By J. E. McNeil (published in the Friends Journal)
I was surprised and troubled to see an article in Friends Journal that concludes that Quakers should, “demand that the draft be cranked up again.” The opinion offered in Larry Ingle’s article, “A Quaker Reconsiders the Draft” is ill informed and drags out the same tired arguments liberals trot out from time to time.
The Military Selective Service Act did not expire in June 1973 even though that’s when the government stopped drafting people. In fact, many Quakers and others working the issue at the time knew that since the Military Selective Service Act was not repealed in 1974, but just put into deep standby, the draft was likely to rear its ugly head again. And it did in 1980, when President Carter resumed draft registration under the Military Selective Service Act. Congress did not have to pass any new laws in 1980; it only appropriated money to register young men under the law that actually never went away.
The registration, which continues today, created a crisis of conscience for many conscientious young men who saw registering for the draft as a form of participating in war, which violated their Quaker beliefs. The government’s refusal to allow young men to register as conscientious objectors made the crisis even greater. Some were prosecuted for refusing to register, many lived years with the threat of prosecution as felons for being true to their religious beliefs. Others reluctantly complied with the law in violation of sincerely held beliefs. Since then laws that require registration with Selective Service in order to get government financial aid to attend college or to get federal job training or jobs has coerced many to register and, more recently, laws linking registration to obtaining a drivers license have coerced many to register. These laws have made life very difficult for those who cannot in good conscience participate in the Selective Service registration. Nevertheless many Quaker men refuse to register each year.
Ingle essentially makes the same tired and false arguments that have been argued by liberals for years: that a draft would be more fair than our current poverty draft, resulting in military demographics being more like a cross section of our culture, and the broader demographics of the military would “provide a powerful restraint on the military.” Meaning that war would be less likely because a cross section of the culture, not just poor folks but those with political clout, would be facing the possibility of going into battle.
Ingle states that in the wars since the draft ended, “Those brought home in coffins tend to have fewer resources, be black or brown, more rural or small town whites. Mark it carefully: the end of the draft shifted the burden of the war to them, and they enjoy precious little of the influence that counts in the United States—wealth, power and education.”
Having grown up in what was called a cannon-fodder neighborhood during the Korean and Vietnam eras I can tell you personally how false that assumption is. But the statistical evidence bears me out at well.
The book Chance and Circumstance (Baskir and Strauss, Vintage, 1978) is considered the definitive book on the Vietnam Generation, and the effects of the draft at the time. The authors ran President Ford’s “earned re-entry” program. This book quotes noted army historian Gen. S. L. A. Marshall about Vietnam, “In the average rifle company, the strength was 50% composed of Negroes, Southwestern Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Guamanians, Nisei, and so on. But a real cross section of American youth? Almost never.” (p.8)
Chance and Circumstance also cited a survey of Chicago neighborhoods that they described as “the most significant study thus far” which discovered that youths from low income neighborhoods were three times as likely to die in Vietnam as youths from high income neighborhoods, and those from neighborhoods with low educational levels four times as likely to die in Vietnam.
In fact, the draft was not the equalizer that Ingle described. Even if you eliminate student deferments and other loopholes that were used by those with political clout, as Ingle has suggested, you will still not get the equalization Ingle imagines. He says “There would have to be a provision for conscientious objection.” The essay questions and interviews required for a successful CO draft application obviously favor those who are better educated. We are constantly reminded of this at the Center as we work daily on applications for CO discharge from the military.
Even if the only exemption is for medically disqualifying conditions, Baskir & Strauss once again point out, “In 1966, the only year for which racial data was published, a mentally qualified white youth was 50 percent more likely than his black counterpart to fail the preinduction physical.” (p. 47) Notice that this is the case even though Blacks are sicker than whites as dozens of studies and reports have borne out. http://academic.udayton.edu/health/07humanrights/racial01b.htm being just one of them. This is no surprise when you think about it. After all who is going to have access to the information? The person who has their medical records from since before they were born; or the person who went to this free clinic and that emergency room or no doctor at all?
So the notion that the draft did, or could, create a military that is a cross section of society is at best an illusion.
Does a draft stop or prevent wars? The U.S. had an active draft continuously (except for 1 year) from 1940 to 1973. How many wars did the U.S. fight during those years? How many wars did the draft stop? The Vietnam War continued until 1975, 2 years after the U.S. stopped drafting people. Nixon–a Quaker who served in the military during WWII–ended the draft in the hopes that doing so would end the demonstrations, but he was wrong.
Ingle does make a couple of legitimate observations. It is true that pervasive and invasive military recruiting increased dramatically once the draft was no longer actively forcing people into the military. And facing the draft did force more young Quakers to take a personal stance than registration does today.
Clearly acting on the peace testimony at that level has not happened since the active draft forced so many young men into that position.
On the other hand, there is no evidence at all that a resumption of an active draft would reduce the militarization of our youth and our culture. Ingle acknowledges that that change “will be difficult to eradicate.”
I find the suggestion that we as a religious group who generally oppose participation in any war should encourage the government to draft the poor who managed to avoid the clutches of the military recruiters because we have failed making the peace testimony real to our children particularly disturbing. If we want young Quakers seriously to respond to the peace testimony, isn’t that something that should be accomplished by the Society of Friends ourselves, not imposed on our children by the government? It would be sanctimonious at best for Quakers, knowing their children will largely and easily be recognized as conscientious objectors, to advocate imposing this kind of burden on the population at large as a method to force their young people to take the Peace Testimony more seriously!
Finally I would note that the conscientious objection Ingle says “would have to be” protected is a narrow definition, those “who ‘utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fighting with outward weapons, for any end…whatsoever.’” He advocates continuing to enshrine into law an exemption for Quakers, Mennonites, Brethren and other pacifists. What about the good Catholic, who reads his Bible and church doctrines and concludes the particular war for which he is being drafted to fight, violates his beliefs? (or Presbyterian or Muslim or atheist or others) The law that Ingle says Quakers should “demand” would force many of these people to either violate their religious beliefs, or go to jail. The Center has joined with many from different faith traditions which support the Just War doctrine, to expand the definition for the members of the military. This is where our energy should go.
Because I would hope never to have to lobby to expand the definition of a conscientious objector for a military draft, because there never should be one.