SEATTLE, OCT. 22 — “The most potent campaign rumor of the year is the web-induced claim that if re-elected Bush President will reinstitute the draft,” says Bruce Chapman, president of the Discovery Institute and a pioneer in the 1960s movement to institute an all-volunteer military. “It’s potent, but it is also false.”
“Whether the Kerry camp originated the story or simply followed it, the Democratic presidential candidate has employed it repeatedly in speeches to sway college-age voters,” adds Chapman. “and MTV and Rock-the-Vote have highlighted the issue continuously.”
According to Chapman –who in 1967 wrote the book “The Wrong Man in Uniform: Our Unfair Draft and What to Do About It”– the whole 35 year history of the modern volunteer military points in the opposite direction from President Bush: to the likelihood that if anyone would bring back the draft, it is the Democrats.
Democrats, under Lyndon Johnson, resisted draft reform in the 60s, recalls Chapman, while the leaders of a call for a volunteer system in Congress were two Republicans, Sen. Mark O. Hatfield of Oregon and Rep. Donald Rumsfeld of Illinois (“yes, that Rumsfeld, the current Secretary of Defense”).
“Even when Richard Nixon was elected President in 1968 and in the face Vietnam War protests announced his interest in an all-volunteer military, Sen. Ted Kennedy led Democratic opposition on grounds that such a service would become all black, presumably because only poor African-Americans would be attracted to it,” explains Chapman.
Chapman says that Kennedy was wrong about the race issue, and much else. The all-volunteer force not only liberated successive generations from the coercion of the draft, says Chapman, but by raising pay and improving service living conditions to appeal to volunteers, “helped usher in a post-Vietnam military that was far more professional and better motivated than the drafted military.”
The main opponents to a volunteer military, according to Chapman, have been Democrats who, from the early days on, have tried to substitute a system of National Service that would first entice with grants, then coerce, students into various forms of public service — from helping in schools and hospitals to military service.
“The national service idea did not take hold in the 70s and 80s because the volunteer military was such a manifest success,” Chapman says. “Unfortunately the national service alternative was kept alive by foundation grants to liberal think tanks and academics. There is a social-engineering spirit on the left that cannot abide the thought that people should only do good works on their own. Going back to Rousseau, the left has believed that you have to compel people to serve others.”
Mandatory service has been imposed in recent years in most of the high schools of the country and in many universities. Standards for service are notoriously lax and variable, says Chapman. But, he adds, there are some advantages to the school-based service such as are broad experiences and some community-good undeniably is accomplished.
“The school-based service work by and large doesn’t steal the jobs of older people and doesn’t require long-term commitments of forced labor,” says Chapman. “The federal public service program is another matter.”
Both parties, including George Bush, have backed some sort of national service programs since the days of the Peace Corps and then AmeriCorps, but the Democrats keep demanding massive expansions. John Kerry proposes an expansion to 500,000 jobs (see his website). Before long, every young adult will be expected to put in two years of time. And, one way to justify that ambition is to link it to supposed military necessity.
“I believe that that is why I see the names of so many of my old foes from the fight over a volunteer military vs. National Service showing up on the Kerry campaign,” says Chapman. “Their desire to manipulate the lives of a whole generation lies behind bills introduced by liberals like Democrat Congressmen Charles Rangel of New York and Fritz Hollings of South Carolina; the same bills that the Republicans took such glee in having voted down a couple of weeks ago.”
The desire to bring back compulsory service also explains why Kerry and his friends are harping on supposed shortfalls in military enlistments; it is key to creating the necessity that would drive draft resumption and a universal National Service requirement. Chapman points out that: “They blame the Bush Administration. But it looks to me more like classic projection.”
According to Chapman, there is no military necessity at all for restoring the draft. “Military enlistments and re-enlistments are either meeting or exceeding their service’s quotas. Some services have waiting lists. Only the National Guard, in August and for the first time in years, missed its quota, and only by 5,000 persons.
The last time, in fact, that failure to meet quotas was a major problem was under President Clinton, when pay and living conditions had been allowed to erode over time and military families couldn’t make ends meet.
“People who think that everyone of college age should be required to perform national service (military or otherwise) might well vote for Kerry,” says Chapman. “Especially since the Democrats have always been willing to link the stick of compulsion with the carrot of tuition assistance at the end of the service period. People of a more libertarian mind, who think service is wonderful — but much less so if coerced — and those who want to maintain the high quality of today’s volunteer military will probably want to vote for Bush instead.”
What’s important to Chapman is making sure: “people know the difference and who is for what. It is an Orwellian propaganda trick for longtime National Service advocates to try to pin draft resumption on the party, and the President, who are most opposed to it.”
About Discovery Institute
Discovery Institute is a non-profit, non-partisan, public-policy, think tank which promotes ideas in the common sense tradition of representative government, the free market and individual liberty. Current projects include: technology, the economy, science and culture, regional transportation, and the bi-national region of “Cascadia.” http://www.discovery.org/.
About Bruce Chapman
Bruce Chapman is president of Discovery Institute and a former Director of the U.S. Census Bureau and Director of the White House Office of Planning under President Reagan.