Draft Fears Fueled by Inaccurate E-mails
June 15, 2004
Updated: September 29, 2004
A scare story spreads electronically, but it gets facts wrong.
Several FactCheck subscribers have asked about an e-mailed rumor that is causing a lot of anxiety. It claims that steps are being taken to resume military conscription next year. But the message abounds with misinformation and half-truths. And some experts say conscription is the last thing the military wants or needs, despite being stretched thin in Iraq.
We can't say whether this one is deliberate misinformation or just sloppy reporting, but it sure is generating a lot of needless anxiety. It amounts to another "lying e-mail" of the kind we've warned about before (check the links to "related articles" at the end of this one.)
Basic Facts About Draft
Let's start with a few essential facts. Military conscription ended in the US in 1973. Males aged 18 through 25 still are required to register with the Selective Service System, but it would take an act of Congress to resume actual conscription into military service.
That's not likely. Here's what Selective Service says on its Web site as of June 14 (emphasis added):
Both the White House and the Pentagon have denied repeatedly that they're planning any return to military conscription. Here's what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said May 17, addressing the conservative Heritage Foundation (emphasis added):
The Scare Story
A different -- and misleading -- story is being circulated by e-mail and posted on any number of mostly left-leaning Web sites, claiming that the Bush administration is "quietly trying" to pass legislation to reactivate the draft, and that $28 million has been added to the Selective Service budget this year to prepare for a military draft that could start "as early as June 15, 2005."
The message is false or misleading on several counts.
--The bills are not being pushed. It's quite true that the two bills mentioned would require both men and women aged 18 through 25 to perform a two-year period of "national service," which incidentally could be either military or non-military service. But the bills are sponsored only by Democrats, and there's not the slightest evidence that the Bush administration is pushing for them, quietly or otherwise.
One bill is H.R. 163, whose principal sponsor is Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel of New York. It has 14 co-sponsors, all of them Democrats in a Congress controlled by Republicans. The bill was dead on arrival: it sits in a House subcommittee with no hearings or votes scheduled and no action expected.
In fact, Rangel told FactCheck.org through his spokesman Emile Milne that even he isn't pushing for passage, let alone Bush (emphasis added):
The identical Senate bill, S. 89, introduced by Democratic Sen. Ernest Hollings, and also was DOA. Not one other senator has co-sponsored it. It also sits in committee with no action scheduled or expected.
Both bills in question were drawn up before the Iraq war started, mostly to make a political point. Rangel said he acted to highlight Democratic objections to use of military force against Saddam Hussein. He wrote, "I truly believe that decision- makers who support war would more readily feel the pain of conflict and appreciate the sacrifice of those on the front lines if their children were there, too."
The Selective Service Budget has not been increased. The scare story also gets it wrong when it claims the budget for the Selective Service is being increased by $28 million in 2004. In fact, the Selective Service System's budget is flat. Its total operating budget was $26 million in fiscal year 2003 (which ended last Sept. 30), and is $26 million for fiscal 2004 as well. Furthermore, the President is asking for $26 million again for fiscal year 2005, and the Office of Management and Budget actually projects that the agency will shrink in size from 161 employees to 156 next year. That's hardly gearing up for a draft.
Military experts say a draft doesn't make sense. Numerous news accounts have quoted military experts as saying a draft would cause more problems for the military than it would solve. Here's one example, from an excellent story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last month (emphasis added):
The Selective Service System figures it would take 183 days from the the time an order comes down to begin a draft until the first conscript reports for training. Training conscripts and forming them into military units would take many months more to meet the requirements of today's high-tech military. If more trained uniformed men and women are needed, it would be much faster to mobilize additional National Guard units. The Post-Gazette reports that of 38 Army National Guard combat brigades only three have been called to active service and four others were mobilizing, leaving 31 upon which to draw. (Note: National Guard Spokesman Scott Woodham confirmed these figures when FactCheck.org inquired on June 15.)
Other Dubious Claims
The e-mail ominously states that "the Pentagon has quietly begun a public campaign to fill all 10,350 draft board positions." But it turns out that's nothing new: the Selective Service has been trying to fill vacancies on local boards for several years, and the Selective Service isn't part of the Pentagon anyway -- it's an independent agency.
It's true that a notice appeared briefly last year on a Department of Defense Web site urging anyone who might be willing to serve as an unpaid volunteer on a local draft board to contact the Selective Service System in Washington. The notice touched off a flurry of news reports speculating that a renewed draft might be in the works, after which the notice quickly disappeared. (A copy of the notice was preserved here. The spot on the DOD Web site from which it disappeared is here.)
As an Associated Press story later explained, however, the search for volunteer board members has been on since 1999 when many original board members started hitting their 20-year term limits. The current board system was established in 1979.
The e-mail also notes -- correctly -- that student deferments wouldn't be a ticket to avoid military service in any renewed draft, the way they were during the Vietnam war. Back then, anyone with the means and inclination could stay in college and graduate school and keep pursuing degrees until too old to be drafted. That couldn't happen today. Should a draft resume, deferments would only allow a draftee to delay induction to finish high school or, if in college, to finish the current semester. But that's nothing new, either. Congress reformed student deferments more than 30 years ago, as the Vietnam era draft was winding down.
Finally, the e-mail speculates that a US-Canadian agreement reached in December, 2001 would make it harder for draft evaders to flee to Canada, as many American men did to avoid service in Vietnam. However, the "smart border declaration" makes no mention of US draft laws. Whether Canadian officials would be any more inclined to run down US draft evaders in the future than they were 30 years ago is a matter for conjecture.
Federal Document Clearing House, Inc., FDCH Political Transcripts, "Secretary Of Defense Rumsfeld Delivers Remarks To The Heritage Foundation," 17 May 2004.
US Government Printing Office, "Budget of the United States Government,
Jack Kelly, "Rumor Aside, Draft's Return Most Unlikely," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette , 24 May 2004: A1.
Pauline Jelinek, "Pentagon Can't Seem to Kill Idea of Draft," The Associated Press , 1 June 2004.
Scott Canon, "Fear of draft's renewal exists in spite of political, social obstacles," Kansas City Star, 25 May 2004.
Associated Press, "Selective Service notice creates flurry of press reports suggesting return of draft," USA Today.com, 11 Nov 2003.
Selective Service System, "DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE SELECTIVE SERVICE TODAY AND DURING VIETNAM," agency Web site accessed 14 June 2004.
Canadian Embassy, Washington DC, " The Smart Border Declaration ," 12 Dec 2001.
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