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Published: Thursday, 7/4/2002

Draft a new call to duty

A mandatory military draft was scrapped years ago, replaced with all-volunteer armed forces. What should follow the draft into the dustbin of history is the mandatory registration of young men between the ages of 18 and 26 with the national Selective Service System.

The registry is an anachronism, an outmoded, gender-biased response to military needs long replaced by more sophisticated defense programs and reduced requirements for troops.

The irrelevance of the registry is apparent despite the surge of patriotism that gripped the country after Sept. 11. One sign is the decline in the number of eligible males registering with the government to be drafted into service should the need arise.

Either out of ignorance of the federal law - it is a felony not to register for Selective Service - or indifference, the number of men nationwide complying dropped last year by one percent to 86 percent overall.

In Ohio and Michigan the rate of compliance is 88 and 87 percent respectively, down 2 percent between 2000 and 2001. It's a small decrease, and not enough, hopefully, to set off alarms about reinstating the draft, but it does speak to the need for improving how we recruit young Americans - male and female - to the service of their country.

Times have changed since the male-only draft was established to swell the military ranks with a ready supply of available men to be called to duty as the foot soldiers of democracy.

To begin with, the tactics employed in combating modern enemies are completely different than those used in past conflicts that depended on huge numbers of draftees to fulfill missions. The war on terrorism, for example, will be fought not by vast ground forces reminiscent of World War II or Korea but by smaller, highly trained members of the military and intelligence network using sophisticated equipment and weaponry.

Moreover, women have long pressed to be treated equally in the armed forces and their service should be welcomed, even required, should it ever become necessary to resurrect a mandatory draft.

But a better answer for both men and women lies in a broader national service call to duty that is not limited to strictly military endeavors but seeks to utilize the strengths and skills of all its qualified citizenry.

A drop in draft prospects registering with Selective Service does not signal a decline in patriotism among America's young. It only says the registry has outlived its usefulness as a discriminatory repository of possible male combatants.



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