US BRINGS BACK THE DRAFT
Campus protests spill over into violence
Twenty students and a teacher were gunned down in the grounds of Kent State University in continuing violent protests over last month’s announcement of the new draft. No one has accepted responsibility for their deaths and police say it could be a case of getting caught in “friendly fire”.
Not since the late 1960s have there been scenes like this at colleges and universities. At Kent State, scene of some of the student shootings in 1969, more than ten thousand students were involved in demonstrations that turned so tragically violent last night. The protests are threatening to spread to schools nationwide.
The staffing demands of the wars in Asia and the security needs of the rest of the world have become “the major national security issue”. New recruits are just staying away from America’s ‘volunteer army’.
Since the government’s re-launch of conscription, what started as a war of words on mobile phones and blogs, has now become a fully-fledged youth revolution.
Despite assurances that the ‘21st Century Draft’ would give them personal choice on how to fulfill their service, youngsters realize they could be randomly selected to go to war at any time.
The new ‘get tough’ attitude from The Department of Homeland Security to try to restrict the flow of news about protests could worsen the situation. “We must beware of terrorists using this internal issue to infiltrate student bodies and incite violence,” commented an official. A red alert has been issued.
(Read the full story in the detailed Analysis/Synthesis section – for subscribers only)
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
Every 20 years or so for the past century, America has found it necessary, always for good national security reasons, to send at least half a million troops overseas to war, and to keep them there for years at a time. It did so in World War I with more than four million troops. In World War II, it mobilized sixteen million for the war effort. America sent more than three million troops to fight in Korea against the North Koreans and Chinese. It used five million in Vietnam over a decade, with 543 400 stationed there at the height of that war in 1969. More recently, America sent 550 000 ground troops to eject Saddam’s forces from Kuwait, as part of a ground force which totaled 831 500 with allied forces from dozens of nations.
Along the way, the United States military simultaneously fought small wars in Greece, Lebanon, El Salvador, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo, requiring the commitment of thousands more. The ability to deploy large numbers of troops overseas for long periods of time has been the price of America’s superpower status in its push for ‘democracy and freedom’.
There’s no reason to think that America will be exempt from paying that price in the future.
In the past forty years ‘The Draft’ has become the target of protestors and a source of conflict within governments. Protests against the Vietnam War and the Draft resulted in four students killed by the National Guard on 4 May 1970 at Kent State University.
And policy-makers remember that anti-war protests virtually stopped after the draft was dropped in 1973.
Vietnam was America’s last draft-based war. Iraq represents the first extended-duration war that country has fought with an all-volunteer force.
Today, the United States still maintains troops in more than 120 countries and the Pentagon manages 1.4 million active duty service members in the military.
Two years after the United States launched a war in Iraq with a crushing display of high-tech power, an on-going and escalating low-tech guerrilla conflict is grinding away at the resources of the US military.
The unexpectedly heavy demands of sustained ground combat are depleting military manpower faster than they can be replenished. According to senior military leaders, lawmakers and defense experts this is casting uncertainty over the principle of an all-volunteer military in the US.
This is also beginning to have potential impacts on ‘homeland security’ as military resources are increasingly drawn to conflicts outside US borders.
Over the past few years several bills to establish universal national service, for both men and women, have been introduced but didn’t go anywhere.
Several politicians are talking openly about restoring a draft or a compulsory national service system – on both the Democrat and Republican side.
Arguments against the volunteer army and for conscription
Defenders of conscription – whether or not it includes military service – insist that forcing young people to serve the state is a worthy end in itself, whatever the nation’s military or security needs might be.
According to Senator James Inhofe “There are huge social benefits that come from [the draft]…. When I look at the problems of some of our kids in America nowadays and then I go visit the troops, I see what a great benefit it is to give people the opportunity to serve their country…. I’m not on a crusade, but I think today’s youth could use more of that type of discipline.”
Also, prominent lawmakers argue that a volunteer military is not representative of society, and that it offends fairness to have casualties in Iraq disproportionately drawn from members of the less advantaged classes.
2000: Is it fair that the poor defend the US?
Scandalous questions are being asked about whether it is ‘fair’ that the US armed forces are staffed primarily by the poor, the under-educated and the unemployed. Military work is still seen a way to an education and a job. The risks of military jobs are seen to be ‘acceptable’ as war is seen to be becoming more high-tech and impersonal.
2004: Changing perceptions of ‘a job in the military’
Sept 11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have changed perceptions as US casualties escalate. Violence in Iraq continues to flood onto American television screens despite US government attempts to minimize photo-reportage of the dark side of the war, such as showing pictures of coffins.
A survey of troop morale, published in mid-October by the Army newspaper Stars & Stripes, disclosed that nearly half of the soldiers polled did not plan to reenlist. The morale crisis is particularly acute for Guardsmen and Reservists, who have borne much of the burden of occupying Iraq. Laments an Army Reserve officer from Milwaukee, “People are dropping out left and right.”
April 2005: Recruitment targets missed
With the escalating violence in Iraq, television news is hitting home the sheer horror of serving in Iraq and this is having a dramatic impact on recruitment. Enlistment and re-enlistment rates are right down due to low morale.
Despite massive incentive programs, recruiters have been unable to meet their recruitment targets for the first four months of 2005. A major CBS Inside Edition investigation showed up dramatic lapses of standards as recruiters across the US helped youngsters hide criminal records and drug offences in order to make their recruitment numbers. Hidden cameras revealed coaching by recruiters to help hide potential drug problems – like how to pass drug tests by drinking Gatorade!
Not even the poor and out-of-work can be tempted to join up. The dream of an education and a career in the army doesn’t appear that attractive anymore.
May 2005 : America admits military manpower insufficient
Conflicting public statements from Bush and senior staffers display strong disagreements about the levels of military manpower. Gen Richard B. Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that troop deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq were limiting America’s ability to deal with other potential conflicts.
The New York Times writes: “Uncle Sam wants you. But he needs to adapt”.
An article in the prestigious Washington Monthly proclaims: “America can remain the world’s superpower. Or it can maintain its current all-volunteer military. It can’t do both”. It accuses the Bush administration of grievously miscalculating the military manpower needed to invade Iraq and then stubbornly refusing to augment troop numbers as the country descended into violent mayhem after the fall of Saddam.
October 2005 : Internal pressure leads to action
Political pressure mounts on Bush to answer concerns from his own staff. He announces a task force to review implementation strategies: “The only effective solution to the demands of military manpower is one that America has turned to again and again in our history: the draft”.
A return to conscription is starting to appear a ‘necessary option’. Now it appears to be not a question of ‘if’, but ‘when’. The anti-draft lobbyists are worried again. They claim: “Our volunteer military is more than capable of dealing with any foreseeable foreign threat to our nation — when it is used wisely in the service of our legitimate national interest”.
January 2006: 21st Century Draft announced and protest voices are raised
Since 1980, every able-bodied American male has been required by law to register with the Selective Service System [SSS] within 30 days of his 18th birthday.
On 15 January Congress passes legislation authorizing a draft. President George W. Bush announces that “A new 21st Century Draft will swing into action, based on the SSS”. Around 2 000 Local Boards will be established throughout America to manage the process.
In a simultaneous announcement, women also became subject to the requirements of the SSS, effectively including women within the draft. It is likely that 20-year-olds will be the first to be drafted.
“Every economic group, every social class, men and women, will be given the opportunity to contribute to the defense of their country, and the fight for democracy and freedom,” announced Bush.
“This ‘modernized draft’ will supplement our ‘volunteer soldiers’ and give all who serve a personal choice over how they serve. And it provides the military, on a ‘just in time’ basis, the numbers of deployable troops and peacekeepers needed to meet the security challenges of the 21st century”.
The new draft imposes a requirement that no college or university be allowed to accept a student, male or female, unless and until that student had completed a two-year term of service in any of three areas: in national service, in homeland security or in the military.
They would all receive modest stipends and college grants. Those who sign up for lengthier and riskier duty, however, would receive higher pay and larger college grants. It is anticipated that most will pick the less dangerous options. But some will certainly select the military — out of patriotism, a sense of adventure, or to test their mettle.
The estimate is that around ten percent of those who annually start at colleges and universities were to choose the military option, the armed forces would receive 100 000 fresh recruits every year. These would be motivated recruits, having chosen the military over other, less demanding forms of service. And because they would all be college-grade and college-bound, they would have—to a greater extent than your average volunteer recruit—the savvy and inclination to pick up foreign languages and other skills that are often the key to effective peacekeeping work.
President Bush concluded: “As a result of this bold initiative, the military will never again lack for manpower. We will have more motivated and better educated soldiers and we will do all this without requiring any American to carry a gun who did not choose to do so”.
The buzz that started on the internet in the months building up to this announcement goes ballistic overnight. Even the conservative right begins to show signs of moving against Bush. “Positions in non-military options will be severely limited. This will be just like trying to use your frequent flyer miles during popular holiday times. This is a political wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s conscription by another name” claims a panelist on the Larry King show.
February 2006: Student protests turn violent
Government proposals are not accepted as was thought just a month ago. America seems to have polarized along completely different lines
In scenes reminiscent of the late 1960s, student protests and riots against the draft have spread to more than thirty American universities. Protesters ‘for’ and ‘against’ the new draft have been clashing with each other, and with police.
What started as an e-protest on the internet and cell phones, has now spread to the real world.
US Homeland Security takes the initiative to suppress the news of these occurrences. Within 24 hours this becomes the new target of protests.
Violence breaks out and as police and the National Guard try to restore order on campuses, twenty students are killed in violent stampedes and “unintended and regrettable cross-fire”.
Links to related stories
- America can remain the world's superpower. Or it can maintain its current all-volunteer military. It can't do both - Washington Monthly, May 2005
- Uncle Sam Wants You. But He Needs to Adapt. Four alternatives to the Draft - New York Times, 8 May 2005 (requires free registration)
- The Central Comittee for Conscientious Objectors (US)
- No Draft No Way! A US conscientious objector web site
- People Against the Draft (US)
- Should the Draft Be Reinstated? - Time magazine cover article, 21 December 2003 (complete article requires free registration)
- Reviving the Draft – The New American, 26 January 2004
- The History of the US draft - Donald N. Zillman, professor of law at the University of Maine School of Law
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