Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was asked his feelings on the draft proposal made by Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York. In his reply, he recalled the draft experience of Vietnam. Rumsfeld said that conscripted troops in the Vietnam War “trained for a period of months, and then went out, adding no value, no advantage really, to the United States armed services…because the churning that took place, it took an enormous amount of effort in terms of training and they were gone.” To say the least, I was appalled at his comment given that he is supposed to be defending the valor and worth of all enlisted men and women in America.
Knowing several Vietnam era draftees and their stories that liken the battlefield to Dante’s eighth circle of hell, I am not surprised that they feel insulted and betrayed. It is not enough that Vietnam veterans were not welcomed as heroes when they returned from the war, but now they must relive the ungratefulness. I am thankful that many veterans are angered, but how many veterans cannot be because they returned in wooden boxes lying under the stars and stripes they gave their life for?
Eleven million Americans answered the draft and two million served. Of the 58,152 lives that were lost in Vietnam, 20,352 were draftees. Yet they added “no value, no advantage?” How many of those men took a bullet for a fellow soldier? How many were wounded helping fallen comrades? Certainly, they must have added something, Mr. Rumsfeld.
Although some have said that his comment was taken out of context and that Rumsfeld merely meant to say that having draftees does not add to the value of the armed forces, I cannot excuse him. Being an educated man in a position of authority, he could have simply said that conscription is not applicable today and would not make sense. There is no need for eloquence when simplicity and clarity would have sufficed.
When asked why we do not need a draft law, Rumsfeld replied, “We are successful in attracting and retraining the force we need without using compulsion, and without paying people 40 or 50 percent of what they’d make in the civilian manpower market. And unless someone decides that there’s some overall social good that could be achieved by reinstituting the draft, it certainly would not be reinstituted for the purpose of attracting and retaining the people we need, because we’re doing that.”
Mr. Rumsfeld does not seem to be up to date with the current armed forces situation. Two days following this statement, the Marine Corps froze all of its 174,312 members on active duty for the next 12 months. All those who had successfully completed their volunteer duty must remain for involuntary service. Many other armed forces divisions have done the same. So, in actuality, our forces are not made of volunteers anymore. Now the question is which service men will be called to serve and which will be drafted. Certainly keeping those in service who have served their volunteer time makes them no longer volunteers, unless they consent. Yet, do we know if they agree to this? Do they have an opportunity to disagree?
Whether or not this is enough to warrant a draft is not my issue. Instead, I wonder how Mr. Rumsfeld’s comments affect veterans. Bobby Muller, president of Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation said, “As Vietnam veterans who served with conscripted soldiers, we find Secretary Rumsfeld’s egregious slur a grave insult to the memory, sacrifice, and valor of those who lost their lives, and, further, dismissive of the hundreds and thousands of lives, both in the U.S. and in Vietnam, who were devastatingly shattered by the Vietnam War.”
I never thought that I would have to say this, for it seems certain, yet I believe both the draftees and volunteers contribute to the armed forces. What’s more, I am grateful to those who fought, whether they died or returned. How many have to live with post-traumatic stress disorder, suffer the effects from napalm exposure, and live disabled as a result of the war? Perhaps Mr. Rumsfeld needs to rethink his words, for out of context or not, they were hurtful, malicious, and completely unjustified.