Ten years ago on February 15, 2003, an estimated 15 million people across 800 cities protested the invasion of Iraq, making it the largest antiwar rally in history. There is no condition or situation where violence is justified as anything but a last resort. Both on the streets and in distant conflict zones, peace must always remain our first priority. Whether as a member of our Armed Forces in a distant land or as an educated citizen here at home, each of us has a vital role to play as we ensure our collective security. These protests were a tremendous statement by millions of concerned citizens, but we must all unite with one voice and share in these decisions as an informed and engaged public.
War has changed in many ways with the emergence of new conflicts and the advancement of technology. However, fundamentally war has not varied. Soldiers are still being deployed and innocent civilians become casualties. There have been more than 600,000 mortalities resulting from conflicts in this century alone. Among those are the 6,600 American men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The long term effects of conflict continue to take their toll on our bravest as the suicide rate among the nation's active-duty military personnel continues to spike. The number of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines taking their own lives has climbed to approximately one in every 18 hours and has eclipsed the rate of those dying in combat.
One of us, as a lawmaker in the U.S. House of Representatives, has been calling for a mandatory draft, in hopes to encourage Members of Congress to exhaust all diplomatic options before considering military engagements. A compulsory draft would serve as a guarantee that all Americans have a vested interest in the decision to use force, why we are using force, and who will be sent in harms' way. Today this legislation will be reintroduced, along with another bill that will require women to register for the Selective Service. The decision to allow women in combat was a tremendous milestone towards equality in America. Now that women are allowed in combat, the men and women who make up the one percent of Americans who serve in the armed forces have become equal partners in defending our nation the rest of America needs to get on board.
One of us, as an influential leader in pop culture and prominent civic activist, has proactively promoted peace and encouraged Americans to stand up for their beliefs. The recognition brings prominence center stage in protests for equality and marches against violence. These have inspired a sense of shared responsibility and have encouraged many to find their own voice. Those who attend leave with a clear understanding that we cannot sit dormant and hope for change by chance. As long as there is violence all decisions on war and peace should be ours to make as equal partners. Whether it is to prevent gun deaths at home or the wars fought abroad our message must be clear and spoken in unison. Every American needs to stand up and be counted.
Being a citizen of this great nation comes with great responsibility. The Universal National Service Act and All American Selective Service Act ensure that the cost of freedom and benefits of being an American are shared by all Americans. If we are all truly vested in the decision to use force -- the decision to use of force will truly be the last resort.
We have a moral imperative to leave this country a better place for the generations to come. There is no promise that change will come easily or quickly. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." We must remain unyielding along our path and resilient in our course. We can no longer stand idly by, the time for action is now.
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