|From Draft NOtices, May - June, 2004
With Kerry as President, Our Work Would Be Just as Urgent
? Rick Jahnkow
If you were thinking "relief" is spelled K-E-R-R-Y, think again. John Kerry
could be just as bad on the issue of militarism ? more specifically, the
militarization of young people ? as the previous several administrations.
Besides the fact that Kerry advocates enlarging the military (imagine
spending more on war making than we already are!) and supports continuing
the occupation of Iraq, Kerry has a plan for national service that could be
an intermediate step in the direction of mandatory civilian/military
Over the years, various organizations and politicians have unsuccessfully
championed the idea of universal national service, where people would have to
choose between military and civilian duty. Military conscription alone has
been used in this country during the Civil War, WWI, and most of the
WWII-Vietnam period. Attempts to have the Supreme Court declare the military
draft unconstitutional never succeeded, and the last draft was ended by
Congress mostly because it was helping to fuel a more general social and
political rebellion during the Vietnam War. The idea of a draft for civilian
service has been even less popular and has never picked up enough support to
make it through Congress.
The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), which was formed in 1985 to move the
Democratic Party in a more conservative direction, is one organization that
has promoted the idea of universal military/civilian national service. It
claims to support only voluntary national service, but in its 1988 Blueprint,
the DLC proposed making all existing federal financial aid for students
contingent on them doing one or two years of military or civilian service "at
The danger of such plans is that they are the starting points on a path that
could lead to mandatory military/civilian service. The general strategy would
work like this:
1. First you campaign to get the public used to the idea that they have an
obligation to "serve," with little distinction being made between serving the
government and serving humanity.
2. Next, you gradually make college financial aid and other "privileges"
(like health care, low-income housing, etc.) contingent on doing
government-dictated work assignments.
3. Finally, after getting people acclimated to the above, you introduce a
universal civilian/military draft where "service" is no longer voluntary.
John Kerry, a member of the DLC, has been promoting a national service plan
in his presidential campaign that seems to be following the first two steps
described above. Following are excerpts from Kerry's plan that illustrate
his thinking on the subject. Note that he includes the forcing of colleges
to accept ROTC in the context of a "voluntary" national service program.
(II) A MANDATORY HIGH SCHOOL SERVICE REQUIREMENT. As President, John
Kerry will ensure that every high school student in America does community
service as a requirement for graduation. . . . Knowledge of the rights and
responsibilities of citizenship ? including the duty to serve your community
? are as important to American adults as knowing how to read and do math.
Combined with a curriculum that teaches students about democracy, citizenship
and civic participation, this high school service requirement will be a rite
of passage for every young person in the country. . . .
(VI) RECRUIT MORE AMERICANS TO THE MILITARY. The highest form of service
is military service. America's military is having trouble recruiting and is
increasingly relying on the reserves for active duty. John Kerry believes we
must change that. The complicated missions we face and technologies we use
depend on it. In a Kerry Administration, no university that receives federal
aid will be allowed to ban the ROTC from their campus, except for religious
reasons. And the ROTC scholarship program will be adequately funded so that
students can attend the college of their choice. John Kerry will also make
modernizing our GI benefits a top priority, because no program has been more
successful increasing educational opportunities for veterans while also
providing an incentive for the best and brightest to make a career out of
Kerry's plan also proposes paying for 2-4 years of college tuition if high
school graduates choose to do 1-2 years of national service. For the most
part, this would be made possible by expanding the existing civilian service
agency, AmeriCorps, and presumably, getting Congress to pass a very large
increase in the AmeriCorps education benefit (currently under $5,000).
On the surface, expanding AmeriCorps and enlarging the education benefit for
voluntary service is not a bad idea, but it's highly unlikely that the
military would stand for this if it would create competition for recruiters.
When AmeriCorps was established years ago, the Pentagon complained about the
size of the education benefit that was proposed and succeeded in getting it
reduced substantially to an amount that could not compete with the GI Bill.
In order to expand "voluntary" national service and not run afoul of the
Pentagon, I believe Kerry would be more likely to resurrect the DLC's
original proposal to make all federal student aid contingent on doing either
military or civilian service. This is the intermediate step toward eventual
universal, mandatory civilian/military service.
Even if a combined civilian/military draft were not the result, it's clear
that Kerry is aligned with those who would impose militarism on schools and
who believe that people have a duty to serve the state, as opposed to the
other way around. If elected president, he could very well be the person who
will sign a military draft bill if recruiting does not provide enough
personnel for expanded military missions and a larger force size over the
next few years.
When Democrats Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were elected, many people
thought the "bad guys" were no longer in office, and we saw the typical
phenomenon of peace and social justice activism losing strength and
intensity. This is part of an unfortunate cycle that helps render our
movements ineffective over the long term and results in more of the same
crises that we strive to prevent (more wars, loss of ground on affirmative
action, erosion of women's reproductive rights, increasing economic class
The lesson is this: vote for anybody-but-Bush if you wish, but no one should
have any illusions about Kerry or the Democratic Party. Our only hope is that
enough people realize that no matter what happens this November, we must
commit to increasing ? not decreasing ? our activism!
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed
to Militarism and the Draft