LOS ANGELES – When Rossana Cambron, a special education teacher from Whittier, Calif., saw Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) on a local Spanish-language television program April 30 speaking favorably of a military draft, she got mad.
“I have two sons and a daughter who are draft age and I don’t want them in this war!” she said.
Cambron says she called Becerra’s office, saying, “He should know better, that a draft would send even more poor African American, Latino, white youth to fight for another unjust war.” She then alerted Latino peace activists of what Becerra said in the interview.
Steve Haro, Becerra’s press secretary, when questioned May 3 about the television interview, said, “The congressman opposes the Iraq war and believes if there had been a universal draft in place it never would have started.” Haro said Becerra is considering support for a universal draft of all youth, male and female, for military and other national service as proposed by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.).
Becerra thinks this could prevent disproportionate numbers of minorities and poor suffering military casualties, and with more affluent youth at risk opposition to war would be overwhelming, said the aide.
However, a number of recent developments have made peace activists concerned about such a stance. On May 2, Hearst newspapers reported that a 2003 report of the Selective Service System (SSS), which administers the peacetime preparation and wartime activation of the draft, proposed changes to the draft that would extend the draft age to 34 and include women.
The next day, former Marine Jack Martin, chief financial officer of the Department of Education, was appointed as the new SSS acting director. Martin, an African American, is a longtime Bush ally. Among the priority goals of SSS this fiscal year are recruiting volunteer teachers in 85 percent of the nation’s high schools as “registrars” and improving “overall draft registration compliance.” The SSS also aims to be fully operational within 75 days of a congressional order for “an authorized return to conscription.”
These moves come on the heels of Senators Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Joseph Biden (D-Del.) calling for a national debate on whether to reinstitute the draft.
Fernando Suarez de Solar, a Latino peace activist whose son was killed in action in Iraq, began addressing the draft issue in his presentations to students after hearing of Becerra’s stance. His group of Latino families of service personnel in Iraq started out last year addressing one to two high school and college student groups a month and now speaks to from 10-15 a month all over the country.
Solar believes antiwar efforts, along with escalating casualties in Iraq, are making recruitment harder for the government and that the draft would make for “reclutamiento obligatorio” (forced recruitment).
In a May 2 BBC interview, former U.S. weapons inspector David Kay said that the U.S. may need up to 250,000 troops to secure Iraq. Solar told the World that his group is preparing a letter to Rep. Becerra urging him to oppose the draft.
Peace activists in Becerra’s district are urging opponents of the draft to call Becerra’s Washington office (800-839-5276) and ask him to oppose the draft and work to bring the troops home. They will also bring their concerns to the congressman at a community forum he is holding in his district May 22.
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