Missouri students debate likelihood of draft
By Chris Blank
Special to CNN
Editor's Note: Campus Vibe is a weekly feature that provides student perspectives on the 2004 election from selected colleges across the United States. This week's contributor is Chris Blank, staff writer at The Maneater, the independent student newspaper at the University of Missouri-Columbia. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the University of Missouri-Columbia.
COLUMBIA, Missouri (CNN) -- Although the direct impact is limited to males 18 to 25, assertions that the military draft may be reinstated has lent a dynamic to a presidential election already full of tense issues.
The issue has generated more debate in recent weeks, fueled by former Coalition Provisional Authority leader L. Paul Bremer's statement about insufficient troop levels in Iraq and a vote in Congress against a bill to reinstitute the draft.
"It's clearly a distraction even though the renewal of the draft isn't likely to happen," said Rick Hardy, an associate professor of political science at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
"People start rumors that no one has an earthly idea where they came from, but the problem is that you have to respond to it," Hardy said. "If you don't respond, people will just assume that it's true."
Both candidates discussed the issue in the presidential debates, prompting President Bush to pledge not to reinstate the draft if elected because "we don't need mass armies anymore."
Bush said shifting some troops from Europe and the Korean Peninsula is sufficient to fulfill U.S. military obligations.
Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry has accused Bush of employing a "backdoor draft" through his use of the reserves and National Guard.
Given Bush's assurances and Kerry's campaign promise to increase active duty troops by 40,000 to avoid the need for a draft, some voters seem skeptical of the motives behind the discussion but remain anxious nonetheless.
"I'm very concerned because while I don't have any brothers, I have lots of friends who do and lots of guy friends," freshman journalism student Maria Lorenzo said. "I don't think it's fair to pluck people out of their lives."
While the issue has been divisive, some students say they don't believe the draft will become a reality.
Senior graphic design student Pat Olds said he was glad the prospect was being discussed because it was important to consider the possibility, but he said that it was being used as a political tool.
"I really don't think it's going to occur," Olds said. "I think no matter who is elected we won't have a draft. It's one of those things that only gets talked about every four years."
Hardy said he believed the draft became an issue when a media consultant or a political operative dropped the buzzword in a focus group and saw a big reaction. He said people from both campaigns found it effective in generating support for their candidate because of the Vietnam War-era baggage the issue carries.
Student correspondent Chris Blank stands in front of the Jesse Hall administrative building at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
The draft was suspended in 1973, but President Carter, responding to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, required draft-eligible males to register beginning in 1980. All males must register with the Selective Service System by their 18th birthday, under penalty of law and the revocation of all federal student aid.
Since the draft was suspended, there has been a significant shift in gender roles, raising the issue of whether women should face compulsory military service.
"I'm in between on that issue because I would see women as more equal if they could be drafted, but I wouldn't want to be drafted," sophomore chemistry student Kara Kinzel said.
Despite her mixed feelings on the prospect of the inclusion of women in the draft, Kinzel said she did not believe it would be an issue in the immediate future and would only return if something drastic happened.