Dear Rep. Moran:

 

I am sorry that I missed the recent town hall meeting at George Mason High School in Falls Church, VA where, upon a question from a student about the possibility of resuming the draft, you responded that you thought that some sort of universal national service could be considered.

 

Of course, the House has vigorously voted down a simple bill to reinstate the draft, and the Pentagon repeatedly insists that a volunteer military meets foreseeable needs. The Pentagon is not interested in nannying conscripts. President Bush refers to the draft as an “Internet rumor” or urban legend (maybe spread by me!)  But the “backdoor draft” in our stop-loss provisions regarding rotations in Iraq certainly raises serious questions of hardship and fairness, as well as echoes of Vietnam.

 

While working on my 1997 “Do Ask Do Tell” book, I corresponded with the Arlington Selective Service office and did considerable research on its current function today. It seems to me that with universal service proposals, anything like a “Selective Service” paradigm would entail setting up an impractical and unmanageable bureaucracy.

 

Nevertheless, various reliable reports suggest considerable public support for the idea of some kind of universal service, perhaps up to two-thirds on some campuses according to a Tufts University professor interviewed by Aaron Brown last week (10/7/2004) on CNN.

 

I think that the public is quite uneasy with where our seemingly uncontrolled laissez-faire personal culture has taken us.  David Callahan analyzes the breakdown of personal ethics in his recent book “The Cheating Culture,” and Peter Peterson warns of sobering cultural and economic showdowns in his “Running on Empty.”  The increasing gap between the rich and poor seems to add to economic instability and national security risks, as well as resentment of America around the world. One might say that personal liberty cannot be taken for granted (evermore so in a world with the kind of external challenges that we face), and that personal liberty must be deployed with “good faith” by individuals if it is not to undermine the lives of those less fortunate or possibly set up value systems that could eventually encourage the return of authoritarianism. We could analyze this in all kinds of issues (offshoring, health care, eldercare, low birth rates, social security, “Wal Mart,” and cheating). 

 

One could imagine paradigms for national or community service, possibly not just limited to young people, where service is expected if one it to get a good job, an academic admittance, or even one’s book published!  One could imagine private companies keeping track of ‘citizenship scores” the way they keep credit scores. This does sound Orwellian and could lead to some rather childish thinking. But the main point is that we ought to have some kind of formal debate or commission report on national service. Peterson hints at this (at least indirectly) in his book when he talks about a commission report “on the future” after the election.

 

A sensitive point here is how the GLBT community would fare in all of this. Recall that on December 3, 2004 you sponsored another forum at Washington-Lee high school where Alastair Gamble, a former Army linguistics student, spoke against “don’t ask don’t tell.”  A draft could certainly have indirect adverse political effects on the gay community. However, Charles Moskos actually wrote to me once (in Nov. 2002), “gays must come out for conscription, then the ban would be lifted.” There would be a temptation to funnel gays to non-military services, but some of the same problems of forced intimacy and public profile can occur in other services like the Peace Corps. Indeed, the debate on gay marriage (and gay parenting) reflects the idea that gays and lesbians ought to have equal responsibility (including family responsibility) to go along with equal freedom. 

 

My website essay on the draft is at http://www.doaskdotell.com/controv/draft.htm

 

On Dec. 21, 2004 Rep. Moran provided the following reply:

 

Dear Mr. Boushka

 

Knowing of your interest in the possibility of the military draft being reinstated, I thought you would appreciate an update on a recent development regarding this proposal.

 

On Tuesday October 5 (2004), The House of Representatives debated H.R. 163, The Universal National Service Act, which would require all men and women to serve a period of two years in either the military or perform public service. Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) introduced H.R. 163 in a symbolic effort to highlight the disparity between the racial and socio-economic background of enlisted soldiers in the U.S. Armed Services. The bill was not subject to any hearings or committee consideration by the ruling Republican majority before being brought on the House floor. I voted against the bill, which overwhelmingly failed 402-2.

 

This was not a serious discussion on a important issue that deserves national debate. The legislation was introduced in an effort to highlight the fact that a large percentage of enlisted servicemen who have been sent off to fight the war in Iraq are minorities and young people in lower socio-economic backgrounds. If the decision makers of this country, primarily from affluent backgrounds, had their children serving in the military, I think we would be far more cautious about going to war in the first place.

 

The fact is. The Bush-Cheney Administration’s decision to start a preemptive, unilateral war has stretched our troop levels thin, used the (National) Guard and Reserves beyond their capacity and this greatly increased the probability that the U.S. may be forced to reinstate the draft sometime in the future to sustain the required troop levels in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world. I am firmly opposed to the reinstitution of the draft but do feel an incentivized universal service program allowing for community service as an alternative to military service and with opportunities for continuing education and recognition of family hardships, is an idea worth exploring.

 

Please feel free to visit my website at http://www.house.gov/moran , which contains important information on topics that may be of interest to you. Thank you again for contacting me on this important issue.

 

Yours truly,

 

James P. Moran

(D-Va)