This is not to be taken as an endorsement, but John McCain says he is opposed to reinstating the military draft for anything short of World War III, because the Vietnam War draft weighed most heavily on lower-income Americans. Good for him!

Rep. Charles Rangel has been calling for a draft at least once a year ever since we dropped it in the early 1970s, always on the basis that it distributes the burdens of military service more equitably, and forces a war-making government to be more accountable to the voters whose children are being drafted. On this one, McCain has it right and Rangel has it wrong.

The one draft exemption nobody would dream of getting rid of, and the one that has accounted for the majority of the people who got out of the draft (roughly half of everybody, ever since World War I) is the medical exemption. Not unreasonably, the Army does not want to function as a rehab hospital, so its own regulations (AR 40-501) exempt people from service whose medical problems would make them more trouble than they are worth as cannon fodder. The catch is that the draft physical has never been more than a cursory glance, involving counting extremities and asking a bunch of abstruse questions, often too rapidly to be understood or properly answered. Anybody whose medical issues are more complicated than such an exam would reveal has to get documentation from a private physician to present to the examiners.

And that means having a private physician. So the increasing proportion of inner-city and rural youth, whose medical documentation consists of having an emergency room doctor take three minutes out of his already crammed schedule to scrawl “Sick—no work” across a prescription pad, are not going to get medical exemptions from the draft. If they are lucky, the Army will discharge them after they get to Basic Training, when their disabilities become apparent. Most of them aren’t that lucky.

In addition, as we know from the experience of other countries with “universal” military service, such as Israel and the former USSR, the children of wealthy and well-connected families will almost always get drafted into the most prestigious and comfortable branches of service, while the offspring of civilian peons will almost inevitably become military peons.

Obama hasn’t taken any position on a reinstatement of the draft, so far as I know. It makes more sense, of course, to promise to end the war, rather than plan to get more troops into it, so he may not feel obliged to make any statement on the subject. But let’s hope he pays attention to the real history of conscription if he does.

Red Emma


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