Talk of reinstating military draft persists

Kansans in Congress say they won’t support efforts by some colleagues to revive the military draft.

Still, with the United States at war, suspicion persists that once the November elections are over what is politically unpopular could happen.

After all, who three years ago would have predicted 150,000 U.S. troops, many of them reserves and National Guard forced to serve extended tours, would be fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Congressman Jerry Moran, a Republican who represents the state’s expansive 1st District, said a high school teacher from Hays visited his office the other day and asked him on behalf of her concerned students whether the draft would be restarted.

“It’s an issue that certainly catches the attention of young people,” Moran said.

But Moran said the draft wasn’t needed. Congress is moving to increase the Army by 10,000 troops and the Marines Corps by 3,000, he said.

The argument that a draft would produce a military force that is more representative of American society doesn’t wash, he said, because the current use of reservists and guardsmen pulls in people from all walks of life.

“There isn’t a Kansas community that doesn’t have a son, mother, father, daughter, that is stationed in Iraq or involved in this,” he said.

Most of Moran’s congressional colleagues seem equally convinced a new draft shouldn’t happen.

Bills in the House and Senate to reinstate the draft in 2005 have languished with little support. Both President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have repeatedly said they didn’t want to restart the draft.

U.S. Navy recruiters Rob Parsons, left, and Dave Iltzsch, right, talk with Andy Lowder 17, a 2004 Lawrence High School graduate, about the options in the Navy. Lowder was checking out education prospects and job possibilities that come with military service.

Suspicions nonetheless

But despite the politicians’ assurances, the possibility of a new draft remains on the minds of many youths and parents, said Barry Zellen of Boston, who constructed the Web site He describes the site as a place for people to share ideas, fears and insights about the draft.

The Web site’s visits have grown tenfold as the anti-occupation insurgency in Iraq has mushroomed, Zellen said.

He said the Middle East had become increasingly chaotic and toppling Saddam Hussein had allowed al-Qaida to make inroads into the region.

“It’s not clear if we could sustain a long-term campaign to pacify the region militarily with our current manpower,” he said. “By some accounts, our troops are pretty worn out, and with the extensions of tours of duty of both reserve and regular military personnel pushing their limits, a draft could become a military necessity.”

Making the case

The draft ended in 1973 near the end of the Vietnam War.

U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., the author of the current compulsory-service bill in the House, has said that the all-volunteer force is unfair because it is largely made up of the nation’s underclass.

Others have said that drafting soldiers from all segments of society would put political pressure on national leaders to focus more on diplomacy rather than armed conflict. Few top officials in the Bush administration or Congress have family serving in the military.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., has said the security problems in Iraq may force the United States to re-examine the draft.

“There’s not an American … that doesn’t understand what we are engaged in today and what the prospects are for the future,” Hagel said in a published report. “Why shouldn’t we ask all of our citizens to bear some responsibility and pay some price?”

On standby

Meanwhile, the Selective Service, a civilian agency that registers men ages 18 to 25 in case a draft is started, is on perpetual standby.

Ironically, the agency spends a lot of time trying to debunk rumors about an upcoming draft and downplays the possibility even as it prepares for one.

The agency prepares for a possible draft by maintaining thousands of voluntary boards across the country that would, if a draft were reinstated, review requests for deferments from the military.

Roland Hurst, a retired electronic technologist from KU, is the Lawrence representative on the review board that covers Douglas, Lyon, Wabaunsee, Osage and Coffey counties. Appointments to the board are for 20 years, and he has served on it since 1992, officials said.

Hurst said he had heard nothing about restarting the draft and added, “I hope we never have to have it.”

Kansas delegation

The draft won’t come back if Kansans in Congress have their way.

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican and a former Marine, summed up the opinion from the Kansas delegation, saying, “A draft is not only unnecessary, it’s also undesirable. Today’s Army — the finest army in the world — is the result of the elimination of the draft and the establishment of the all-volunteer force. No current threat justifies re-establishing the draft.”

Lawrence’s two congressmen, U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, a Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun, a Republican, agreed.

“It’s not going to happen,” Moore said. “The volunteer service is working well right now.”

Kansas’ other representatives, Moran and Todd Tiahrt, a Republican from Wichita, also oppose the draft. U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, a Republican, could not be reached for comment.

De facto draft

Moore and Moran said they had expressed concern about extensions of tours of duty for reservists and guardsmen.

“That’s almost like a de facto draft,” Moore said. He said he had met with Rumsfeld and asked that this problem be addressed.

“We don’t need finger-pointing but a discussion and to arrive at some consensus. When you tell people they are going to be in service for one year, they have an understanding and accept that,” he said. “But then they unilaterally change the rules.”