Published on Thursday, January 23, 2003 by the San Francisco Chronicle
Stark Joins Call to Restore Draft
He admits co-sponsoring the bill is protest against a war in Iraq
by Edward Epstein
WASHINGTON -- Wading into an issue that has stirred acrimonious debate, East Bay Rep. Pete Stark has become one of a handful of House members to co-sponsor legislation calling for reinstating the military draft.
Stark was among 133 House members, including most of the Bay Area delegation, who unsuccessfully opposed last October's resolution authorizing Bush to use military force against Iraq.
"If we're going to have these escapades, we should not do it on the backs of poor people and minorities," Stark said.
The Defense Department vigorously denies the contention that minorities or the poor are over-represented in the military, or that they suffered a higher proportion of casualties in U.S. wars since Vietnam.
In Vietnam, draftees accounted for about 20,000 of the 58,000 U.S. deaths.
The idea of drafting young adults for the military was proposed three weeks ago by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., a Korean War veteran who was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his service.
Since then, Rangel has gathered 11 co-sponsors in the 435-member House, showing what an uphill climb the legislation faces, especially in the face of opposition from the president and the Pentagon.
The bill provides for almost no exemptions from serving. Stark said even young people with many physical disabilities could serve, if not in the military, than as aides to teachers and nurses.
"Sure, this is a protest against the war," said Stark. "In fact, I hope we downsize the military. The president is a fanatic to get us involved in a war with Iraq . . . He's the John Wayne of oil diplomacy."
About 2 million men turn 18 each year. Currently, about 150,000 18-year- olds enlist each year in the all-volunteer military.
The last draftees were called up in 1973, although all 18-year-old men are required to register in the event another draft is ordered.
Stark, along with ultra-conservative Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, has repeatedly proposed legislation calling for abolishing the standby registration, calling it a waste of money.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld provoked criticism when, responding to questions three weeks ago about a potential draft, he made comments that seemed to disparage past draftees.
Rumsfeld said that after exemptions were given to college students, "What was left was sucked into the intake, trained for a period of months, and then went out, adding no value, no advantage, really, to the United States armed services over any sustained period of time because the churning that took place, it took an enormous amount of effort in terms of training, and then they were gone."
The remarks drew angry reactions from veterans' groups and lawmakers who have served in the military.
On Tuesday, Rumsfeld issued a written apology to veterans' groups.
"Hundreds of thousands of military draftees served over the years with great distinction and valor -- many being wounded and still others killed. The last thing I would want to do would be to disparage the service of those draftees," his statement said.
But the Pentagon still vigorously opposes a draft, saying the all-volunteer military is better-motivated and professional.
It also disputes Stark's contention that the military is unrepresentative of America's population.
"It is true that African Americans join at rates modestly above the national population numbers, but I would underscore the word modestly," said a senior Pentagon official at a special press briefing on the draft issue.
"Now, when we look at the whole force, African Americans represent a higher fraction of the force because they decide to stay with us at higher rates than some other population groups," he added.
In the 1991 Gulf War, the Pentagon said blacks made up 25 percent of the force deployed to the war zone and accounted for 15 percent of the casualties.
MORE WHITES DIED
Whites were 66 percent of the force and 78 percent of the casualties, while Latinos were 5 percent of the forces and 4 percent of the casualties.
But Stark, who served in the Air Force from 1955-1957, said he doesn't see military recruiting offices in rich neighborhoods around Washington or his congressional district.
"It's difficult to say a draft wouldn't be fair. I'd like to see the parent who says he's for the war, but not for my son and daughter," Stark said.
Stark's 47-year-old son Jeff Stark, an assistant Alameda County District Attorney, didn't serve in the military, the congressman said. Stark has three other children, a 7-year-old son and 18-month-old twins, from a second marriage.
Stark also has a 15-year-old grandson. "He's ripe. In two more years, he's chief cannon fodder," the congressman said.
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle