THERE ARE THOSE who believe that it is dark and evil for a government to require citizens to serve in the military. For example, Ira Glasser, executive director of the ACLU, which brought the suit overturning draft registration, speaks of the plaintiffs in the case -- including his own son -- as exhibiting "the kind of anxiety you see in people who are facing jail or an indictment."
Despite the attention such emotions receive, they hardly seem representative in our society. If draft registration is so anxiety-producing, why do the Gallup Polls show more than 80 percent of the people in the eligible age group favoring it? If military service is akin to spending time in the joint, why did the recent Harris survey of Vietnam veterans show 91 percent of those who served in Vietnam proclaiming that they were glad they had served their country, and 74 percent stating that they actually enjoyed their time in the service? The individuals and groups which continue to advance the notion of military service as anathema are clearly not speaking for those who have undergone the experience itself.
This paradox is typical of the anti-draft rhetoric in general. Selective arguments which strain credulity are being advanced as typical of a large portion of our society, when in truth they seem designed to protect again the children of the advantaged from being called upon to share the burden of national defense. For instance, how many of us actually believe:
1. That a draft causes war?
This often used argument is somewhat like claiming that insurance causes death. The allegation usually invokes Vietnam as historial precedent and goes on to mention that an inequitable draft got us into that war, while an equitable draft -- meaning when the sons of the middle-class marched off to war -- brought a swift end to American involvement.
First of all, the draft hasn't caused any of our wars; international events have. On the other hand, considering that two-thirds of our World War II soldiers were draftees, it is a good thing the draft was in place when events drew us into that war. Second, if an unfair draft got us into Vietnam, and a fair draft got us out, what kind of a check against adventurism is the most inequitable draft of all? Conscription exists today: economic conscription, which draws on the poor and minorities in a way that makes the Vietnam draft seem profoundly representative. Without the renewal of the draft, a majority of the army will be black or brown by 1982.
Detractors of the draft now advance these figures as evidence that the military helps "unemployables," giving them a shot at "mobility." This rhetoric would quickly fade when 70 percent of the bodybags in our next encounter carry black soldiers home to Harlem while the men of Harvard go off to graduate school.
2. That a peacetime draft is contrary to the principles of democracy?
Such an argument might have been credible under old concepts of "war" and "peace." For instance, it was seven months from the time the United States declared war on Germany in World War I until the first American unit engaged the Germans in battle. Today, we no longer have that luxury.
As one example among many, Israeli intelligence estimated last fall that the Russian military now has the capability to airlift two elite armies (not divisions, armies) into the Arabian peninsula and the Horn of Africa in 36 to 72 hours. At that point, we would still be a couple of months away from putting our first inductee into the front gate of basic training. This reality is recognized by the bulk of our allies, as well as many self-proclaimed libertarian societies. Sweden, Switzerland, Israel, Belgium, West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Greece and Turkey, among others, all employ the draft.
3. That a draft, as well as draft registration, sends no "message" to our adversaries?
In September 1979, the Congress, at the urging of President Carter, overwhelmingly defeated a draft registration proposal that had cleared the Committee on Armed Services with only four dissenting votes. hWithin three months, the Iranians had taken over the American embassy and the Soviets were in Afghanistan. Was there a different sort of "message" sent by this vote regarding America's lack of will, that may have contributed to these events? Conceivably.
Another "message," too often overlooked, is the signal that an act as perfunctory as draft registration sends to Americans themselves. We are a part of something bigger than ourselves as individuals. The trek to the Post Office is an affirmation of that reality.
4. That the draft discriminates against women, denigrating the notion of sexual equality?
That is what the appellate court in Philadelphia ruled last week. But equal does not mean the same. Our country is not seriously considering proposals for national service but for selective , military service. Military service is overwhelmingly a male responsibility in every country in the world.
Israel, which is under enormous manpower constraints, is the only country to draft women, and the function of these female soldiers is highly restricted, almost exclusively to administrative or technical roles. The Soviets, who suffered 7 million combat deaths in World War II and thus used some women out of necessity, now have an estimated 10,000 women in a military force 4.5 million. The American military's manpower difficulties have already caused many of our allies to question our ability to honor our commitments. A draft that included women would further convince the world that we are more concerned with social experimentation than concrete military needs.
5. That the real issue in today's military is not enlistees, but retention of mid-level NCOs who are leaving for economic reasons?
Manpower difficulties exist at every level of today's military. It is true that mid-level careerists are leaving. It is also true that the reserves are 750,000 men understrength and that recruitment of entry-level enlistees has failed in terms of both quality and quantity.
Pay aside, just who are we requiring the good NCOs to lead and train? Forty-five percent of the Army's enlistees are from the lowest intelligence group, Category IV -- roughly three times as high as under the draft. It is no wonder that the failure rate of Skills Qualifications Tests in the Army is disastrously high: 90 percent among nuclear weapons maintenance specialists, 98 percent among tank turret and artillery repairmen, 81 percent among ammunition specialists. What pay is adequate to compensate supervisors in that sort of work envoronment.
Make no mistake, career soldiers do need good pay. When the draft gave way to the Volunteer Army, the lower three enlisted grades and the bottom two officer ranks received quantum leaps in benefits as recruitment incentives, with little increase in the career soldiers' traditionally higher benefit levels. Until then, it was considered that the lower ranks, with their rapid turnover of citizen-soldiers who were serving for patriotic as well as financial reasons, should receive proportionally lower pay, in order to reserve scarce funds for those who chose the military as a way of life. This order of priorities seems to have been reversed over the past decade.
But the issue with military retention, as with the military as a whole, is more than pay. Few quality people will undergo the rigors of service merely for the money. It is intangibles such as command, duty and service to country that keep a good man in uniform, and focusing on pay alone denigrates these important items.
The most important intangible, the one that was wounded with or national pride n the embarrassment of our final years in Vietnam, is service to country. It will not be restored until our country again embraces the military as a representative outgrowth of its entire self, rather than as a pool of someone else's children who can be bought off like Hessians to perform the dirty work of our democracy.