Columnists > Voices

Rough draft

Military conscription would now have to include women, which is why it won't happen

Issue: "Terrorism: Unmasked men," Oct. 16, 2004

There will be no military draft during a second Bush administration-nor in the administration of virtually anyone who makes it to the White House during the next generation. Count on it.

Of all the false charges the Bush campaign has had to fight off during the current campaign, none is more pernicious than the widespread rumor, circulated widely on the internet, that the president has a secret plan for reinstating the draft during his hoped-for second term.

Not that legislation leading to a draft hasn't been proposed. It has-but its sponsor has not been President Bush, who continued in the first presidential debate last week to assure the nation that the war on terrorism must be won with "an all-volunteer military." The legislation's sponsors have instead been some of President Bush's most virulent opponents, including Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who are using the issue as a back-door tool for opposing the war in Iraq.

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Nor is anything intrinsically wrong with a nation's setting up a systematic program for enlisting the services of its citizens to defend itself. A military draft, justly administered, is an appropriate way for a nation to populate its forces. Liberals and conservatives have disagreed through the years about the details-but they've typically agreed that the draft itself is not evil.

The reason I'm sure there won't be a draft anytime soon has nothing to do with who is and who isn't sponsoring the proposal. It has instead to do with an issue of political correctness that has now gotten so far out of control nobody dares to touch it.

There won't be a military draft anytime soon simply because the United States today, on the one hand, couldn't possibly reinstitute the draft without including women-but, on the other hand, wouldn't tolerate having its daughters and sisters included in a draft.

All it will take, you must understand, is for one litigious male draftee to sue with the argument that his selection for military service was unfair so long as no females had been entered in the draft lottery. Can anyone really imagine, with all the precedents that have now been laid down against gender discrimination, that the courts would say, on just this one issue, "OK-let's go back to the good old days"? Can anyone really imagine Sandra Day O'Connor or Ruth Bader Ginsburg caving in and saying that women should enjoy every other privilege in society but shouldn't be subject to this ultimate issue of defending the very society that had been so open to them on other fronts?

But all it will take, on the other hand, will be a few devoted fathers and brothers who might literally lay down their own lives to keep their daughters and sisters from being served with their Selective Service notices.

The confrontation is not a pretty one to think about. But neither is it one we should pretend isn't likely to occur in our society sometime soon.

The staffing of the American military, after all, is likely to become a more urgent issue, not a less urgent one, in the months and years just ahead. Altogether, about 2.3 million people wear U.S. military uniforms-including 1.4 million in the regular services and 900,000 in the National Guard and reserve services. Of all those people, 135,000 presently serve in Iraq, another 20,000 in Afghanistan, and nearly 40,000 in South Korea. That makes it sound like there's a pretty good personnel cushion.

The reality is, however, that this is a constantly revolving group of people-with large numbers constantly entering but sometimes even larger numbers ending their tours of duty. The Army National Guard, for example, had a goal of recruiting some 56,000 new soldiers this past year-but missed that goal by about 5,000 men and women. And you don't have to be a military expert to sense that we don't have a lot of people to spare out where the action is.

So Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry says he wants to expand the Army by 40,000 soldiers over present levels, while President Bush says he'll meet the needs by gradually moving troops from Korea to meet personnel needs in the Middle East. Either way, it's clear that we're plugging holes that didn't exist a few years ago. And it wouldn't take many flare-ups around the world to make those challenges a whole lot worse.

But even then, don't expect our leaders on any front to be out there even theoretically launching a discussion about a possible renewal of the draft. So long as they will also have to say what they think about drafting women, I think they'll follow a path of discretion and just shut up about the whole subject.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.


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