By John Sutherland
Last Wednesday, the American public was officially instructed to panic. Attorney general John Ashcroft and FBI director Robert Muellerbrows furrowed, faces grimtook over primetime TV to deliver a spine-chilling message to their fellow citizens: Al-Qaida attack imminent.
When, where, and what form the outrage will take, is unknown. But something very, very awful is going to happen very, very soon.
Cynics will be skeptical. Was this another attempt by the administration, like those orange alerts last year, to divert attention from Iraq, the soaring price of gasoline, and Abu Ghraib?
On the same day that Ashcroft was terrifying his countrymen, I was emailed by an American student friend. He too is terrified. The U.S. legislature, he wrote, is trying to bring back the draft. For some reason no major news networks or printed media in this country are carrying this story. If these bills go through, the only thing between me and military service is my asthma.
Hes right. There is pending legislation in the American House of Representatives and Senate in the form of twin billsS89 and HR163. These measures (currently approved and sitting in the committee for armed services) project legislation for spring 2005, with the draft to become operational as early as June 15.
There already exists a Selective Service System (SSS). All young Americans are obliged to register for the draft. It has been a mere formality since conscription was abolished three decades ago, after Vietnam, together with the loathed (and much burned) draft card. SSS will be reactivated imminently. A $28 million implementation fund has been added to the SSS budget. The Pentagon is discreetly recruiting for 10,350 draft board officers and 11,070 appeals board members nationwide.
Draft-dodging will be harder than in the 1960s. In December 2001, Canada and the U.S. signed a smart border declaration, which, among other things, will prevent conscientious objectors (and cowards) from finding sanctuary across the northern border. There will be no deferment on higher-education grounds. Mexico does not appeal.
All this has been pushed ahead with an amazing lack of publicity. One can guess why. American newspapers are in a state of meltdown, distracted by war-reporting scandals at USA Today and the New York Times. There is an awareness in the press at large that the embedding system was just thatgetting into bed with the military and reporting their pillow talk as news from the frontline. The fourth estate has failed the American public and continues not to do its job.
The American public just wants the war to go away. One thing that would get their attention (but not their votes) would be their children being sent off to die in foreign lands. Best not disturb the electorate until after November, seems to be the thinking. There are, after all, more important things than wars: getting your man into the White House, for example. Kerry has clearly calculated that, as president, he too may have to bring in the draft. So his lips are also sealed.
The Guardian, May 31, 2004