Students get heated over draft lecture

Andrea Wilson

Just days after the election that had made the draft a hot issue among young voters, University students gathered to hear a conscientious objection attorney speak about the likelihood of a draft reinstatement.

The Center for Peace and Justice invited J.E. McNeil, Executive Director of the Center on Conscience and War, to advise conscientious objectors on what they should do now to document their position. Her presentation included factual information on how the draft works as well as her opinion that war is unjust.

McNeil, a practicing attorney with 25 years of experience, has represented conscientious objectors who have sought exemption or demonstrated against war in the United States. She now directs the CCW, a national organization that is opposed to the draft and provides legal assistance to conscientious objectors.

Her belief in a looming draft is based on knowledge of polling done by President Bush’s strategist Karl Rove on how Americans feel about reinstatement and her distrust of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s pre-election editorial that asserted that “the United States simply does not need a draft.”

Despite the administration’s insistence that it is not planning a reinstatement, McNeil claimed both the nation’s military and finances are stretched too thin already, and that a draft is highly likely.

“The superstructure is there, McNeil warned. “All it would take would be the President asking and Congress voting.”

Despite widespread misunderstandings about the draft, the Selective Service has existed for more than 50 years to facilitate the draft in the event of a national crisis.

The probability of reinstatement remains a controversial issue, with rumors circulating rampantly through mass e-mails and Internet sites. However, both the Republican and Democratic parties have expressed a strong preference for an all-volunteer military.

“I want to be wrong,” she said of her prediction, but is convinced that a draft will be reinstated, and that it will include women.

McNeil aroused some disagreement among audience members when she argued that the war in Afghanistan was an unjust war, fought for revenge after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Some audience members, including students in the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, challenged her views and suggested that the military has provided anti-war activists like McNeil the freedom to express their views. McNeil responded emotionally, saying it has been people who have been incarcerated for protesting war who have really given her the “right to speak.”

Dr. Suzanne Toton of the CPJE said afterwards, “We pray there will not be a draft, but as a Catholic institution, we believe that students should be making this decision on the basis of conscience.”

Psychology professor Dr. Paul Sheldon, who is trained in draft counseling, said, “COs are not cowards. The true CO has to be toughest guy on the block.”

Sheldon, who as a Quaker is opposed to war, advises the Villanovans for Peace. He said he would be available to speak with those concerned about conscientious objection.

“There’s always been war. What I’ve learned from war is that war doesn’t work,” he said.

Despite the speaker’s anti-war stance, Toton said the event was not meant to serve as a debate, but rather was held to provide practical information for students who “in conscience cannot participate in war.”

The CPJE staff plans to meet to discuss how they will further aid students interested in obtaining conscientious objection status. In the meantime, Toton said the staff will be referring students to qualified resources like Sheldon.