During the buildup to war, I got quite a bit of email from self-described young conservatives, telling me how wrong I was about the whole thing. I wonder what tune they will be singing when the ongoing quagmire and the need for young bodies necessitates the return of conscription, and deferments are not quite as easy to come by as they used to be.
The community draft boards that became notorious for sending reluctant young men off to Vietnam have languished since the early 1970s, their membership ebbing and their purpose all but lost when the draft was ended. But a few weeks ago, on an obscure federal Web site devoted to the war on terrorism, the Bush administration quietly began a public campaign to bring the draft boards back to life.
“Serve Your Community and the Nation,” the announcement urges. “If a military draft becomes necessary, approximately 2,000 Local and Appeal Boards throughout America would decide which young men … receive deferments, postponements or exemptions from military service.”
Local draft board volunteers, meanwhile, report that at training sessions last summer, they were unexpectedly asked to recommend people to fill some of the estimated 16 percent of board seats that are vacant nationwide.
Not since the early days of the Reagan administration in 1981 has the Defense Department made a push to fill all 10,350 draft board positions and 11,070 appeals board slots. Recognizing that even the mention of a draft in the months before an election might be politically explosive, the Pentagon last week was adamant that the drive to staff up the draft boards is not a portent of things to come. There is “no contingency plan” to ask Congress to reinstate the draft, John Winkler, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary for reserve affairs, told Salon last week.
Increasingly, however, military experts and even some influential members of Congress are suggesting that if Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s prediction of a “long, hard slog” in Iraq and Afghanistan proves accurate, the U.S. may have no choice but to consider a draft to fully staff the nation’s military in a time of global instability.
In the Vietnam War era, college boys could also duck combat, as George W. Bush did, by joining the National Guard.
But that’s all been changed. In a new draft, college students whose lottery number was selected would only be permitted to finish their current semester; seniors could finish their final year. After that, they’d have to answer the call. Meanwhile, National Guardsmen, as we’ve seen in the current war, are now likely to face overseas combat duty, too.