Inside the Capitol

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Will War Lead to Draft?

SANTA FE – John Edwards talks about “Two Americas.” It appears we also have two wars – the war according to the White House and Fox News and the war according to the rest of the media.
From the White House and Pentagon we hear the “untold” story of how well the rebuilding of Iraq is going and how re-enlistments are increasing, especially among troops serving in Iraq. And from most of the media, we hear of bombings, deaths, kidnappings and sabotage.
As usual, the truth undoubtedly lies somewhere in between. We know the media don’t report the good things that happen in our world – in Iraq or anywhere else. Actually they do. But it is on the inside pages or at the bottom of the news. The front pages and the top of the news are reserved for the unusual. Why? Because that is what we like to read and hear about.
I’ve never understood why we have to sit through 10 minutes of murders, fires and car wrecks before we get to the hard news. But television stations can afford to conduct frequent surveys on viewer preferences and that obviously is what most TV viewers prefer.
It is beginning to appear, however, that maybe there is more to the reporting of bad news than mere sensationalism. When we see National Guard units and members of the reserve having their Iraq duty extended involuntarily, we begin to wonder.
When we see all available mental health professionals in the reserves being recalled, including a 68-year-old retired psychiatrist, we wonder if the stories of falling morale and increasing suicides might have some truth to them.
When we see reservists with bright careers ahead of them being recalled because of their intelligence backgrounds, we begin to wonder even more.
When we read that the National Guard is expected to supply 43 percent of the troops in Iraq, we understand why the Guard, which used to fill its ranks quickly, now has to resort to recruiters, and still isn’t able to fill its ranks.
When we see a History Channel special explaining that for the first time in many wars, the United States now must depend on mercenaries to do much of its work, we wonder whether their casualties are included in the death counts released by the Pentagon, since they aren’t troops, but “contract employees” working for private companies.
We are told Iraq and Vietnam are completely different, but I begin to wonder when I remember that Vietnam began to come apart when individual soldiers began to conclude that their moral contract with the government had been broken. Fraggings increased and suicides increased to the point that reportedly more soldiers died by their own hand than in combat.
And many soldiers went home and opposed the war, as John Kerry did.
When that war ended, the government’s solution was to create a professional army to free it from the constant turnover of draftees who were sometimes hard to manage.
But the new professional force was feasible only if a large volunteer reserve and National Guard was available to back it up. Now, with over half of the troops in Iraq being either reserve or National Guard, we no longer have a professional army over there.
At this rate, don’t be surprised to see the draft reinstated soon after inauguration day. And that will open a whole new can of worms. Drafts never have been popular since they first were tried during the Civil War. They were used during the two world wars and even then caused resentment.
The last draft began during the Korean War and continued through Vietnam. It was laden with so many exemptions, deferments and special provisions that it became a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”
But then how much worse could it be than the present situation, which essentially amounts to a draft by a different name?


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