Fighting ISIS — Rep Rangel says burden of wars must be shared more equally across race and class
I am certain that the US-led coalition can defeat the Islamic terrorist groups in the Middle East. But if we ultimately must put boots on the ground, we should only do so when our entire nation is fully committed to sharing the burden – when we reinstate the draft and enact a war tax. Most American families today do not have much stake in the cost of war. Right now, few fight and even fewer decide. But war becomes more personal when you have to pay for a loved one to fight in it.
Since 1973, the all-volunteer US military has comported itself with honor and bravery. Yet the burden of service disproportionately falls on less than 1% of the population. The same familiar faces have served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. A more inclusive military draft, however, would compel everyone in the nation to stop and rethink about who we send to wars, how we fight – and why we fight them at all.
Our military leadership is absent of racial diversity. While minorities are slightly over-represented in its lower ranks, they are nearly absent from its top brass. The ratio of active-duty minority officers and enlisted members is currently 1 for every 6.9 officers. US Navy admiral Michelle Howard, who became America’s first black woman promoted to a four-star officer rank last year, noted how isolating and alienating her job had become: “You look around the room, and there’s nobody who looks or sounds like you.”
Black Americans make up a mere 5.5% of graduates of the US Army’s elite West Point Military Academy, where 80% of its graduates are white. Hispanic and Asian Americans are altogether underrepresented throughout the US armed forces, and almost non-existent in the upper ranks. Those who end up wearing the scars of war are usually not from the top, where minorities are excluded from the decision making on how to fight.
I am further troubled by the socio-economic disparity of the all-volunteer force. Due to a glaring lack of opportunities, many young Americans from distressed, rural communities are more inclined to volunteer for the military than those from affluent backgrounds. The military recruits in rural areas at a rate of 1.94 per 1,000 young people, well above the national average. A mere 5% of enlisted, active-duty service members hold a bachelor’s degree, while 82% of their counterparts in the officers corps have at least a bachelor’s. In a society where higher education is essential to securing a job, many view the military as an alternative means – as I did in 1948 – to achieving the American Dream.
Not to be overlooked, the burden of service has predominantly fallen on men. While women have fought with valor and distinction, they only make up about 16% of our military. This makes it all too easy to count women out of the equation, even though they bear the burden on the home front while their loved ones are sent into harm’s way, and while so many mothers endure the tragic loss of their sons.
Currently almost all male US citizens and immigrants between the ages of 18 to 25 are required to register for selective service, in case our nation needs to reinstate the draft. I have introduced a bill to include women in the registry, doubling the approximate 13.5m currently eligible for conscription – not to send women off to the battlefields, but to give them a voice on matters of war.
Still, not everyone will have a son or daughter, a brother or sister, in the fight. That is why I believe it is important to levy a war tax – so that everyone has a reason to question America’s decision to go to war. When we require citizens to pay out of their own pockets, the costs become more real. Nearly 6,900 American service men and women paid the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan. War should be our last resort.
But if we must go back to war, we should decide and fight together as a nation. Reinstating the draft and enacting a war tax would ensure that our fight against the Islamic State is a shared sacrifice. If we want a fair fight, national defense should be synonymous with the contributions of everyone, not just the small few.
The article was first published on The Guardian under the headline “The US military is as unequal as America. Want a fair fight? Reinstate the draft”