By now, anybody paying attention to the media in recent weeks knows that Rep. Charles Rangel (D.-N.Y.), who will become Ways and Means chairman in the next Congress, wants to reinstate the draft.
What many may not know is that Rangel wants to draft not only all young American males, but also all young American females, to serve in the military or some alternative civilian service.
On November 19, Rangel vowed to push in the next Congress for his “Universal National Service Act” that would require “all persons in the United States, including women, between the ages of 18 and 42 to perform a period of military service or a period of civilian service in furtherance of the national defense and homeland security.”
Right now, women make up nearly 15% of all active-duty personnel in the all-volunteer U.S. military. As of Nov. 4, 2006, 68 women had been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Through the same date, 466 women had been wounded in those operations.
Current law prohibits women from serving in combat roles, but with the rise of roadside bombs and other non-traditional terrorist tactics, and with the deployment of women in support units that “collocate” with combat units, more servicewomen are dying.
Encouraging Democratic Base
Rangel believes that if lawmakers’ children were subjected to the draft, they would be less willing to support a war. “I am making a statement against all wars that cannot gin up enough confidence that people would say: My country is in danger. And I want to serve. My kids want to serve,” Rangel said on Fox News.
Rangel appears to be pushing his bill now to encourage the antiwar base of the Democratic Party. However, when Bob Schieffer of CBS’s “Face the Nation” asked Rangel if his proposal was sincere, Rangel said, “You bet your life. Underscore ‘serious.’”
Exemptions from Rangel’s draft would be permitted in cases of “extreme hardship” or “physical or mental disability.” To evaluate this, he wants all men and women to be physically and mentally examined by the government and “be classified as to fitness to perform national service.”
Rangel has long argued that young, low-income blacks are enlisting in the military in disproportionate numbers and repeatedly cites as evidence a 2003 Pentagon report that found minorities comprise more than 30% of the military.
He explained to Fox News’s Neil Cavuto: “I’m just saying that, being one that had faced these alternatives, that, why is a kid who is going to Harvard or Yale, or has alternatives, not included in the sacrifice for our country?”
In one interview, he described enlistees as “people that come from the lower echelons.”
This will be the fourth time Rangel has tried to enact a draft to include women. He first introduced a bill to do so in January 2003. Rangel’s proposal was brought to the floor by Republicans in the 2004 election year to quiet Democrat-fed rumors that President Bush favored the draft. The House rejected the bill, 402 to 2. Only Rep. John Murtha (D.-Pa.) and Rep. Pete Stark (D.-Calif.) voted for it. Rangel did not vote for it on grounds it was a Republican “stunt.”
Rangel’s May 2005 draft bill included an exemption for a person who “by reason of sincerely held moral, ethical or religious beliefs, is conscientiously opposed to participation of war in any form.” He introduced another draft bill that included this provision on Feb. 14, 2006, that also expanded the enlistment age from 18 to 42.