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Congressman Raises Military Draft Issue

Students See Little Chance of Draft

Associated Press | November 21, 2006

CHICAGO - Many college students see the latest flirtation with a military draft more as political game-playing than a serious threat.

They welcome a discussion on military issues and the war in Iraq but, regardless of their political leanings, view a draft as outdated and unrealistic.

Their comments came Monday as U.S. Rep Charles Rangel - a New York Democrat who's also the incoming chair of the House Ways and Means Committee - says he will introduce legislation next year that would reinstate the draft and require young Americans to register after turning 18. Rangel sees his idea as a way to deter politicians from launching wars.

Nora Vail, a junior at DePaul University in Chicago, sees some merit in having a discussion about military service.

It's not "the Bush twins going off to war," she says. "It's going to be the poor kids growing up in the South or the inner city who go off to war ."

But she doesn't think reinstating the draft is the answer - and calls it a "terrible idea."

"The majority of people who'd be drafted would oppose the war ," Vail says, referring to Iraq.

"It would just be Vietnam all over again. It would be people forced to serve in a war that they didn't want to be at," says Vail, a Democrat majoring in political science.

Students with other political affiliations share her opposition to the draft, though sometimes for different reasons.

"What would I do if I was drafted? I think I probably wouldn't be the best of soldier. I'm not sure other soldiers would want to depend on me," says Steven Haag, a 21-year-old senior at Emory University in Atlanta, who's majoring in classics and history. The editor of the Emory Political Review, he identifies himself as a Republican.

In reality, he says most students see little chance of a draft measure actually passing.

The only people who are talking about it are the political pundits and a couple kids around campus,' he says.

Jamie McKown, a professor of government and policy at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, agrees that many young people don't see the draft as a real possibility - but if it were, he says, it would be an "explosive issue ."

I think they associate the draft as almost a historical thing - as something that occurred when we were involved in a bad war,' he says, referring to Vietnam. At the very least, he thinks Rangel's proposal will spark debate - not just among students, but also parents.

"Maybe we should talk about how likely we are to go to war if it's your children and not somebody else's children," McKown says. "But I can't see that anyone thinking about (running in) the 2008 campaign would want to touch it with a 10-foot pole."

Already, House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi has said that restoring the draft will not be part of that agenda when Democrats take over the House in January.

That said, the war in Iraq remains a hot-button issues for young voters, along with the economy and the cost of higher education.

Ben Unger, field director for a major nonpartisan get-out-the-vote effort, found that time and again as he registered young voters in California, Arizona, Iowa and Oregon for this month's midterm election. In the end, he says those issues motivated young people to show up at the polls in impressive numbers, as they did in the 2004 election.

The issue of concern when it came to Iraq was not, however, necessarily a draft.

"They mostly see it as something that affects their lives but is half a world away," says Unger, field director for the New Voters Project.

More often, young people told him they were concerned about the loss of life - both Americans and Iraqis - and the lack of progress in the war. "They don't have any better idea how we're going to get out of it - I think they feel relatively hopeless ," Unger says.

Kyle Massenburg, a senior at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, agrees that a disproportionate number of low-income and minority students enter the military. He saw many of his high school peers do so because they wanted to pay for school or needed a job.

"It's a tough dilemma ," says Massenburg, who's 21 and a corporate communications major.

But he and others say they'd be more motivated to support a draft if they saw a better reason for fighting.

"We are not at war with a tangible enemy," he says. "Even though I consider myself a conservative, I do not believe that people should be forced to serve in the military for an unstable cause."