Archive for Saturday, May 25, 2002


May 25, 2002


Draft sign-up reluctance adds to the need for a better program  universal military training.

In many ways, the American system of all-volunteer armed forces has been a success. Not so favorable has been the citizenry's response to the voluntary Selective Service sign-ups by young men when they reach age 18.

There was a feeling that such reluctance might change after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes. It hasn't. So how much longer before the nation takes the practical approach and sets up a universal military training program to help us meet the challenges ahead?

Kansas' compliance rate for age-18 Selective Service sign-ups fell 5 percentage points from 2000 to 2001. The 9-11 tragedies were expected to produce a boost rather than a decline, everywhere. Maine and Montana also had a 5-point decrease for the same period, and Rhode Island led the way among the 50 states with a drop of 6 percentage points.

Bear in mind that these registrations are in no way connected with a "draft" such as existed in World War II. Federal law says most men living in the United States must register with the SS within 30 days of their 18th birthday. The goal is to know who might be available in an emergency. There has been no draft since 1973.

Even though it had a decrease of signees in the past year, Kansas' compliance rate of 86 percent is the same as the national average, which also dropped in 2001, but by only 1 percentage point. That is not reassuring.

Our adversaries are sure to be pleased by this development. They can take note of the suicide bombers who so willingly pay the ultimate price for their "causes" while the "fat, rich Americans" won't even sign up for a draft in an emergency. That has to be gratifying to the Osama bin Ladens and Saddam Husseins, as well as the people they allegedly serve.

They don't take into account how Americans have risen to pass severe tests in other years. Their memories are short about responses that have changed the world. But we too often have deadly lags.

There already are efforts to reinstate the military draft to make sure our military might is all it should be. Even better, however, in light of today's many threats, would be a universal military training plan. It could have every person 18 and beyond serving a full year of active duty and then staying on reserve status for say another five years.

Nations such as Switzerland and Sweden have such programs, which have the approval and support of both officials and citizens.

There are horrible stories about how the lack of American preparedness cost us in life and limb in World War II and the Korean War. Why should we set the stage for further debacles of such a nature?

A well-run universal military training program for both males and females could pay untold dividends and perhaps prevent more Pearl Harbors and 9-11's.

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