On Sunday morning, my friend and I began to argue over the issue of whether the Selective Service Act should be reinstituted and how that would affect Ephs everywhere. Aside from being the classic Sunday morning intellectual conversation on the equality of voluntary military service, this issue is at the point where it should be something we are all talking about. Figures as prominent as Congressman Charles Rangel (D- New York) are arguing for the reinstitution of the draft. As youths, this is both an issue that affects us very directly and one that we have an important legacy of engagement in to uphold.
Rangel argues that we should reinstitute the draft because our system is inequitable and that low-income minorities disproportionately fill our armed service. This, however, is not cut and dry. According to U.S. Military statistics, the proportion of white Americans in the military is consistent with their proportion of the entire American populous, but black Americans and Native Americans are overrepresented, while Hispanics and Asians are a bit underrepresented. There is an alarming trend: Low-income minorities are growing as a percentage of total military servicemen. This is troubling, and something should be done to mitigate it. Ephs need to be having this conversation because many of the potential responses could very directly affect our lives.
Our country has made enormous strides toward more equity and fairness within our military. Two recent developments articulate this fact: the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the allowance of women at the front lines of combat, both major achievements of the Obama administration. Equality should not, however, infringe upon liberty. Volunteer military service, where men and women, gay, straight, black and white, can serve their nation through their own choice and sacrifice is as American as apple pie. It is consistent with every value we hold true and is fundamentally compatible with democracy. Furthermore, our system that incentivizes military service, the exchange of two years of active service for four years of free education at an individual’s chosen college or university, is a terrific program that allows American veterans to get affordable, quality educations. There may well be Ephs among those who have taken advantage of this opportunity.
As I have said, however, the system is not perfect, and that is why we need to talk about fixing it. In an ideal world, each ethnic and socioeconomic group’s proportion of military servicemen matches up with its proportion of the overall population. But this is not an ideal world, and the system we have now is pretty good. Instead of focusing on the draft to fix this problem, there are other avenues we need to address in dealing with minorities and their inequitable economic position. Is it deplorable? Yes, it is. It is despicable that in the richest and most powerful nation on Earth, over 15 percent of our citizens are living in poverty (U.S. Census Bureau Data 2011), and it is further troubling that 27.4 percent of blacks and 26.6 percent of Hispanics are living below the poverty line. This should not be a fact of American life; this should not be something we just let slide. I encourage you all to call on the Obama Administration and Congress to help alleviate the economic stress upon low-income Americans and to institute programs, especially those surrounding quality education for all, that help break this economic inequality that is parasitic to a free and equal society.
A draft does more harm than good. Do we really want draft dodging, increased instability and tension and a public angry at the decision to reinstitute an undemocratic vestigial element of years past? A draft is against our values of freedom of choice and against common sense – why conscript a population that has zero desire to be conscripted when it is unnecessary? Our current military outlook does not warrant a draft; we are not entering a world war. When we are trying to bring down military spending and become less of a militarized state, how would mandatory military service look? Would that further the goal or hinder it?
Students, listen up: This affects you and the future of the nation. Imagine if instead of coming to Williams, you were forced by the U.S. government to serve two years in the armed services. Is that fair? Is that democratic? What if you’re a pacifist or have no interest or desire to be in the military? Is it okay to force service upon you? I do not think so. It’s against the ideals of America and of the liberal arts, like the freedom to choose what to learn and how to learn it.
One thought is adding an ROTC program to liberal arts colleges and other universities in an effort to break the demographic trends we now see in military enrollment. While this plan might work, is ROTC really right for schools like Williams, a small school where students come to focus on a liberal education? This is another question Ephs need to think about. What would instituting an ROTC program at Williams look like? It would certainly change the social dynamic on this campus. I think that we need to think carefully about how the draft, or its alternatives, might affect us here at the College. It is a real issue. We all need to wake up and pay attention because if we don’t, the military might be knocking on your door one day, sending you off to boot camp and not by your free will.
Clyde Engle ’15 is from Lake Forest, Ill. He lives in Hubbell.