Murtha Joins Debate Over Reinstating Military Draft

By Randy Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

( - Seeking to boost the movement to reinstitute a military draft, Rep. John Murtha is arguing that the U.S. should have a "citizen's army" in addition to a "volunteer, professional army." However, a critic of the Pennsylvania Democrat on Monday called his statement "ridiculous" and "without merit."

"I voted against the volunteer army because I felt if we ever had a war, we wouldn't be able to sustain [it]," Murtha said during the March 29 edition of CNN's "The Situation Room."

"This is one of the smallest armies we've had since before World War II, right before the Korean War," added the congressman. Murtha, a frequent critic of the war in Iraq, claimed that the president's handling of the war has depleted the country's strategic reserve.

"And I think also, everybody ought to be able to serve in this country," Murtha said. "I think we ought to not just have a select few who volunteer. I think everybody ought to be obligated to serve.

"We'd do it by lottery, and we'd call everybody up," he continued. "I think we have a citizen's army is what it ought to be, not just a volunteer professional army."

When host Wolf Blitzer noted that most members of Congress, the military and the American public don't want to bring back the draft, Murtha responded, "I think it's absolutely needed."

Murtha's comments make him the latest member of the U.S. House of Representatives to support a return of the draft, which is also the focus of a bill sponsored by Rep. Charlie Rangel.

On January 10, the New York Democrat introduced H.R. 393, which would "require all persons in the United States between the ages of 18 and 42 to perform national service, either as a member of the uniformed services or in civilian service in furtherance of the national defense and homeland security."

The bill would also "authorize the induction of persons in the uniformed services during wartime to meet end-strength requirements of the uniformed services."

As Cybercast News Service previously reported, Rangel and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) in Dec. 2002 proposed a reinstatement of the military draft in an attempt to stall possible military action against Iraq.

"I think if [members of Congress] went home and found out that there were families concerned about their kids going off to war," Rangel said at the time, "there would be more cautiousness and more willingness to work with the international community than to say, 'Our way or the highway.'"

Rangel's proposal was voted down 402 to two despite his claims that the current volunteer military was the only employment option for minority youths living in impoverished areas.

However, the situation on Capitol Hill changed when Democrats won marginal control of both houses of Congress in November of 2006. As a result, Rangel now serves as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, while Murtha chairs the Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on defense.

The concept of restoring the draft has received support from such individuals as John Roper, professor of history at Emory & Henry College in Emory, Va.

In a column for the Roanoke Times entitled "Call to Conscript Citizen Soldiers," Roper noted that the tradition of having civilian soldiers "remains dear to me" because "farm boys, factory hands, stock brokers, ministers and, yes, pimps, hustlers and petty thieves left those pursuits, got themselves through boot camp, learned how to use their gear and fought."

"They defeated the professionals who were well trained and who were, on paper, better suited to the battle," he added. "Citizen soldiers accomplished the stated mission in every war from 1775 to 1973.

"Such a drafted army looked like America, as some like to say of other things," Roper stated. "It was America. Everybody was in the army, all racial groups, all religious beliefs, every kind of character, people from every class.

"The beauty of the uniform was that it could not be designer made, and the poor could wear it as proudly as the wealthy," he noted. "The beauty of the mission was that a democratic people could vote to start it or stop it.

"Bring back the draft, bring the average boy back to responsibility and bring back the best traditions of the United States of America," he concluded.

However, Roger Hughes, chairman of the Presidential Watch Political Action Committee - an umbrella organization for the "Boot Murtha" project that sought to have the Pennsylvania Democrat "redeployed" out of Congress - told Cybercast News Service the concept of reviving the draft was "ridiculous."

"Murtha's suggestion is without merit," Hughes argued. "It has more to do with political maneuvering than with defending our country. Of course, Murtha's played politics and self-aggrandized himself on the military defense budget for a very long time.

"Today's military is probably the best any military has ever been in the world," he said. "[It] requires a very sophisticated soldier who's willing to give service to his country. The taking of anyone randomly off the street would not give us the same result."

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