Charles Rangel on Why He Supports the Draft

He makes no qualms about it. He wants the draft not because he thinks it will make our military better but because it will make us weaker and less likely to go to war to defend ourselves in the future.

The question of whether we need a universal military draft will be important as long as this country is placing thousands of young men and women in harm’s way in Iraq. As long as Americans are being shipped off to war, then everyone should be vulnerable, not just those who, because of economic circumstances, are attracted by lucrative enlistment bonuses and educational incentives.

Even before the first bomb was dropped, before the first American casualty, I have opposed the war in Iraq. I continue to believe that decision-makers would never have supported the invasion if more of them had family members in line for deployment.

So, his argument is that everyone should be forced into the military because it will create the disincentive to defend ourselves should we be attacked and cause us to opt for more isolationist policies.

Those who do the fighting have no choice; when the flag goes up, they salute and follow orders. So far, more than 2,800 have died and 21,000 have been wounded. They are our unrecognized American heroes.

But Rangel is contradicting himself. On the one hand he says that it’s unfair that those who volunteer for the military are forced to “salute and follow orders,” yet his solution is to thrust this same unfair situation on everyone. That makes no sense.

The great majority of people bearing arms for this country in Iraq are from the poorer communities in our inner cities and rural areas, places where enlistment bonuses are up to $40,000 and thousands in educational benefits are very attractive. For people who have college as an option, those incentives – at the risk to one’s life – don’t mean a thing.

But this is where freedom of choice comes into play. Those who volunteer for the military do have a choice to go to college if they wish. I was an adjunct instructor at a local community college for a number of years, and those of my students who Congressman Rangel would categorize as poor and disadvantaged got access to college through a variety of grants, government programs, and other financial assistance. And if these students had children, even their childcare and gasoline costs were covered by the government if they went to college. And these college opportunities are available in every state, so where does Congressman Rangel get this idea that college is not an option for poor Americans?

In New York City, the disproportionate burden of service on the poor is dramatic. In 2004, 70% of the volunteers in the city were black or Hispanic, recruited from lower income communities such as East New York, Brooklyn; Long Island City, Queens, and the South Bronx.

So are the college opportunities I mentioned above not available to New York City’s disadvantaged students? If not, then I’d say, Rangel need to get on the stick and better serve his constituents. If they are, then why isn’t he advertising them better so his constituents have a choice? Besides, he’s indicting his own city’s lousy public education system for educating its students so poorly that they feel they have no choice but to enter the military.

The Bush administration, the Pentagon and some Republicans in Congress are considering deploying up to 20,000 more troops to Iraq, above the 141,000 already on the ground. Among the planners are Army Gen. John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, who has admitted the difficulty of finding additional combat troops for the war without expanding the size of the active-duty military

If Abizaid is right, increasing troop strength will mean dipping further into the reserves and National Guard units, which are already carrying an unfair burden of multiple deployments. The overstretched active-duty Army is filling the ranks in Iraq with stop-loss orders and extended deployments, and even recalls of the Individual Ready Reserves, active-duty veterans who have time remaining on their military obligations.

These facts lead me to wonder how anyone who supports the war cannot support the military draft, especially when the growing burden on our uniformed troops is obvious, and the unfairness and absence of shared sacrifice in the population cannot be challenged.

There’s that “shared sacrifice” again.

If this war is the threat to our national security that the Bush administration insists it is, then the President should issue a call for all Americans to sacrifice for the nation’s defense. If there must be a sacrifice, then the burden must be shared fairly.

And now we get down to crux of the situation. Congressman Rangel doesn’t buy into the fact that the war on terror is a threat to our country, which is why he is working to undermine it.

That is why I intend to reintroduce legislation to reinstate the military draft, making men and women up to age 42 eligible for service, with no exemptions beyond health or reasons of conscience. I believe it is immoral for those who insist on continuing the conflict in Iraq, and placing war on the table in Iran and North Korea, to do so only at the risk of other people’s children.

Good luck with that. The leaders of your caucus aren’t not pleased that you’re pushing the draft and are going to kill it. But then again, that means you can make your case without any fear of it hurting your party because it isn’t going anywhere.

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