After nearly eight years of exile in Canada because of my opposition to the Vietnam War, I returned to the States about 18 months ago. It's been good to be back home in the post-Vietnam era, even if the readjustment has been difficult.Already I can see storm clouds gathering on the horizon, though. The wounds from the war have hardly had time to heal, but that hasn't stopped the cold warriors from clamoring for a return to the military draft. If one listens closely, the patriotic sounds of marching bands can be heard off in the distance aidst the rumbles of thunder.
Has the Vietnam War experience been forgotten so quickly that Americans are oblivious to the approaching storm? I've talked to returned exiles and others who've paid a price for their resistance.I've listened to Vietnam vets, angry because they were sent off to that unjust war and neglected by the government and the patriots after they came home. We are troubled by what we see. The political foundation for reinstituted conscription is being laid. Another generation is going to be torn apart by the draft, and draft resistance will again be widespread. It won't be too long before troops are dispatched to prop up a corrupt, anti-Communist tyrant heading a Third World country perceived vital to U.S. economic and security interests.
The cold warriors are doing another snow job on the American people regarding the draft. A lot of specious reasoning is put forward, deception reminiscent of the 1960s, when government officials routinely lied about the Vietnam War. Backers of the draft claim the all-volunteer military has left the United States vulnerable. The all-volunteer military is called unreliable. The Defense Department, however, published a report last December concluding the all-volunteer military provided "a full-strength active force of a quality equal to or superior to that achieved under the draft."
Supporters of the draft offer registration as a compromise to the draft, but it is really the first step in bringing back conscription. Under the all-volunteer military, advocates of renewed conscription insist, the United States cannot mobilize quickly enough in a crisis, adding that registration of 18-year-olds ready to be drafted would greatly reduce mobilization time. Selective Service Director Robert F. Shuck recently admitted that all 18-year-old males could be registered within five days, despite the lack of mandatory registration.
The most telling argument has been advanced by senior Army officers. The failure to create a mobile strike force, capable of intervening in Third World trouble spots, is blamed on personnel shortages caused by the all-volunteer military. In 1977, the Carter administration approved a blueprint for a quick strike force, earmarked for places such as the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and the northwest region of the Pacific. But, the plan has never left the drawing board. According to studies by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Congressional Budget Office, the problems are technical: The United States lacks sufficiently speedy transport capabilities. In addition, last January Secretary of Defense Harold Brown stated that a 100,000-strong intervention force "could be assembled from existing forces."
The quick-strike force argument, however, does get to the heart of the matter. The push for the draft is part and parcel of the post-Vietnam foreign-policy discussion led by the cold warriors. Behind the flawed contentions favoring resumed conscription is the call for a more interventionist foreign policy. A post-Vietnam draft is sought as a symbol of U.S. willingness to play a more aggressive role in global affairs. And a peacetime draft makes intervention easier.
Had not the draft been in effect during the 1960s and the American people had to approve drafting a 500,000-man expeditionary force for Vietnam, it is highly unlikely that war could have happened. Peacetime conscription allowed the war to be escalated deceptively through gradually mounting monthly draft quotas, thereby avoiding a serious debate over the war until the casualty rates soared. By that time, it was difficult to reverse the war's momentum; the storm was running its tragic course. If Americans are to learn from the Vietnam War, one lesson should be to demand the right to discuss thoroughly any proposed intervention before the first troops are sent off to battle. A good place to start applying this lesson is by rejecting any form of conscription or compulsory national service, including registration for the draft.