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Will the draft make a comeback?

“We must consider the point at which we confuse ‘volunteer to become an American soldier’ with ‘mercenary.’ ”

— Lt. Gen. James Helmly, the commander of the Army Reserve, in a memo to senior Army leadership

How bad is the manpower shortage in the military? Go over and read a piece in Rolling Stone, The Return of the Draft. We already know about the Pentagon’s desperation, lowering standards to recruit white supremacists/skinheads, people with antisocial personality disorder, autism, as well as those convicted of aggravated assault, robbery, vehicular manslaughter, receiving stolen property and making terrorist threats. Stop-loss orders are keeping weary servicemembers out there in endless deployments, and there’s no end of potential conflicts to further drain resources to a critical state.

Our government has continued to target minority communities shamelessly to make recruitment quotas. Blacks make up 13% of the population, but account for twenty-two percent serving in the armed forces.

In December, the National Guard nearly doubled its enlistment bonus to $10,000, and the Army is trying to attract urban youth with a marketing campaign called “Taking It to the Streets,” which features a pimped-out yellow Hummer and a basketball exhibition replete with free throwback jerseys. President Bush has also signed an executive order allowing legal immigrants to apply for citizenship immediately — rather than wait five years — if they volunteer for active duty.

I asked former Marine Corps Sergeant Brian Fricke, who now works with Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, about the possibility of a draft in an interview prior to my liveblogging of SLDN’s annual dinner back in May. If the military’s numbers reach critical levels, his status as Individual Ready Reserve means he would be get the call before a full draft was reinstated — even though he’s out of the closet.

Q: Can they, in theory, recall you into service now that you’re out since you are individual ready reserves?

A: They could, but it’s not likely. Typically they call active reservists. We have an active component of active reservists. Those are the ones that you hear are being deployed. IRRs are there on-call, if needed. A lot of IRRs don’t PT, don’t maintain their uniforms any more, and when they get a phone call, they might not be eligible anymore…Really, the only reason I could see them needing me is if they were fighting on several fronts and they really scraping the bottom of the barrel, because we are the last folks, and then after us, then it’s the draft.

Q: You’re out now. So would they still call you up?

A: They would call me up regardless. I think that if we’re in that situation, where they need to call us…I don’t think they would be picking and choosing who they are calling back if we’re really in that situation.

[You can read a great profile of Brian by Sean Bugg that appeared in Metro Weekly.]

In the end, the major problem is that the Pentagon is also bone dry on high level skills. What is more likely to happen is a skills-based draft, since the military is running short on medical personnel, translators/linguists, etc. Of course they been discharging gay linguists and medical personnel, so start playing the tiny fiddle on that one. But the modification of Selective Service is well on its way:

Richard Flahavan, spokesman for Selective Service, tells Rolling Stone that preparing for a skills-based draft is “in fact what we have been doing.” For starters, the agency has updated a plan to draft nurses and doctors. But that’s not all. “Our thinking was that if we could run a health-care draft in the future,” Flahavan says, “then with some very slight tinkering we could change that skill to plumbers or linguists or electrical engineers or whatever the military was short.” In other words, if Uncle Sam decides he needs people with your skills, Selective Service has the means to draft you — and quick.

…Michael O’Hanlon, a military-manpower scholar at the Brookings Institute, believes a return to a full-blown draft will become “unavoidable” if the United States is forced into another war. “Let’s say North Korea strikes a deal with Al Qaeda to sell them a nuclear weapon or something,” he says. “I frankly don’t see how you could fight two wars at the same time with the all-volunteer approach.” If a second Korean War should break out, the United States has reportedly committed to deploying a force of nearly 700,000 to defend South Korea — almost half of America’s entire military.

The RS article posits that the best solution out there to bolster the sinking numbers overall is one that won’t go anywhere — that the children of the elite will join up, giving Americans reason to believe that the sacrifice is shared.

Charlie Moskos, a professor of military sociology at Northwestern University, says the volunteer system also limits the political fallout of unpopular wars. “Without a draft, there’s really no antiwar movement,” Moskos says. Nearly sixty percent of Americans believe the war in Iraq was a mistake, he notes, but they have no immediate self-interest in taking to the streets because “we’re willing to pay people to die for us. It doesn’t reflect very well on the character of our society.”

Even military recruiters agree that the only way to persuade average Americans to make long-term sacrifices in war is for the children of the elite to put their lives on the line. In a recent meeting with military recruiters, Moskos discussed the crisis in enlistment. “I asked them would they prefer to have their advertising budget tripled or have Jenna Bush join the Army,” he says. “They unanimously chose the Jenna option.”

By the way, fewer than a dozen members of Congress have children who are serving.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding