Over the nine years and counting that the United States has been at war, about 145,000 members of the military have had their service extended against their will. About 4,000 are still serving involuntarily, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Pentagon's "stop-loss" authority lets the armed services extend the enlistment of service members beyond their contractually agreed-to separation date during wartime. Its use became common after former president George W. Bush dramatically over-extended the nation's armed forces by choosing to invade Iraq when he wasn't even done in Afghanistan yet.
Stop loss is now winding down. Of the three services, only the Army is still using it and the last soldiers held back against their will are scheduled to finally go home in March 2011. The Pentagon now uses the Deployment Extension Incentive Pay program to encourages soldiers to voluntarily extend their deployments.
But there's no telling when stop loss might get used again -- and at least one member of Congress, Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), wants to make sure that if there is a next time, it only happens with explicit congressional authorization.
Jones, one of a small but growing group of prominent, anti-war Republicans, said he thinks it's not fair to take advantage of a contractual clause most young people don't even notice when they're signing up for military service. Furthermore, he notes, the stop-loss clause specifies that it can only be exercised during a "time of war" -- and Congress never actually declared war against either Iraq or Afghanistan.
"If we're going to give the president the option of going to war -- but we don't declare war -- then I think there ought to be some provision in the law that says: If you have not declared war, then you must come to Congress for the authority to stop loss," Jones told HuffPost. "You must have a debate about the stop loss," he said.
Jones said he considers stop loss a "backdoor draft." And indeed, if its goal was to augment the volunteer forces without alarming the citizenry, well then mission accomplished.
The backdoor draft has never sparked any kind of widespread opposition, even though it has affected so many people.
By comparison, the draft during Vietnam was one order of magnitude bigger -- but the reaction to it was many orders of magnitudes more intense. The draft, during the nine years of the Vietnam war, conscripted some 1.9 million Americans, or about 12 times as many as stop-loss has dragooned.
It generated massive, ongoing antiwar protests and spawned a social movement.
But that draft, of course, affected the general public. This one was limited to service members -- part of that small community of Americans, many of them living in remote areas, who were already bearing the brunt of the wars.
Jones said his concerns about stop loss date back to 2006, when he and another congressman were visiting wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical