Putting the ‘Con’ in ‘Conduct Waiver’

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The U.S. Army aims to recruit 80,000 new soldiers a year. With support for volunteering for service or issuing a draft failing to budge, just how does the army plan to fill these 160,000 boots? The Pentagon has partially answered this question by distributing conduct waivers that allow ex-cons to serve in the military in just about any capacity, whether it be accessing top-secret information or working on a nuclear-missile team.
While one can hardly argue that drafting unwilling individuals is preferable to allowing willing ex-felons to serve, not imposing stricter standards for serving in the armed forces is flawed for three reasons. First, the U.S. military already discriminates against volunteers who are far less questionable than ex-cons. Second, the fact that the army has had to resort to recruiting ex-felons should serve as a wake-up call rather than an excuse to meet its aims. Last, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
Before 1993, homosexuals were rejected from the ranks regardless of whether their records revealed as much as a parking fine. Since the 1993 “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” compromise, not much has changed. Although capable gay men and women can currently serve in the military, they cannot do so openly, causing them to choose between serving their country and sustaining their personal freedom.
By order of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, a military discharge can arise from as little as being overheard discussing a date with a member of the same sex, despite such conversations not necessarily being calculated to promote gay pride, much less create a hostile work environment. Seems a little excessive, don’t you think? After all, it is a far cry from sodomizing the platoon leader on the front lines.
Just as the expulsion of gay soldiers should serve as a wake-up call to re-examine the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the acceptance of ex-felons into the military should alert the army of how little the American public supports its most recent decisions. On March 20, 2008 – the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War – a CNN poll showed that the Bush administration’s approval rating has dropped to 31 percent. This latest number is a significant fall from a similar poll conducted by CNN in 2003, which suggested an approval rating of roughly 70 percent.
The U.S. Army has yet to institute peace in Iraq over the last five years of occupation. How will watering down the character of the U.S. military with perpetrators of crimes like rape, drug abuse and aggravated assault promote these efforts?
Felony waivers make it apparent that the U.S. Army is clutching at straws. Despite the fact that the army intended to enlist 80,000 new recruits in 2007, it only distributed 511 felony waivers. However, 511 is more than enough, as it takes just one of these 511 supplied with a weapon to put someone’s life at risk. After all, it just takes just one drop of cyanide in your Pepsi to put you off soda for good.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the turmoil of the Vietnam draft turned peaceful protests into deadly riots. This should have been enough to convince a logical person that reviving the draft is not a sensible option. However, by diluting America’s military with rapists, drug addicts and other miscellaneous offenders, the U.S. Army hurts its credibility rather than achieving a meaningful goal.

Daniel Johnson is a third-year literary journalism and film and media studies double-major. He can be reached at dcjohnso@uci.edu.

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