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Volume 70, Issue 43, Thursday, October 21, 2004

Opinion

Democrats to blame for draft fears

Jennifer Jackson
Opinion Columnist

College students everywhere are panicking in justified fear after learning of the bill currently in Congress calling for the reinstatement of the draft. A lot of us object to the draft for conscientious reasons and an inability to reconcile our personal beliefs with the idea of war, and this war in particular. A lot of us just don't feel like dropping our lives for two years to go get shot at and run the high risk that we will return to the United States handicapped, injured or in a body-bag.

But perhaps we should listen to an experienced, yet rarely heard opinion on the practical reasons for opposing a draft. 

Doug Rask, now a NASA engineer, was a college student in April 1971, when he received an official government notification to report to the nearby military base for a preliminary physical. Being in California, Rask was certainly exposed to opposition of the draft, but he personally determined that if he were drafted and sent to Vietnam, he would go willingly, though not happily.

"I felt it was a citizen's responsibility to serve if they were called to do so," he said. 

Knowing he would soon be drafted anyway, Rask pre-empted the official conscription process by enlisting in the Air Force, his preferred area of service. By August, 1971, he was reporting for duty, and it wasn't long before Rask immediately saw what he called "the downside of having the draft." Rask himself never saw any military combat. He was assigned to learn the Czech language and was stationed in Germany. But he was close enough to experience the problems of the draft.

"There were an awful lot of people that didn't want to be in the military and they caused a lot of trouble and cost the government a lot of money," he said. "They were continually disobeying orders, committing crimes, going (absent without leave), having to be caught, brought back, put in jail. Plus, (the military) didn't get the benefit of all the training it gave these people."

In addition, Rask said the effect of the rebellious attitudes was detrimental to morale.

"In a lot of units there were a few who would simply not obey the rules," he said. "They didn't care about losing pay, they didn't care about losing stripes they just did what they wanted to do."

Rask recalls one soldier in particular who refused to cut his hair, and wore bright-colored socks and a flowered leather belt.

"When the guys who obey the rules see a guy like that staying in a unit, just because the cost of kicking him out is too great, morale goes down. They resent that a lot," he said.

But worst and most dangerous of all was the drug problem, Rask said.

"It's dangerous, because everybody has to depend on everybody else to survive," he said. "If you're operating any kind of heavy equipment -- vehicles, tanks, airplanes, watercraft impaired judgment (caused by drugs) is very dangerous."

The dangers for those who did not use drugs were even higher, though, Rask said, because fear of being reported, which was a soldier's duty, was constant, and the consequences severe.

"And so if somebody got turned in, anybody who was known as a non-user was in danger," he said. "There were people killed over that kind of thing."

A friend of Rask's who was stationed in Vietnam witnessed the death of a lieutenant after two soldiers tossed a grenade in his tent because he was planning to report their drug use. Because he stayed in the military until 1988 and personally witnessed drug use decline once the draft ended, Rask believes that the drug problems were caused by discontented draftees.

"In an all-volunteer force, almost everyone there wanted to be there," he said.

The current bill before the House of Representatives, H.R. 163, proposed by Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel, would make eligible all persons -- male or female, college student or not- for being drafted.

While President Bush has been often accused of planning to reinstate the draft, the main proponents and writers of this bill have all been Democrats. In addition, in a recent vote over whether the rules should be suspended to get the bill passed, the motion suffered an embarrassing defeat of two yeas to 402 nays, with both favorable votes being cast by Democratic representatives.

Nonetheless, the draft is a real possibility, and as college students, we have a vested interest in following the process because few groups would be more heavily drawn on than college students were the draft reinstated.

But as we each consider our reasons for opposing or supporting the draft, it wouldn't hurt to pause for a minute to learn from the wisdom of a more experienced voice.

Jackson, a columnist for The Daily Cougar, 
can be reached at jmjacks3@mail.uh.edu

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