One of the most interesting aspects of democratic societies with such skewed distributions of wealth and power, is, as is well documented, the subservience of mass media to state power (2). The United States acts no different than other societies in this regard, and the current military draft bill passing through Congress, coupled with virtually complete media silence, is perhaps another testimony to the amazing propaganda achievements of US history. It was only today that I found out about this bill quietly making its way to the congressional voting table, initiated almost 9 months ago, and as far as I know, still without mention in the major media. I am hoping, thus, that the following article will be informative and useful.
The bill, entitled the “Universal National Service Act of 2003,” while vague in certain details, is quite explicit on whole. It announces primarily the desire “[to] provide for the common defense by requiring that all young persons in the United States, including women, perform a period of military service or a period of civilian service in furtherance of the national defense and homeland security, and for other purposes.” This is an unprecedented move, not because it is the first draft bill proposed in US history, but because young women are not exempt from service (I suppose one can debate whether this can be considered a feminist victory). While the primary intent of the draft begs major questions about the meaning of “common” and “national defense,” we can put that aside for now and look at the details of the current bill.
All males and females between the ages of 18-26 are obligated upon completion of this bill to follow its orders, whose specifics, including duration and duties, are to be at the complete command of the President. Section 4 makes this clear, stating that “[the] President shall prescribe such regulations as are necessary to carry out this act.” These regulations include, most importantly “types of civilian service that may be performed for a person’s national service obligation,” as well as “means to determine questions or claims with respect to inclusion for, or exemption or deferment from induction under this Act, including questions of conscientious objection.” There is also the vague issue of “other matters … the President determines necessary to carry out this Act.”
While it seems clear enough that the duration of service is to be two years, as noted in Section 3, one cannot be left without question to the fact that there are two specific “grounds for extension” of duty, one curiously “for the purpose of requiring the member to compensate for any time lost to training for any cause,” where “time lost” is clearly to be decided “at the discretion of the President” and his military subordinates.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly to concerned citizens, is the issue of conscientious objection, deferment, or postponement. Once again, as stated earlier, the terms are “at the discretion of the President,” but making the large assumption that the President will put the mass population’s moral concerns ahead of war strategy, the following is noted: High school students and those with “extreme hardship” or “physical and mental disability” are considered eligible for deferment or postponement. Those who conscientiously object to selected service are told the following, “Any person selected … who claims, because of religious training and belief … exemption from combatant training included as part of that military service and whose claim is sustained under such procedures as the President may prescribe, shall, when inducted, participate in military service that does not include any combatant training component (my italics).” Thus, as made explicit, conscientious objection is to be allowed only through means deemed appropriate by the President.
It should come as no shock that the government of the United States, failing in an occupation, inaccurately predicted by policy advisors to be one of the most easy occupations in military history, is now looking to add human capital to its designs in Iraq, and elsewhere. It should also come as no shock that the text of the proposed bill grants complete command of implementation to the chief executive, not his constituency. Anyone familiar with modern political history should recognize immediately the tendency of concentration of power to one person at the highest echelon, when a climate of fear, “emergencies and threats”, real or invented, are at the forefront of everyday life.
My speculation is that the media silence is largely the result of known popular opposition to any kind of military draft. If that is indeed the case, the next step is quite easy. Organization, civil disobedience, and action on the part of concerned citizens with all hopes, can and will defeat this bill before it even has a chance to pass.
(1) Bill HR 163, United States House of Representatives and Bill S89 United States Senate, January 7, 2003. Available online when queried from thomas.loc.gov. All further citations to the document come from these sources.
(2) See Chomsky and Herman, Manufacturing Consent, or Bagdikian, Media Monopoly, to start.