CLAIMING THAT "America has been caught with its defenses down," Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) has asked Congress to reinstitute the military draft. Few give his bill much of a chance of reaching President Reagan's desk, but Hollings has succeeded in stirring the blood of some Capitol Hill hawks. Bolstered by the president's hesitance to eliminate the existing registration program, draft fans believe that the atmosphere in Washington will accommodate a renewal of compulsary service, if not this year, then perhaps next. As we have stated many times in the past, a military draft is a dangerous concession to the militaristic spirit and likely to exacerbate that already disturbing trend.
Regardless of what registration policy the White House decides is most politically advantageous, opponents of the draft--both members of the public and elected officials--must move immediately to block Hollings' measure.
Contrary to what Hollings has claimed on the Senate floor, the military does not need more troops. The Pentagon reported significant increases in recruitment for 1980 after a slight slump in 1979. As a spokesman for the Army said recently, "With the amount of money we have, we could not handle more people. What we need are people with certain skills."
All branches of the military are suffering from shortages of middle-level managers and highly trained technicians, but forcing all young men to serve for a short period of active duty, as Hollings proposed, will not help the Pentagon retain the valuable, experienced soldiers who are leaving for better-paying jobs in the private sector. Improved benefits and living conditions are probably the only solution to this problem.
Supporters of the draft, including Hollings, have also argued that requiring everyone to serve will correct the over representation of minorities and poor people in the military. Black enlistees now account for 30 per cent of the Army, most of them in the lowest positions. Only 6.1 per cent of the officer corps is Black.
Clearly, if military service were required by law, a smaller proportion of Blacks would serve. But is this the crucial goal in peace time? Racial representation becomes an important issue only when lives are at stake, when minorities and the poor do more than their fair share of the fighting. And in any case, Hollings' proposal will not fulfill the important goal of increasing the numbers of minority officers. America's racially imbalanced volunteer army is a reflection of the fundamental economic injustice in our society; that injustice, above all, should be rectified. But Hollings' proposal will neither help change those economic ills nor make the army a more democratic institution.
No one contends that the all-volunteer force is without serious flaws. It needs more non-commissioned careerists and mechanics, white or Black. Ideally, it would have more minority officers and fewer minority kitchen workers who have been forced into uniform because their lack of skills prevents them from finding a job elsewhere. A draft, however, would neither induce technicians to stay nor improve the lot of minorities in harsh economic conditions.
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