Presidential candidate Ralph Nader this weekend warned his constituents that a military draft is pending, and asked younger voters to prepare.
The independent candidate noted that the federal government is filling seats on local draft boards as preparation for a reinstatement of the draft, which was eliminated in 1973.
“The Pentagon is quietly recruiting new members to fill local draft boards, as the machinery for drafting a new generation of young Americans is being quietly put into place,” Mr. Nader said in a press release sent out to constituents and posted on his Web site during the weekend.
“Young Americans need to know that a train is coming, and it could run over their generation in the same way that the Vietnam War devastated the lives of those who came of age in the sixties.”
Kevin Zeese, a spokesman for the Nader campaign, said draft boards are being rebuilt “right now” and that the demands on the U.S. military are growing.
“I don’t think that Ralph feels that the draft is imminent, but we are looking at the shortage of troops in Iraq and the calls from [Senator John] Kerry for 40,000 more troops. What Ralph is saying is that if students don’t start to organize right now, it will be too late,” Mr. Zeese said.
Rumors of a draft reinstatement emerged in the fall when the Selective Service announced that it was recruiting members for the nation’s 2,000 local draft and appeals boards. A Selective Service spokesman said yesterday that the announcement was made to help fill spots on the boards, as many members’ 20-year terms ended.
“It was misread then,” said the spokesman, Pat Schuback. “Their terms are expiring right now, and that’s what is going on.”
“We’re prepared to do our jobs here if needed,” he said. “And it is important for us to be ready. The administration has been very clear about wanting to keep this volunteer, and we understand that. We let the politicians do the politics.”
He noted that Selective Service, a branch of the Justice Department, has seen personnel numbers drop recently. The agency went from 166 full-time staffers in fiscal 2003 to 156 this year.
Another third-party candidate, Libertarian Aaron Russo, has joined Mr. Nader in warning Americans that a draft is a real possibility, despite denials from all quarters of the Bush administration.
Mr. Russo, one of three front-runners vying for the Libertarian nomination, said at a party forum in Virginia last month that “the draft is a bipartisan effort between Republicans and Democrats that will start after the 2004 presidential election, for obvious reasons,” a prediction he repeats on his campaign Web site.
It would take legislative action by Congress to reinstate the draft, which was ended in 1973, about two months before the last U.S. troops were withdrawn from Vietnam. Registration with the Selective Service was halted from 1975 to 1980, but was reinstated under President Carter after Russia invaded Afghanistan.
A bill was drafted by South Carolina Sen. Ernest F. Hollings in January 2003, putting in place the parameters for a draft. Its House companion legislation was introduced simultaneously by New York Rep. Charles B. Rangel. Both lawmakers are Democrats.
The bills have gone nowhere, though, and nothing is expected to come from them.
Young men today are still required to register with the Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthdays. There are 15 million men ages 18 to 25 registered with the agency.