Commentary Magazine


Water Still Wet, Sun Still Rises In East, Rangel Still Out To Destroy The Military

Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) is trying to distract Americans from his tax problems by resurrecting a bad idea he’s brought up many times before: the return of military conscription. In other words, the man in charge of writing tax laws is hoping we’ll forget that he couldn’t be bothered to obey said laws himself and focus instead on the contemptuous nonsense he is now uttering with regard to our military recruitment-structure.

For most of its history, the United States — like most nations — relied on conscription to man its military, though women were never subjected to the draft. This became a major rallying point against the Viet Nam war, because any young man could find himself in uniform, toting a gun, fighting in a war he not only did not support, but actively opposed. The draft was abolished in 1973, and the U.S. withdrew its troops from Viet Nam shortly thereafter.

At the time, Nixon’s plan to phase out the draft and replace it with an all-volunteer military was highly controversial. There were plenty of critics who worried it would cripple the military, leaving it woefully short of volunteers.

They were right — in the short run. It took several years for the all-volunteer military to recover from the shock delivered to its system but, in the long run, retiring the draft was definitely a successful policy. It took years for voluntary enlistment to reach a critical point, but eventually military service shifted from being seen as a burden to being seen as a calling. The military soon found that it had to work a bit harder to “sell” itself to young men (and, increasingly, to young women) to persuade them to put on their nation’s uniform.

It worked. Boy, has it worked! The term “all-volunteer military” fell out of favor, supplanted by “professional military,” which is a more accurate characterization. Continuously replenished with talent that not only wanted to be there, but had to prove worthy of the challenges, our military became better and better, attaining a degree of sophistication and efficiency that is unparalleled anywhere in the world. Rangel thinks something needs fixing in all this?

Rangel, at least, is honest in why he wants to bring back the draft: he wants to fire up more opposition to the war in Iraq. Apparently he’s a bit behind on developments that have occurred there in the last year or so. Understandable, I guess; he’s been busy not paying his taxes, not obeying rent-control laws, ignoring political-contribution regulations, dismissing rules of the House parking garage, and whatnot. It’s been a rough year for Mr. Rangel.

The anti-war movement has been seriously impaired in their effort to cast Iraq as Vietnam in part because one essential feature to warrant any parallel was missing: the draft. All U.S. troops in Iraq are volunteers, and their reenlistment rate is actually higher than among troops deployed elsewhere. There is not a single American serviceman or servicewoman in Iraq who did not choose to serve. No one in the U.S. has any reason to fear being dragged into the military by force and sent off to Iraq.

As noted, the U.S. military is more powerful than any other country’s in the world. It is the most professional, most capable, and most flexible force in the world. Rangel, of course, just cannot let that be.

The military is not sufficiently “diverse” for Rangel’s standards: it’s filled with too many people from the lower socio-economic strata, and not enough from the more privileged classes. If more families were invested in the military by having their sons — and possibly daughters — forced to serve, the theory goes, then there would be greater internal pressure to refrain from warfare. In essence, Rangel wants to use America’s youths as hostages.

Rangel has been unrelenting on this pseudo-argument since the beginning of the Iraq war — his efforts culminating in one of the most entertaining moments in political history: In 2004 Rangel was pushing his perennial draft bill when the Republicans, in a whimsical bluff, decided to fast-track it by putting it — unaltered — to a House vote.  It failed by 402 to 2, with Rangel himself bitterly complaining as he voted against his own measure. Apparently, to Rangel, taking him at his word and presuming he would like to have a bill he submitted being given a chance to pass into law is “playing political games.”

If the draft is reinstated there will be greater popular reluctance to use the military: not out of a sense of “protecting our children,” but in recognition of the military’s decreased effectiveness. There would be a schism between those who serve in the military because they want to, and those who are there because they have no other choice.

If Rangel is set on purposefully destroying our military on purpose, he couldn’t have found a better way.

He is attempting to use the military as an experimental body for his social engineering schemes. But the military is not to be toyed with: It is the strong right arm of the United States, tasked with the responsibility of manually carrying out international policy when things get unruly. Anything impairing its ability to perform this vital role needs to be weighed extremely carefully. In the specific case of reinstating the draft, let’s paraphrase Dorothy Parker:“This is not an idea to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

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