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Mediterranean Quarterly 14.3 (2003) 6-11
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A Vital Part of the War on Terrorism
Charles B. Rangel
In 2003, Senator Ernest "Fritz" Hollings and I introduced legislation in Congress that would require compulsory military or alternative national service for all men and women, ages eighteen to twenty-six, who were citizens and permanent residents of the United States. Unlike the previous military draft that existed in the United States from 1947 to 1973, the service we propose would ensure fully shared sacrifice by limiting any exemptions to those with physical disabilities or conscientious objector status. Those not selected for military service would perform their national service obligation in a civilian capacity for a period of two years. For a few, service would mean picking up a rifle or other duties required by the armed forces. Yet many of the 34.5 million eligible young people would find themselves strengthening the security and infrastructure of this great land by serving where people are most needed—at our borders and in our airports, hospitals, and schools. 1
The Need for More People in Service
The return to a draft and an organized program of national service strikes some as unrealistic in a country where we have gotten used to the idea of a certain group of people bearing the burden of America's military actions. However, the needs of the war on terrorism combined with pressing economic needs and enhanced homeland security requirements here at home [End Page 6] clearly indicate that we must again call on all segments of society to share the sacrifice. In the absence of a military draft, the U.S. engagements in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bosnia have led to the call-up of thousands of National Guard and Military Reserve forces that were already needed for the war on terrorism. Permanent reliance on a significant percentage of those forces on a regular basis is not a viable solution. As Senator Hollings has pointed out repeatedly, active-duty forces have already experienced a high operations tempo since the beginning of the air war in Kosovo and throughout the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. The Bush administration has indeed reinstituted a form of a draft to prevent or stop losses of troop strength in which those young Americans who have already volunteered and served a full tour of duty are required to stay another year.
Now that we are potentially entering a new level of military need, we can not assume that the all-volunteer force will suffice. The United States has not required large numbers of troops for its defense over the last twenty years. America's military personnel needs were small between 1920 and 1940, but nobody had illusions that our manpower needs would not greatly increase as we faced new military challenges in the 1940s and 1950s. The Bush administration continues to talk about daunting new challenges facing us now but then presumes that the same force levels can meet those challenges.
I applaud the men and women who are currently serving in active duty or in state National Guard and Military Reserves. I served in combat in the Korean War, and I will always identify with our front-line troops. I am pushing for additional benefits for them. Nonetheless, as we face new challenges, the United States must call others to make sacrifices, as well, so that our military force level is not stretched too thin and our nonmilitary needs are also met. There is no reason why men and women brought into the service under our legislation could not be well trained and would not serve just as patriotically as the brave men and women currently in uniform. It is time for a broader segment of our population to share in the sacrifices.
The Best Strategy against Terrorism
There is no doubt that we live in dangerous times. There are those people who seek to remake the world violently, without any regard to the innocent [End Page 7] victims that they would kill pursuing a radical political...