Should America bring back the military draft?

That suggestion is being made by some members of Congress on the grounds that a draft would be required to provide enough military manpower for a war with Iraq and we might as well start the buildup now.Others, claiming that the present all-volunteer force requires the poor and blacks to do a disproportionate share of the fighting and dying, see the draft as an instrument of social justice.

What nonsense!

Both the White House and the Pentagon see no need to revive the draft, which has been dormant since 1973. If they don't know what this nation's needs for military manpower are likely to be in the Persian Gulf, who does?

As for equating the draft with social equity, this notion betrays a short memory and an ignorance of current realities.

Social justice certainly wasn't furthered by the draft during the Vietnam conflict, when education deferments let middle-class Americans sit out the shooting while the poor and minorities did much of the fighting.

Though recent studies by the Pentagon and Congress show blacks are disproportionately represented among the all-volunteer force, those studies also show the force is more representative of the general population than critics have suggested.

About 20 percent of recruits signing up with the military for the first time are black. About 15 percent of the youths of enlistment age are black. Can anyone seriously criticize the blacks because so many of them want to serve in the military?

Besides, just ask Chairman G.V. Montgomery of the House Veterans Affairs Committee about the advantages of recruits over conscripts. He says "We have the best and brightest young men and women in the armed forces today than we have had at any time in the past 35 years."

That's understandable. The present volunteer system has filled the ranks of the military with people who want to be there. Because they are better motivated, they are easier to train. Recruits now receive an average of a year's training before joining their units. By contrast, draftees were sent to Vietnam only a few months after being conscripted.

Because volunteer recruits are career-minded and goal-oriented, they present fewer discipline problems than draftees and the dropout rate is lower. This means lower costs, better morale, more effective troops and more continuity.

The draft tended to funnel minorities and the poor into military jobs involving little or no technical skills, such as combat units on then front lines. By contrast, the volunteer system - with its incentives of education and pay benefits - offers more opportunities to advance and compete across the board for all skilled positions.

One other point: The volunteer system cuts the ground out from under those who suddenly claim to be conscientious objectors - but only after the Persian Gulf crisis raises the possibility of their seeing combat. Fortunately, their numbers are few. A military in which any individual could decide which wars he or she would fight or avoid would be a military that did not deter aggression.

Let's pray that the men and women in America's armed services do not have to fight in the Middle East. Let's also be grateful for the vast numbers of troops in both the regular forces and the reserves who understand they have an obligation to fight if ordered to do so. And let's keep getting along without the draft as long as possible.