Don't fear the draft bogeyman

October 26, 2004|By Chris Collins

WHEN I WAS a little kid, the nonpartisan bogeyman was a looming threat. He was the shadow in the closet, the noise under the bed. He didn't have a political affiliation, but he was a real concern. Others my age also had these fears.

These worries were unwarranted, it turned out.

Now my college-age peers and I are old enough to be in the military. And so we have another monster in the dark: the specter of a military draft. This time it's bitterly partisan.

A poll from the National Annenberg Election Survey released this month shows that 58 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds believe President Bush favors reinstating the draft. A handful think Sen. John Kerry is pro-draft as well; only 26 percent believe that neither candidate wants to bring back the draft.

The draft has the potential to dramatically alter the lives of those 18 to 25 years old. Based on this survey, however, three-fourths of us don't even have a realistic understanding of the two major presidential candidates' stance on the draft.

Senior analyst Kate Kenski of the Annenberg Public Policy Center pointed out the irony: "Given that young people are the ones to be affected most by a draft, they should know that there is no difference between the candidates on this issue."

My generation doesn't hide under blankets anymore. But the imaginary bogeyman is a threat again. You can see its plans on fringe Internet sites, listen to its rumors in coffee shop conversations and hear its footsteps in the words of Mr. Kerry's latest speculation: "With George Bush, the plan for Iraq is more of the same and the great potential of a draft."

A great potential?

Mr. Bush openly opposes a military draft. In the second presidential debate, he said, "We're not going to have a draft, period." Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has made similar comments.

This month, Mr. Bush expanded on why he opposes the draft and was equally emphatic. "In order to win the war on terror, we need specialized forces," he said at a campaign stop in Iowa. "This is specialty work. If you draft, you don't get the specialized force you need. We don't need a draft. We will not have a draft so long as I'm the president of the United States."

But these reassurances haven't stopped the Internet rumor mill -- or the speculation of left-wing pundits.

"There will be a draft in 2005 if Bush is not stopped," claims. Other sites raise speculation and articles from vague media outlets to the level of most-assured truth.

Democratic Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York added to the draft talk by spearheading a bill that would have reinstated the draft. The effort was more of a ploy to revitalize the draft debate.

In case anyone was wondering where Republicans stood on the issue, the measure failed 402-2 in the House. Only Mr. Rangel and one other Democrat voted in favor of the bill.

Mr. Kerry, who has said he would increase the size of the military by 40,000, claims a draft may be unavoidable if Mr. Bush is returned to office since the lack of international support will inevitably leave U.S. operations in Iraq with a troop shortage. But how plausible is it that if Mr. Kerry is elected, the international community will suddenly open up its militaries and freely sacrifice its sons and daughters for U.S. causes?

A better plan would be to move toward a more flexible and less manpower-dependent military -- the very kind of strategy that Mr. Rumsfeld is promoting.

So while draft-age Americans and entrenched partisans are needlessly turning politically motivated shadows into politically charged bogeymen, the reality of waking up one morning to a call to arms is highly unlikely.

I'm not sure if those in my generation understand the significance of a military draft. It's more than a card to burn or an excuse to flee to Canada. At the very least, we should know where the presidential candidates stand on such a crucial issue.

Let's have the courage to peer into that closet and realize that the strange shadows are just an old coat -- not Mr. Rumsfeld with draft orders.

Chris Collins, 20, is a senior at Whitworth College in Spokane, Wash.

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