1/3/2007 2:53:00 PM Guest Column Reviving draft is an ill-advised idea
By Rep. TIM JOHNSON For The Daily News
I return for service in the 110th Congress Jan. 3 and a very different world it will be.
The leaders of this new Congress have promised many changes involving health care, taxes, ethics reform and other issues. As always, I intend to work for the best possible outcomes for the 15th Congressional District and the nation. As a co-founder of the Center Aisle Caucus in Congress, our mission as centrists in trying to craft bipartisan solutions will become even more critical.
However there is one issue gaining traction for which I can foresee no middle ground. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., has been promoting nonstop his hopes of reinstituting the military draft. As the incoming chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Rangel appears to believe he has new leverage to push this ill-advised idea forward.
In no uncertain terms, I oppose a military draft. I opposed it when Rep. Rangel introduced similar legislation in 2003. That bill was defeated 402-2 the following year. Again in 2006, he proposed compulsory military service for men and women ages 18-42. And again, it went nowhere.
For 33 years, the volunteer military service has worked well. All branches of the service have been able to meet their recruitment goals, and with men and women above the national average both intellectually and socio-economically. The Army alone is signing up recruits at the rate of 108 percent, due in part to Congress having increased military pay and education benefits and otherwise improving the quality of life for servicemen and women and their families.
Members of the voluntary military are now far more experienced than they were under the draft, with two-thirds of the force having served at least six years. That means they are there by choice, with the morale and sense of mission that does not occur when choice is not an option. The result is the most professional, the most sophisticated and most envied military in the world.
That could not be said during the Vietnam era. During the Vietnam War, only 10 percent of draftees chose to reenlist after their first two years. Morale, training and experience were at dangerously low levels. Something had to be done. We overhauled the armed services and made the military something we can be proud of.
Our nation is now troubled and divided over what our military is being asked to do overseas. But that divisiveness has to do with direction, not capability.
That capability too would soon be in question if Rep. Rangel succeeds in converting a voluntary military to what amounts to involuntary servitude. Are our memories that short? The images of thousands of young people demonstrating in the streets across the country, burning their draft cards and fleeing to Canada in the 1960s are still vivid in my mind. It was a wrenching time, far more so than now, and I don't want our country to have to experience that again. We treasure our free society. Compulsory military service is incompatible with both the ideal of a free society as well the goal of an effective and professional fighting force.
Rep. Rangel has also raised the notion of some kind of national service as an alternative for those who would not want to serve in the military. That to me still sounds like involuntary servitude. It also portends the creation of even more bureaucracy to manage the people.
I foresee pressure to provide the same pay and the same range of benefits, from education to medical care, as we now try to provide, albeit insufficiently, to our military and veterans. I also see a national service model as a convenient and easily manipulated escape for the well-heeled and politically connected to send their sons and daughters to avoid military service. Such an eventuality wholly undercuts the idea of spreading military obligations across the many.
It is my hope and expectation Rep. Rangel's ideas go nowhere. Nothing could be worse for our military.
Rep. Tim Johnson represents Illinois' 15th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.