[Marxism] Why we may see a military draft

Derek Seidman derekseidman at yahoo.com
Sat Jul 10 07:20:08 MDT 2004



In earlier capitalist empires, particularly those of
the British and French, it was possible to conquer and
maintain control over far-flung global possessions
without recourse to conscript armies from the mother
country. The chief reasons for this were the weakness
of colonial resistance movements, their lack of access
to modern weapons (as Hilaire Belloc said, “Whatever
happens, we have got / The Maxim Gun, and they have
not”), and the recruitment of soldiers from amongst
the unemployed and underemployed in the advanced
capitalist countries (coupled with native armies drawn
from colonial territories). By the time of the Vietnam
War, however, the United States had no option but to
rely on conscripts to carry out its imperial
objectives. No longer were third world resistance
movements politically incohesive, their capacity to
obtain modern weaponry sufficient to fight a guerrilla
war had increased, and a pool of unemployed in the
United States adequate to maintain a volunteer army on
the scale required did not exist. Still, the United
States shied away from universal military service as a
means of maintaining its empire. After the Vietnam
War, which had shown the dangers of relying on
conscripts to fight an unpopular imperialist war, the
United States turned to a smaller all-volunteer
military (made practicable by a larger reserve army of
labor in a period of stagnation), under the renewed
belief that technology could limit the need for troops
on the ground. 

In only a year Iraq has demonstrated this to be an
illusion. The entire volunteer army scheme for
maintaining the U.S. empire is in tatters. The U.S.
ruling class is demanding more combat troops for Iraq
and there are no forces available, given that the
United States, eager to monopolize the spoils of war,
chose to intervene in Iraq virtually alone, with
significant support only from its much smaller British
partner. The extremity of the situation was
foreshadowed by a Congressional Budget Office (CBO)
report submitted as testimony before the Armed
Services Committee of the U.S. House of
Representatives on November 5, 2003. That report
indicated “the active Army would be unable to sustain
an occupation force of its present size beyond about
March 2004 if it chose not to keep individual units
deployed to Iraq for longer than one year without
relief.” To maintain a “steady state” or “indefinite”
occupation under present conditions, the CBO report
stressed, troop levels would have to fall to the
38,000 to 64,000 level. The only other options were
for the United States to alter rotation patterns
(taxing the strength of its volunteer army and going
against the basis on which recruitment and retention
occurs); drawing heavily on Marine, National Guard,
and special forces units; using financial incentives
to try to get soldiers to accept another tour of duty;
reducing its military deployments in the Sinai
Peninsula, Bosnia, and Kosovo; and finding ways to
privatize many military activities, thereby freeing up
more soldiers for combat. (The growth of mercenary
forces in the form of private military contractors in
Iraq, now amounting to some 20,000 private soldiers,
who do many of the things that the regular military
used to do, is a product of this privatization
strategy.) Even if its existing forces were stretched
to their utmost, including much heavier use of the
Marine, special forces and National Guard units for
combat duty in Iraq, the CBO still estimated that
forces available for the Iraqi theatre on a
steady-state basis—without breaking the promise to the
troops to keep their service in Iraq down to 12 months
and without depleting force commitments
elsewhere—would not be over two-thirds of the present
level at best. The fact that the administration in
early May announced that it would be keeping tens of
thousands of troops in Iraq longer than one year,
rotating some units back, is a reflection of the depth
of this crisis in the available forces for the

It is in these circumstances of an acute shortage of
soldiers that Congress is once again sending signals
that the draft will have to be reinitiated in the
United States, despite its enormous unpopularity. This
is presented as a case of fairness designed to
equalize the class burden of the war, which right now
is falling entirely on the working class—or in
establishment parlance the middle and lower classes,
representing ordinary working people and the poor.
“Who’s doing all the fighting?” Republican Senator
Chuck Hagel of Nebraska asked on the NBC Today show in
late April. According to Hagel the War on Terrorism is
possibly “a generational, probably 25 year war” and
thus should fall on all classes in the society. On the
same program Joe Biden, Democratic senator from
Delaware, declared that the U.S. military is too small
and probably could not be brought up to its needed
strength except on a conscript basis. Charles Rangel,
a Democratic congressman from New York, has also come
out strongly in favor of a resurrection of the draft. 

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