VOICES

BREAST IMPLANTS AND MORE

Can free cosmetic surgery keep the U.S. from reinstating the draft?

Peter C. Newman August 30 2004
VOICES

BREAST IMPLANTS AND MORE

Can free cosmetic surgery keep the U.S. from reinstating the draft?

Peter C. Newman August 30 2004

BREAST IMPLANTS AND MORE

VOICES

Can free cosmetic surgery keep the U.S. from reinstating the draft?

Peter C. Newman

AS THE U.S. ELECTION CAMPAIGN accelerates toward an uncertain climax, there is one emerging issue that could decisively turn the tide against George W. Bush’s re-election— and have an unexpected impact on Canada. Although the Republicans deny it, there is a distinct possibility that a re-elected Bush administration will be forced to revive the military draft, abandoned two years before the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.

The mounting casualties in Iraq and the inability of the White House to justify its war that was supposed to protect the world from Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass

destruction has left the American military machine in an increasingly critical bind. Embarassingly, the administration severely underestimated the number of troops it would take to secure Iraq along with its continuing activities in Afghanistan. Despite recent high re-enlistment rates, spurred by enticements including bonuses of up to US$10,000, the army is straining to obtain the numbers sufficient to fight on these two troublesome fronts. Increasingly, reviving the draft seems the only way to maintain its open-ended commitments. But if enough parents begin to believe that their sons and daughters will be compelled to fight future Bush “wars of liberation,” that could decisively benefit the Democrats when Americans choose a new president on Nov. 2.

Any return of the draft will be felt in Canada because history would try to repeat itself, as potential draftees seek sanctuary on this side of the border. During the Vietnam War, which—like the Iraqi invasion—Canada did not support, an estimated 90,000 draff dodgers, conscientious objectors and deserters were welcomed on this side of the 49th parallel. “Those who make the conscientious judgment that they must not participate in this war have my complete sympathy,” declared Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau at the time. “And, indeed, our political approach has been to give them access to Canada. Canada should be a refuge from militarism.”

That easy access has since been considerably toughened up as Ottawa has tightened its immigration and refugee policies. For Canada now to let in U.S. draft dodgers as refugees would, in effect, be designating the U.S. as a rogue state that endangers the lives of those of its citizens who disagree with its

policies, a tough gig for a minority government pledged to improving relations with Washington.

The buzz about the return of the draft began last November when the media responded to a Pentagon-related website ad-

SOME insiders are convinced that Bush would call up America’s youth to shore up its military forces

vertising for civilians to serve on local draff boards, which have been largely dormant for the past two decades. Bush and his senior advisers have consistently denied the rumours, but some Washington insiders are convinced that the Republicans, if re-elected, would almost immediately begin drafting America’s youth. “Members of Congress are testing the waters about the possibility of a military draff,” reports the Washington-based Center on Conscience and the War.

The most concrete evidence of the possible need for a draff is the Pentagon’s mount-

ing desperation in trying to fill required manpower levels through its continued reliance on a wartime emergency “stop-loss” re-enlistment program. It is a form of conscription that forces soldiers to remain in the army for up to another year. These involuntary extensions were announced in June and have no end in sight, despite criticism from Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry who nevertheless supports an increase in troops. The Americans had hoped to reduce their Iraqi occupation force from 130,000 to 105,000, but the continued level of insurgency has instead resulted in an increase to 140,000.

In expectation of a formal reinstatement of the draff, websites have sprung up advising potential recruits how to beat the system by obtaining deferments. “People are clearly worried and figure the administration is just waiting until the election is over to spring the bad news on us,” Lawrence J. Korb, a senior fellow at the Washingtonbased Center for American Progress and a former assistant secretary of defence under Ronald Reagan, told the New York Times last month.

There may be trouble as well on the reenlistment front. The Rocky Mountain News in Denver reported this summer that voluntary re-enlistments at its Fort Carson units had dropped suddenly and drastically among returning combat units. Recruiters met only 57 per cent of their quotas from April until mid-June among first-term soldiers and, more significantly, just 46 per cent among midcareer non-commissioned officers, the sergeants who are the mentoring backbone of any fighting force. One problem is that many soldiers these days tend to be married, and their spouses are raising understandable hell about compulsory re-enlistment schemes.

Another signal about how thin the Pentagon’s backup potential has become is its increasing dependency on the National Guard to fulfill its Iraqi obligations, with 40,000 members of this quasi-civilian outfit now stationed there. (More than 100

Guard members have died in combat, the first such battle casualties since the Korean War in the 1950s.)

The Guard, which has 350,000 members, compared to 500,000 on active army duty, has historically been charged with local emergencies such as forest fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and riots, although it is expected to fight when called upon. “The current pace of deployment isn’t sustainable,” Brig.-Gen.John W. Libby of Maine’s National Guard told the Washington Post, which surveyed 23 state Guard commanders in June. “Our recruiting is down significantly from last year, and our retention rates are down also. We’ve got a level of reluctance with parents this year we haven’t seen in the past.” North Dakota’s Maj.-Gen. Michael J. Haugen told the Post that his state has mobilized as many troops

as were called up at the height of the Second World War: “We will eventually hit the wall and for certain specialized units,” Haugen said, “I’m almost there.”

As the ultimate inducement to Americans who voluntarily join up, the Pentagon offers the perk to end all perks: free cosmetic surgery. “Anyone wearing a uniform is eligible—we do everything, except extreme makeovers,” The New Yorker recently quotes Dr. Bob Lyons, chief of plastic surgery at

WEBSITES have

sprung up advising potential recruits how to beat the system by obtaining deferments

Brooke Army Medical Centre in San Antonio, Tex. That includes facelifts, nose jobs, breast enlargements (in the first three months of2004, army surgeons performed 60 such operations) and liposuctions. A typical example was former naval Lt.-Cmdr. Janis Garcia, who grew up hating her looks. “I wouldn’t even smile in my wedding picture,” she confessed before she had her chin realigned, jaw reconstructed, a nose job and her teeth straightened, all for nothing. Similar treatments on civvy street would have cost more than US$100,000.

If the draft takes hold, those radical Islamic terrorists who threaten world peace may find themselves facing history’s most beautiful army.

Peter C. Newman’s column appears monthly. pnewman@macleans.ca