Local Pols Wrangle With Rangel Over Reinstating Draft

But it's not 1969 redux-this time, Cantabrigians calm over call for conscription

Cambridge City Councillor Marjorie Decker is no stranger to the military draft. During the Vietnam War, her father was drafted to fight while many others were able to evade service.

So when Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., announced this Sunday that he wanted to bring back the draft for everyone 18 and over, it conjured mixed emotions for her.

“In some ways, I resent the draft because there were a lot of people who could get out who were far more privileged,” Decker said. “At the same time, it’s hard not to wonder if the members of Congress knew that the sons and daughters of themselves and their neighbors would have to go off to war, would they be more careful?”

Decker’s solution?

“Maybe what we need to do is say that everyone in Congress has to send their child off to war if they vote ‘yes’” to sending forces abroad, she said. “Maybe we need to just look at the sons and daughters of those in decision-making power.”

While neither Decker nor the Cambridge City Council intends to pass such a resolution anytime soon, most politicians and activists in Massachusetts agree that Rangel’s proposal is a bad idea.

Recovering from his “botched joke” over the intelligence level of troops stationed in Iraq, Senator John F. Kerry discounted the idea of reinstating the draft and had high praise for the volunteer armed forces.

“[Senator Kerry] believes the current army of highly motivated volunteers is the best army in the world and is performing incredibly well, and that the military needs of the country are best met by increasing recruitment and retention rather than instituting a draft,” said his press secretary, Brigid M. O’Rourke.

Councillor E. Denise Simmons joined the chorus against conscription. “We shouldn’t force people to go, because we are in this war for all the wrong reasons,” she said.

Simmons added that none of her constituents, including the lower-income ones from Riverside, North Cambridge, and East Cambridge, had voiced any concerns over the draft.

“My constituents are so worried about housing and heating and eating that the draft is not high on their list of priorities,” Simmons said. “I think there are more pressing issues.”

However, many politicians believe that Rangel is not serious about instating the draft, and is instead trying to force the public to reconsider the reasons why the Bush administration took the country to war.

“I do not support the draft and do not think that Congressman Rangel really does either—he is just trying to make a point,” said Rep. Michael E. Capuano, D-Somerville, in a statement. “It is my hope that we focus on the Bush Administration’s failed policies in Iraq and on ways to begin troop withdrawal.”

On campus, the issue has allowed the Harvard College Democrats and Harvard Republican Club to find common ground.

“I think we should focus on solving the issue in Iraq rather than figuring out how to get more people over there,” said Brigit M. Helgen ’08, president of the Harvard Democrats.

“The proposal was defeated 402-2 in 2003 and I won’t hold my breath for its passage under Pelosi,” added Jeffrey Kwong ’09, president of the Republican Club.