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Draft would spread the burden of war, supporters say

WASHINGTON—Those who urge returning to the military draft argue that it would spread the burden of the Iraq war more evenly across society.

They say that when it comes to fighting and dying for the country, the sons and daughters of the country's political and socioeconomic elite are noticeably absent from the battlefield nowadays.

"They just don't see themselves in those roles," said Frank Schaeffer, co-author of "AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes From Military Service—and How It Hurts Our Country."

"I don't think it's necessary that every eligible young man and woman serve," Schaeffer said. "But the idea that 300 million Americans send the same 140,000 people again and again and again into combat is absolutely immoral. We're an enormous and wealthy country, but essentially we've taken a small group of people and we expect them to do everything."

Only a handful of lawmakers in Congress have sons or daughters who've served or are serving in the military. But then fewer members of Congress have served in the military themselves than in the past.

According to a 2004 survey by the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, 121 members of the House of Representatives and 35 members of the Senate were military veterans—fewer than 1 out of every 3. Most of those served in Vietnam.

When the country still drafted its soldiers, about 3 out of every 4 members of Congress had served in the military.

Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University, said that in his 1956 graduating class at Princeton, there were 750 students, all male, and 450 went into the military. Last June, there were 1,100 men and women in Princeton's graduating class, and nine went into the military.

During World War II, all of President Franklin Roosevelt's sons served in the military. John F. Kennedy and his older brother, Joseph, served. The latter was killed in the war. Athletes served. Famous actors, such as Jimmy Stewart, served.

But that's when military service was considered an obligation and a duty, Moskos said.

Only one celebrity of note has served in the war on terrorism. NFL star Pat Tillman gave up a multimillion-dollar career to become an Army Ranger. He was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004.

But critics point out that during the draft era, especially during the Vietnam War, the burden of service often fell on those who couldn't avoid it by student deferments, political contacts or other means.

That's true, Moskos said. But it's also true that the public turned against the war because people didn't think that the burden was being fairly shared.

"It's only when privileged youth are willing to put their lives on the line that the cause of the war is seen as legitimate," he said.

He sees the same thing happening with the Iraq war today.

"What we're doing now, of course, is paying working-class American youth to die," Moskos said. "These are not bottom-of-the-barrel kids by any means, but they are not the privileged youth, either."

The Defense Department's latest annual survey of social representation in the military, published last May, doesn't include the economic backgrounds of its recruits. But the study, which relies on 2004 data, acknowledges that "prevailing economic conditions may come into play" when a person decides to enlist.

Outside studies are mixed. The National Priorities Project, a nonpartisan group in Northampton, Mass., says its data analysis from the past two years shows that the number of Army recruits from wealthy neighborhoods—which it defined as those with average household incomes of $60,000 or more—are underrepresented compared with civilian society. The overwhelming majority of recruits come from households with incomes in the $30,000 to $59,000 range, the group found.

The conservative Heritage Foundation, a Washington research center, found just the opposite. According to its survey last year, 18- to 24-year-old recruits from homes with incomes ranging from $52,000 to $200,000 a year were overrepresented in the ranks.

Heritage, which looked at data from 2003 to 2005, found that these youths make up nearly 23 percent of military recruits, while only 20 percent of all 18- to 24-year-olds in America come from that income bracket.

"It is true that the sons of the very wealthy do not necessarily serve," said Bernard D. Rostker, the author of "I Want You: The Evolution of the All-Volunteer Force" and a senior fellow at the Rand Corp., a research center. "But the quality of the force is much above the average, as measured by high school graduation rates, as measured by intelligence tests. ... It is not a force of poor people. It is a force that represents a broad cross-section of America."

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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