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Will the Draft Come Back?

Despite denials from the White House, talk has started up in some government circles about reinstating the draft, in order to have enough manpower to rebuild the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq. The long tours of duty the current soldiers are undergoing in Iraq are leading to exhaustion and even driving some of them to suicide.

Charles Pope points out in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that the draft would be a tough sell until after the next Presidential election. Despite this, the Defense Department placed a notice on its website asking for "men and women in the community who might be willing to serve as members of a local draft board." It said, "If a military draft becomes necessary, approximately 2,000 Local and Appeal Boards throughout America would decide which young men, who submit a claim, receive deferments, postponements or exemptions from military service, based on Federal guidelines. Positions are available in many communities across the Nation." The Pentagon won't comment on the notice, but it has been pulled from the site.

The draft was abolished in 1973, after much controversy about the unfairness of draft deferrals for college students during the Vietnam War, meaning the war was fought mainly by the poor and by minorities. Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel (NY) is for the draft, because he says this is still going on: "In Iraq, minorities represented a disproportionate 32% of the deaths among combat-related specialties and 40% those among the non-combat ranks. I do deplore the fact that Americans and Americans-to-be of their socioeconomic positions make up the overwhelming majority of our nation's armed forces, and that, by and large, those of wealth and position are absent from the ranks of ground troops. The point is that, under a draft, every economic group, every social class, men and women, would be given the opportunity to contribute to the defense of their country," he says.

Sandra Jontz writes in the Stars and Stripes European edition the suicide rate among soldiers in Iraq is going up, and mental health experts are trying to figure out why. Army spokeswoman Martha Rudd says, "The Army has become very sensitized to self-inflicted deaths, especially now with the ongoing war on terror and recognizing that soldiers are going to be over there for a while, at least for two more, yearlong rotations." Experts are investigating 11 incidents of possible suicides, as well as several other deaths. Harsh environmental conditions that can lead soldiers to resort to suicide, as well as family separations and easy access to weapons. Ted Bowers, a retired preacher and former Navy commander, says disturbing news from home can sometimes be too much to handle. "In all of this dealing with troops, one of the greatest disservices that someone from home can do is write a 'Dear John' type letter," he says. "One Marine I counseled was going to walk off into the desert. Just go off?[Another]?had gotten word that his marriage was over?I'd see these young men and women trying to deal with issues of war, issues of killing and suffering, and then they'd get dumped on by a message coming from back home. It was too much to handle."

While today's troops are well trained, Bowers says, "they're not trained in human relations. That area has been neglected." So if you're writing to someone stationed in Iraq, don't take the easy way out and break bad news by mail?save it for later.

No matter how we feel about the war on this Veteran's Day, we wish our soldiers healing and peace.

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