Symposium

Article excerpt

Q: Is restoring universal military conscription in the United States a good idea?

YES: Those who call for war against Iraq should be willing to put their own sons and daughters in harm's way.

BY REP. CHARLES B. RANGEL

Rangel (D-N.Y) is serving his 16th term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee and serves on the Joint Committee on Taxation.

President George W. Bush and his administration have declared a war against terrorism that soon may involve sending thousands of U.S. troops into combat in Iraq. I voted against the congressional resolution giving the president authority to carry out this war--an engagement that would dwarf our military efforts to find Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.

But as a combat veteran of the Korean conflict, I believe that if we are going to send our children to war the governing principle must be that of shared sacrifice. Throughout much of our history, Americans have been asked to shoulder the burden of war equally. That's why I have asked Congress to consider and support legislation I have introduced to resume the military draft.

Carrying out the administration's policy toward Iraq will require long-term sacrifices by the American people, particularly those who have sons and daughters in the military. Yet the Congress that voted overwhelmingly to allow the use of force in Iraq includes only one member who has a child in the enlisted ranks of the military; just a few more have children who are officers.

I believe that if those calling for war knew that their children were likely to be required to serve--and to be placed in harm's way--there would be more caution and a greater willingness to work with the international community in dealing with Iraq. A renewed draft will help bring a greater appreciation of the consequences of decisions to go to war.

Service in our nation's armed forces no longer is a common experience. A disproportionate number of the poor and members of minority groups make up the enlisted ranks of the military, while the most privileged Americans are underrepresented or absent. We need to return to the tradition of the citizen soldier, with alternative national service required for those who cannot serve because of physical limitations or reasons of conscience.

There is no doubt that going to war against Iraq severely will strain military resources already burdened by a growing number of obligations. There are daunting challenges facing the 1.4 million men and women in active military service and those in our National Guard and Reserves. The Pentagon has said that as many as 250,000 troops may be mobilized for an invasion of Iraq. An additional 265,000 members of the National Guard and Reserves, roughly as many as were called up during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, also may be activated.

Already, we have long-term troop commitments in Europe and the Pacific, with an estimated 116,000 troops in Europe, 90,000 in the Pacific (nearly 40,000 in Japan and 38,000 in Korea) and additional troop commitments to operations in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere. There also are military trainers in countries across the world, including the Philippines, Colombia and Yemen. We can expect the evolving global war on terrorism to drain our military resources even more, stretching them to the limit.

The Bush administration has yet to address the question of whether our military is of sufficient strength and size to meet present and future commitments. Those who would lead us into war have the obligation to support an all-out mobilization of Americans for the war effort, including mandatory national service that asks something of us all.

The following is a partial transcript of Rep. Rangel's statements at a Capitol Hill press conference on Jan. 7 as published by Reuters:

As many of you know, I have introduced a bill that will require mandator military and national service for all of our young people, without exceptions for college or graduate courses, with the exception of allowing youngsters to finish high school at a given age. …