Bringing Back The Draft
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JIM LEHRER: Now, should America bring back the draft? Yesterday, the first day of the new 108th Congress, Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel of New York introduced legislation to resume the military draft.
We have our own debate now with Congressman Rangel– he earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his army service during the Korean War; and Republican Congressman Mark Kirk of Illinois– he is on the Armed Services Committee and is in the Naval Reserves. He has seen duty in Serbia, Bosnia, Panama, Haiti, and the Persian Gulf. Congressman Rangel why bring the draft back now?
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: From what I hear it seems as though the President has widespread support, the secretary of defense has indicated that we can continue to the war in Afghanistan, attack Iraq and fight in with it or three wars. I think the way we talk about wars is so cavalier that in terms of sacrifice and the pain involved is really not being shared. It is though this volunteer army can carry all of this weight.
In my opinion there’s not the sense of patriotism in terms of widespread support that it has. I think several things: One, if we bring back the draft, people will focus on who is put in harm’s way and two, if we do go to war, there’s so many things that young Americans can and should be doing that we ought to have a national universal draft that includes women with no exemption with the exception of just finishing high school at a given time.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Kirk, you disagree, why?
REP. MARK KIRK: I do because if you look at the record of the U.S. military in World War I, in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, you see large number of American casualties. Because the business of war was in training mainly 18 and 19-year-old young men and sending them into battle and hopefully we would win if we lost fewer numbers of men than the other side.
When we went to the volunteer military, we built an entirely new institution, which has been phenomenally successful.– winning battles in Desert Storm and Kosovo at extraordinary low loss of life with such highly trained and motivated volunteers. The United States has been able to prevail and to be carrying out our duties to the United Nations with very, very few Americans getting killed and that is good news for American mothers who are worried about their kids in uniform and we want to make sure they are able to accomplish their mission but to come home safely.
JIM LEHRER: You believe if there had been a draft in each one of those recent military cases, there would have been more U.S. casualties
REP. MARK KIRK: The role of – or the context which you’re in, the modern battlefield is so dangerous and so complicated that an untrained 19-year-old can do very little. About the only job description a 19-year-old untrained can fill is that of casualty.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Rangel, what about that?
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: Well, I think that’s absurd. First of all, you’re not giving inch to the ability of the military to train anyone; you’re claiming that the affluent are unable to learn but only young people that come from poor circumstances can be become professional. The second thing is that the number of casualties is not just dependent on the amount of training but who you are fighting. God knows in going into Baghdad, in going into urban fighting we have no idea about what our casualties are going to be. And, lastly if you’re talking to a parent or someone whose kid is eligible for the draft, they are not going to be persuaded by your argument that casualties may be lower but it may be their kid.
JIM LEHRER: Is he wrong about that, Congressman Kirk?
REP. MARK KIRK: Well, in this case, the record is very clear that our military is well trained, very highly motivated. I can tell you from the deck of a carrier it makes all the difference in the world to be there with volunteers as opposed to untrained disgruntled 18-year-olds that don’t want to be there. I think the critical issue is the professionalism with which we now carry out our military obligations to the United Nations, the all-volunteer military is an unqualified success and changing it threatens the tremendous record we have built at extremely low cost of Americans lives.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: Hold the phone! Hold the phone. I am not disputing what Mark has said. If he is on an aircraft carrier with his officers and they are in their Navy whites, maybe the man is right. I’m talking about the grunt, the infantry man, the foxhole, the guy that is out there that can’t get on the ship, can’t get in the shower and he’s in harm’s way and that is the reason why I’m talking about who is assigned to the ships and officers and who is assigned to the foxholes with the rifles. So maybe he is right. Maybe they need volunteer types on the ship but I’m talking about who is in harm’s way. If he’s talking about little casualties, I was in the Korean War for a year. It went on for three years I don’t know even know whether the Navy lost anybody.
REP. MARK KIRK: The Navy lost quite a few but if you look at the recent activity — combat in Afghanistan. The ground troops involved were highly trained Army Rangers and Special Forces. There was no room for an untrained 18-year-old to be involved in that. They were calling in laser-guided and satellite-guided munitions, something that took years of training and the linguistic expertise to back up good relations with local troops. This is not an environment where untrained 18 year olds can add much….
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: Mark, you just don’t get it. I want our young people who are drafted to be trained. I don’t want career soldiers to go in untrained; and I don’t want draftees to be untrained. And you can tell me how many Naval people died in Korea and how many died in Afghanistan and how many is going to be in harm’s way in Iraq. So let’s drop the Navy and your experience with the Navy and talk about what we’re talking about in the draft.
I am talking about the person on the ground that is going to be attacking in Iraq. If you’re talking about the sophistication of the volunteer army, it is my hope and expectation that the military has done so well with these people with lesser training that they’ll do just as well if not better with the more affluent that is drafted. Where am I wrong?
REP. MARK KIRK: Remember, the point here for the draft is not to bring young men in uniform but to contribute to the overall military power of the United States. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld envisions no scenario whatsoever that it would involve a draft — that we have got an environment now in which we are predominant in military power using volunteers. And I can tell you as an officer who has been in command of enlisted having them all be volunteers and having them so highly motivated and trained and knowing that everyone here in this difficult environment wants to be here and asked to be here makes all the difference in the world, not just in their commitment to the job but in their ability to carry out that job and do it in a way that the conflict comes rapidly to an end with extraordinarily low U.S.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: As an enlisted man I would want all the help I could get on the battlefield.
JIM LEHRER: Let me ask you Congressman Kirk, the additional point that has been made about the draft and national service generally which is — it involves the entire nation in the decision to go to war or not because the potential of sending your young people, the people related to you, off to war focuses the mind more. Where do you go down on that issue?
REP. MARK KIRK: That is a positive effect of the draft. I think that we should expand volunteer opportunities for young men and women especially after September 11. I think we’re on the verge of one of the most young patriotic generations to come on line. I offered legislation, for example, to double the size of the Peace Corps. And when you look at the volunteer opportunities here in this country and in the public health field, it’s an area that federal government can give an enormous boost to so that young men and women who wish to volunteer for their country in uniform or other capacities should be able to.
That’s entirely different than bringing hundreds of thousands of 18-year-old young boys into a military that has no role for them, that has no particular job for them to do and they do not wish to be there – I can tell you that that will lead to discipline problems and a situation in which people are given make work, do nothing jobs and will get very disillusioned with their country because there’s no significant role for them today in today’s military.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: I’m not saying that hundreds of thousands should be just thrown into the military. I said they should be eligible for the military; the number of people that are necessary depending on what will be determined but people would be selected regardless of their background and it would not be because they want or don’t want to serve. When that flag goes up, all young people should be prepared to serve.
REP. MARK KIRK: But we already have that. The volunteer military today -
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: I’m saying that patriotism should not be one you select to be a patriot. If you love this country and you think we should be at war, you should be prepared to defend our county.
REP. MARK KIRK: I can tell you from the men and women on the battlefield they far prefer to be there with other colleagues who volunteered to be there. The moral is higher, the professionalism is higher. We carry out our mission with far greater loss of any combat power. And people die in fewer numbers when we have that degree of professionalism.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Rangel, practical politics, is your bill going anywhere?
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: I don’t know I’m getting a lot of support for the broad idea that when America says that the cause is just, that the sacrifice should be shared and not just restricted by those who want to get paid to fight or those who join the volunteer army but everyone should be standing there. Sure we should have the volunteer army, we should have the professionals. Every army has the career soldier as the core. But in answer to your question whether it’s going to pass, the debate has just begun. I have really been surprised at the number of people who have indicated an interest in my bill.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read that, Congressman Kirk?
REP. MARK KIRK: An overwhelming number of the Democratic members of the House Armed Services Committee oppose this legislation. And I would say that it would be lucky if 10 percent of members in Congress supported bringing back the draft. The volunteer military is an overwhelming bipartisan success. Defense leaders, Democrats and Republicans both agree.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: You have a quick fix. I introduced the bill yesterday. I didn’t even know that the committee members have been assigned but probably knows what is going to happen in the future.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Kirk, do you expect if it doesn’t pass to trigger a major debate about this? Should there be a major debate or should it be put aside and say Congressman Rangel, it’s an interesting idea but go away?
REP. MARK KIRK: This is only a debate in the media. Here in the Congress and of the Democratic and Republican members of the Armed Services Committee there’s no significant debate. The volunteer military is an overwhelming success. The combat record of the United States since Desert Storm shows that. And no serious military leader or secretary of defense is call for bringing back the draft.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: With all due respect today was the first day that the Congress met. Have you been polling the members all day?
REP. MARK KIRK: We have; they don’t support your legislation.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: But we haven’t even had members assigned to the committee – where -
REP. MARK KIRK: You’ve got an awful lot of media, so it was talked about before members -
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: You must have been in the Republican — because we have not have any –.
REP. MARK KIRK: They do not support the legislation.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: So not only have you polled the Congress but you have been at the Pentagon.
REP. MARK KIRK: You don’t have much support.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: You’re fantastic.
JIM LEHRER: Are Democrats going to support it, Congressman Rangel?
REP. CHARLES RANGEL: I hope this is not a Democratic initiative or a Republican initiative. This is not a partisan thing. I hope those called to serve are not called by their party registration but by need of our national security.
JIM LEHRER: Gentlemen, thank you both very much. We look forward to — never mind what we look forward to. One says there will be a debate the other says there isn’t going to be. We thank you both very much.