MACLEAN'S REPORTS

U.S. REPORT

The cold war's quiet, the army's fat and draft dodging is almost fashionable

IAN SCLANDERS March 21 1964
MACLEAN'S REPORTS

U.S. REPORT

The cold war's quiet, the army's fat and draft dodging is almost fashionable

IAN SCLANDERS March 21 1964

U.S. REPORT

The cold war's quiet, the army's fat and draft dodging is almost fashionable

IAN SCLANDERS

PEACETIME CONSCRIPTION is so repulsive to most Canadians that it is politically out of the question and, surprisingly, it now seems to be becoming almost as unpopular in the United States. There has been a revival of the old conviction that conscription is incompatible with individual liberty, and that an American should put on a uniform only when he feels he can wear it with pride and satisfaction. Today, in most cases, he seems to put it on reluctantly, in compliance with the Military Training and Service Act.

Ever since World War II, save for fifteen months in 1948 and 1949, this law has obliged all physically and mentally fit young men in the U. S. to spend two years in the armed forces. At least it has obliged them in theory. By the late 1950s, only seven out of ten actually served and the ratio is now six in ten.

WHY THE DRAFT IS IN BAD ODOR

The phrase "draft dodger,” which once conveyed bitter opprobrium, doesn’t yet express widespread approval in the United States. But a growing number of Americans think that draft-dodging is justifiable and possibly smart. There are several reasons for this attitude:

■ First, the cold war has eased up. The Cuban missile crisis was fresh in memory when the draft was so speedily renewed in 1963.

■ Second, the right-wing superpatriots whose cries of “traitor” and “communist” had been an intimidating influence for fifteen years have unaccountably lost their hold.

■ Third, the armed forces can’t begin to absorb the youths reaching the registration age, eighteen. Each year the crop gets bigger. This year, 550,000 replacements will keep the armed forces at the desired strength, but 1,400,000 boys will turn eighteen.

■ Fourth, there are mounting suspicions by military men themselves that peacetime conscription is an inferior method of procuring manpower for the new military establishment. The development of missiles has made many bases obsolete and, in addition, reinforcements can be transported to the useful bases so speedily — last October 15,000 troops were

airlifted from Texas to West Germany in 63 hours — that the bases can be entrusted to “caretakers.” The trend is to smaller more efficient units with deadly new weapons. Now when men are drafted they quit the service at the earliest opportunity. They’ve barely been trained — at staggering expense — to handle the new weapons proficiently before they return to civvies.

■ Fifth, there’s the opinion of the young people of draft age — and they are the most outspoken of all the critics of conscription. The average age of Americans is dropping. By 1966, half the population will be under twenty-five. Many people of this generation view the draft as an injustice inflicted on them by their elders, and as a worthy target for political action.

But, while the attacks on conscription are getting louder, there are certain points in its favorThe claim that a stretch in the army is good for most young men can’t be completely written off. The army could also be a major asset in President Johnson’s war on poverty.

As matters stand, the army is an employer that can pick and choose. Half the men ordered to report at induction centres — currently, they’re called up at 22 or 23 — are rejected as physically or mentally unsuitable. The very defects that make them unacceptable to the army make them unacceptable to private employers, and one study of 2,500 of them indicates that their rate of unemployment is four times that of the rate in other groups. The same study shows that the physical ailments of three out of four of those rejected on medical grounds can be treated, and that most of the ones rejected on mental grounds are under-

educated rather than seriously retarded and could be trained for useful work. So Johnson has directed that from now on potential draftees be examined medically and physically at age eighteen, so that the misfits can be sorted out and offered medical treatment and special education.

All young men could, of course, be examined at eighteen and offered treatment or courses even if there were no draft. But if those who would ordinarily be rejected by the army were somehow brought up to military standard, then the army might become a kind of graduate school that would send them forth well fitted to be useful citizens. Many of them are the children of the poor and doomed to be poor themselves unless they can be uprooted from the human junk pile that is their background. That uprooting could be one role of the peacetime army.