Better with Professionals

Theo Lippman Jr.

December 21, 1990|By Theo Lippman Jr.

SURELY IT IS NOT going to come to this: War breaks out in the Persian Gulf. There are casualties. Statisticians meet the C5As as they land at Dover Air Force Base. They unzip the body bags.

''Here's a white one.'' ''Here's another white one.'' ''Here's a black guy.'' ''Here's another white man.'' ''Here's a woman. . . .''

And surely that won't lead to this:

''Mr. President, there were 300 dead blacks but only 700 dead whites last week. This is causing unrest and resentment in the civil-rights community and the anti-war movement. They believe it is unfair for blacks, who constitute only 13 percent of the population, to be 30 percent of the casualties.''

The president replies, ''We have to have support at home. Better tell General Schwarzkopf we need more white casualties.''

Well, of course it won't come to that. I don't think. But already, before a shot has been fired in anger over there, there are voices over here -- not all or even most of them from black throats -- saying the disproportionate number of blacks in the forces in the Persian Gulf is unfair and wrong and demonstrates the need for a return to the draft.

One civil-rights leader has even gone so far as to say that black soldiers in the area must wonder about carrying out the policies of ''a commander-in-chief who vetoed a civil-rights bill.''

If in fact having a disproportionate number of blacks in the armed services will affect -- limit -- the options a president and commander-in-chief has in pursuing the foreign-policy objectives he believes are in the national interest, then clearly it is not in the national interest to have a military that is 25 to 30 percent black. Clearly it will be necessary to change the demography of the armed services. And probably the only way to do that is to reinstitute the draft.

The draft could see to it that 87 percent of all soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen are white. But it could do that only by being un-fair.

Resuming the draft would be unfair to blacks. The military more than any institution in this country has offered blacks an opportunity to be treated as equals in a dignified, rewarding, important profession. But a draft whose mandate was to have the military reflect the whole population statistically would have this result:

A young black man goes to the recruiting station to enlist. He is highly qualified and highly motivated -- whether by a desire to be a career military man, or by a desire to learn a skill for civilian work, or by a desire to earn college benefits -- or maybe just because white racism in other institutions of interest to him has closed their doors to him.

''Sorry, son,'' says the recruiting officer. ''The Army's already 13 percent black. Try the Marines, try the Navy.'' He does, but every service tells him the same thing.

Resuming the draft would be unfair to whites. The military needs so many men. (And women. But the Selective Service Act is a males-only law.) If it can't have the black volunteer it just turned down, it must replace him with a white male. But not enough of them are volunteering. So it conscripts one, against his will. So what will happen in thousands of cases is this: A black man who wants to join the Army won't be allowed to, because he is black, and a white man who does not want to join will have to, because he is white!

People who talk about unfairness in the all-volunteer services should consider that. It's not only unfair, it's blatant racism.

The draft during a period of combat and limited war is also unfair to all who are drafted. A draft in a time of total war, as in World War II, may more or less place an equal burden and demand equal sacrifice from all social and economic strata of American society -- but in a limited war, as in Korea and and Vietnam, it definitely does not.

In total war, the military needs a large percentage of young men. In a limited war it does not. For example, the Persian Gulf situation may require the nation, if it resorts to a draft, to select some 20,000-30,000 young men a month. Say a quarter of a million a year. (The Vietnam draft in the 1960s period ranged from 112,000 a year to 382,000.)

But about 1.5 million young men turn 19 every year at present. So only one man in six gets called. What's fair about that? (If the draft law were changed to include women, only one youth in 12 or 13 would be called, doubling the unfairness.)

Draft supporters say the randomness of the selection makes it fair. Like winning Lotto, I guess. Or not winning. Rich and poor have the same chance of being or not being called. But it doesn't work that way. Some attributes will always be grounds for not being drafted, and many of those are of the sort that the well to do and the clever will find available, while the poor and the dim won't.

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