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, a Fremont Democrat and an Air Force veteran, said forcing all 18- to
26-year-olds to complete at least a year in the military or some kind of
civilian service is an issue of basic fairness as President Bush prepares for
a war with Iraq.
Sure, this is a protest against the war. 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.
US Rep. Pete Stark
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
"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
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