WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Conspiracy theories and "urban legends" are compelling, especially when people e-mail them to five hundred or so of their closest friends.
Shortly after the 9-11 terrorist attacks three years ago, some creative person wrote a very convincing e-mail about my testimony before Congress in 1987, in which the author purported to quote me warning a congressional committee about Osama bin Laden. Not surprisingly, the e-mail was transmitted to readers all over the globe and the compliments are still coming. One minor problem: I never testified about bin Laden.
Well, now there's a new collectable for conspiracy theorists: According to a widely circulated e-mail, President George W. Bush will impose a draft if he is re-elected. Like the one about my congressional testimony, this e-mail is baseless, yet unwary readers seldom resist the urge to click "forward" after reading such a breathtaking claim.
Anyone can now concoct an erroneous accusation about a candidate, and if the e-mail passes the sensationalism test, the falsehood will quickly obfuscate reality. President Bush declared in the St. Louis debate: "We're not going to have a draft. Period." Without spicing his sentences with a couple of expletives, it's impossible for the commander in chief to be more emphatic.
Unfortunately, Sen. John Kerry must have been too busy scribbling when the president reaffirmed his unequivocal support for our all-volunteer military. The Democrat nominee and his campaign continue to advance the canard -- and now members of the so-called mainstream media are pitching in to help. When Kerry told the Des Moines Register that if Bush is re-elected, there is "great potential of a draft," no reporter challenged the unfounded assertion.
It apparently doesn't matter to the potentates of the press that Bush has consistently opposed conscription. Could the entire Fourth Estate forget that it was Rep. Donald Rumsfeld -- now the secretary of defense -- who authored the model legislation for our current all-volunteer military? Or do the Barons of Bombast who march in lockstep behind their chosen candidate simply want to avoid calling Kerry a liar?
Aided and abetted by a pliant press, the "draft deception" has gained traction among young Americans -- a key voter demographic in this very close race. A recent National Annenberg Election Survey found that a stunning 51 percent of adults ages 18 to 29 believe President Bush supports conscription, while only 8 percent think Kerry would reinstate the draft.
Not that facts seem to matter in this case, but no Republicans supported H.R. 163, the bill introduced by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and 14 Democrat cosponsors, which would have compelled all men -- and women -- to serve a mandatory tour in the military. When Republican House leaders called his bluff and insisted on bringing the bill to the floor to prove their own opposition to conscription, Rangel fumed that the parliamentary maneuver was "hypocrisy of the worst kind" and voted against his own proposal.
Though neither Kerry nor his campaign "scare-mail" acknowledge it, no president can require compulsory military service. Our Constitution charges Congress with the responsibility to "raise and support armies." Short of a cataclysmic attack on the United States, no Congress is going to vote for conscription -- particularly since it would inevitably force our daughters to fight.
And therein lies the full fallacy in Kerry's "draft scare." He and his liberal colleagues have successfully argued "gender neutrality" for so long that male-only conscription is legislatively impossible. Any congressional vote to draft American men would immediately invite a legal challenge from Edwards' trial lawyer cronies -- alleging "sexual discrimination" against men. One can only guess how long this case would take to get to the Supreme Court.
These realities, ignored by the Kerry campaign e-mail "rumor mill" and the media, are very much on the mind of our military professionals. The officers I cover in Iraq and Afghanistan are keenly aware that we are defended by an all-volunteer force. They also know that today's military is the brightest, best educated, and most proficient and highly motivated in history -- and they want to keep it that way. While pointing to unprecedentedly high re-enlistment rates among the regular Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps as proof that morale remains high, they also point to trouble on the horizon.
Last year, all four branches of the U.S. military met their retention goals and exceeded their recruiting objectives. But this week, the Army announced that last month it was 30 percent short of its target of 7,274 new recruits. Privately, some officers and senior NCOs are now grumbling that "all the negative coverage" and "draft talk" is hurting new enlistments.
How much of this is the consequence of the Kerry scare-mail is impossible to gauge. But it does beg the question why more of the media have not called him on the lie. No matter who wins on Nov. 2, we're going to need 200,000 bright, brave high school and college graduates to volunteer to serve in our armed forces this year. The terrorists who would kill us if they could will still be out there after the inauguration in January. It's time John Kerry did the right thing for the country -- and told the truth about the draft. Maybe he could send out an e-mail.
And by the way -- no matter what it said in the e-mail about my congressional testimony, the terrorist I testified about was Abu Nidal.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.