start exploding and the bullets start flying.
Our volunteer force has produced a military that is unrivaled in its professionalism and ability. It is successful because quality people choose to join its ranks in service to their nation. While Representative Rangel's intentions may be well-placed, forcing individuals to serve against their wishes will weaken our force and crowd out those men and women who truly want the honor and privilege of wearing the uniform.