"Let the debate begin!"
Those were the words of Rep. Charles Rangel as he announced a bill that would implement a military draft — a system that proved so unpopular in the Vietnam era that it was abolished in 1973.
Rangel, D-N.Y., knows his draft proposal is not likely to pass. But he is intent on raising this question: With a disproportionate number of the poor and minorities serving in the military, is it fair to ask them to fight a war for everybody else?
"For those who say the poor fight better," Rangel told a news conference today, "I say give the rich a chance."
Leveling the Playing Field?
In the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles, almost everyone interviewed had an opinion. Some felt that a draft would level the playing field.
"It's usually the poor people and the middle class that go to war to defend America," said a man having breakfast at a local pancake house. "It's never really the people who control the politics and the money."
But a friend sitting next to him, a Vietnam veteran, worried that the rich would somehow manage to avoid a draft, just as many did during the Vietnam War.
"What about Bush?" the veteran asked. "Did he go to war? That is what bothers me, you know. People who have never been to war are going to send somebody else to war."
Taking It Personally
According to Rangel, the Congress that voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq includes only one member who has a child in the military's enlisted ranks, and just a few more with children who are officers.
Several people in the Crenshaw neighborhood said that those who vote in favor of war should have a personal stake in the matter.
"When a person doesn't have a loved one that is actually involved in the front line," said one resident, "they seem to be impartial to what is going on. When you have someone on the front line, you have to think twice."
Radio talk show host Tavis Smiley broadcasts from a studio on Crenshaw Boulevard. "One has to ask the question," Smiley told ABCNEWS, "what impact does it have on America when most of the lives on the front line are lives that come from communities of color?"
A Nation Based on ‘Volunteerism’
But that does not mean everyone in Crenshaw thinks compulsory service is the answer.
Author Earl Hutchinson says he opposed the draft during the Vietnam War, and he still opposes it.
"This is not a country that's based on compulsion," he said. "This is country that is based on consent, agreement, and in that sense, volunteerism."
That sentiment is shared by some of the soldiers leaving today for Kuwait from Fort Benning in Georgia. In the words of one: "If they [draftees] are not dedicated, they could almost do more harm than good, you know?"