Mike Gravel and The End of the Draft

YouTube Preview Image

The guy’s a little eccentric. But it’s videos like this that remind me that Mike Gravel has done more for the cause of liberty than Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards combined. It’s hard to think of any policy that Clinton, Obama, or Edwards have done that has been as far-reaching as ending the draft.

Also, earlier this summer, Mike Gravel went onto a forum sponsored by Democracy Now to tell the story of how he released the secret Pentagon Papers into the public record:


Birthplace: San Diego, CA Birthdate: That's for me to know Political Party: Independent Political Philosophy: Libertarian-liberal

  • http://tutakai.typepad.com/tutakai/ Jason Steck

    For the last several months, I have been writing a dissertation chapter on the end of the draft. I have not seen any reference to any role played by Gravel in the process. He does not even appear in the indexes of either of two comprehensive accounts of the legislative process that led to the end of the draft. And there is no record of a “one-man filibuster” playing a role in the end of the draft either. In fact, it was a story of remarkable legislative coalition-building initiated by President Nixon in fulfillment of a major campaign promise. The major legislative players were names like Stennis, Kennedy, and (!!) Rumsfeld. No Gravel.

    When combined with taking credit for the Pentagon Papers also, I’m wondering if this isn’t an “Al Gore moment” with Gravel exaggerating his role. I’m about to read a book on the Pentagon Papers and I will be interested to see what role, if any, Gravel really played. Even the intro of the Democracy Now forum puts him in a pretty passive role, though, saying only that he was an intermediary in the release.

    If I run across information which changes this, I’ll gladly update this thread with it.

  • http://tutakai.typepad.com/tutakai/ Jason Steck

    Based on additional research, the claim about Gravel’s involvement in the release of the Pentagon Papers appears to be mostly true.

    Regarding the claim about the draft filibuster, I am unable to find any independent information that highlights Gravel’s filibuster as an important part of the way in which the draft was abolished. The information I did find appears to be self-referential and contradicts the massive weight of other information I have used in my research.

    I am willing and even eager to find out if I am wrong. This isn’t a partisan exercise for me, it is real research — I have no interest in being wrong. So if I am wrong, please do not post personal attacks on me (which will just be deleted again) but rather post references to independent sources of information (Gravel’s campaign web site doesn’t count no do sources that merely repeat the claim) regarding Gravel’s filibuster and the political context in which it took place. Is there a memoir or a biography? A reference from the Congressional Record?

    Now that the claim is on my radar, I will be looking into it myself also and I renew my promise to post updates with what I find if it confirms the original claim.

  • http://tutakai.typepad.com/tutakai/ Jason Steck

    In the midst of angry commenters on Gravel’s web site (apparently, I am suspected of being the leader of a “swift boat” type of conspiracy to damage Gravel’s surging prospects now :)) I found the following information, which I am posting here as I said I would:

    “It was the end of January 1971 when Richard Nixon sent Congress a military draft bill conceived as an interim step toward his 1968 campaign goal of building an all-volunteer military force. Nixon wanted a two-year extension of conscription and a substantial pay increase for the men in uniform. The President got what he asked for, and more.

    The draft bill (HR 6531—PL 92-129), which was cleared for Nixon’s signature Sept. 21, 1971, after eight stormy months of debate, extended the draft two years—through June 30, 1973—and increased military pay and other benefits by $2.4-billion annually. The bill when passed was a ploy by the administration and its congressional supporters to undercut pending draft repeal bills with the promise that a volunteer force was in the works, while assuring opponents of the all-volunteer concept that no rash moves were contemplated.” (from CQPress: see citation at the end)

    Basically, what happened in between the first Nixon proposal and HR 6531 was debates and delays triggered by Mr. Gravel’s filibustering tactics. From the same source:

    “The Senate by a 72-16 roll-call vote June 24 passed HR 6531 and sent the bill to conference.

    The measure as passed by the Senate also contained a controversial amendment by Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D Mont.) setting a national policy of withdrawing troops from Indochina nine months after the bill’s enactment. During consideration of the bill the Senate acted on 60 amendments. Major proposals rejected by the chamber were a bid by Mansfield to reduce by one-half the number of U.S. troops in Europe, attempts to eliminate or shorten the draft authorization and a 1971 version of a 1970 McGovern-Hatfield “end the war” amendment. (Foreign Policy chapter)

    The Senate considered the bill from May 6 to June 24 during which time it was the subject of vigorous debate and lobbying. And passage of the bill came only after the Senate had voted to end the debate on a 65-27 cloture vote.

    Mike Gravel (D Alaska) announced during the first day of debate that he intended to talk the draft to death if proposed amendments to do the same were rejected. Gravel, the first senator on the floor, said that the President’s “induction power…will expire June 30.” He asked for support to filibuster the bill, but none was forthcoming.

    John C. Stennis (D Miss.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, was the first to rise in opposition to Gravel’s tactic. “I believe that failure to renew this induction authority, whether by vote or by the inaction resulting from extended debate, would be calamitous”, he said.”

    So there you are: January through June 1971. Back in the early days of the Nixon administration, the Gates Commission had already established that an All Volunteers Army was feasible and Nixon just wanted to buy time. In those pre-neocons days, government was still bowing to public pressures, or at least pretending to. I don’t think that Mr. Gravel ever claimed that he single-handedly ended the draft: what he said was that he made sure that the conscription wasn’t going to be extended forever (which is just as good, right?).


    Draft law of 1971: Interim step toward volunteer army. (1973). In Congress and the nation, 1969-1972 (Vol. 3). Washington: CQ Press. Retrieved August 18, 2007, from CQ Electronic Library, CQ Congress Collection, http://library.cqpress.com/congress/catn69-0008168396. Document ID: catn69-0008168396.