Friday, September 08, 2006

President Bush: No need to concern yourself about our war dead

Reinstating the draft, while a long way off from becoming a reality, would make today’s anti-war movement relevant, forcing Americans to realize that there’s a possibility that they or a loved one could wind up being sent to some distant, Middle Eastern battlefield.

The protesters aren’t striking fear in the hearts of President Bush and his top military commanders. Unlike their Vietnam War predecessors, Bush and his commanders have an all-volunteer force at their disposal, not conscripts, and the result is that most Americans are unaware or, worse, apathetic to the plight of our soldiers.

With the exception of Cindy Sheehan, today’s anti-war movement has no recognizable faces or leaders. College campuses, unlike in the late 1960s and early 1970s, are pretty calm, at least when it comes to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is one of the great unintended tragedies of the draft’s demise: A citizenry that is so far removed from its military that it doesn’t care how many troops are deployed, killed or wounded. So long as our civilian lives aren’t too inconvenienced, the fighting hardly merits a trickle of a thought among any of us here at home.

Why do I say this? Take a walk down any street in America and other than the occasional flag hanging from a house or a building, or the bumper sticker that says “Support Our Troops,” you’d never know that our soldiers are in harm’s way.

The other troubling unintended consequence of the draft’s downfall is that it gives President Bush the ability to use our military nearly any way he sees fit – without having to concern himself too much with public opinion. It’s almost as if he has mercenaries at his disposal.

In fact, if there’s any one person who would fight the draft’s reinstatement tooth and nail, it’s likely to be President Bush himself. A conscripted military has the potential to become a political liability, forcing the administration to become accountable to all the families with a son, father or husband in uniform and, possibly, forcing the administration to curtail its actions.

Today’s all-volunteer force allows us to dismiss the war from our daily lives. Because unless you have a loved one serving in either Iraq or Afghanistan, it’s very likely the war is as remote to you as any other event overseas.

And that’s the problem. If we want to win this war, or force the President to end our overseas military operations, then many more Americans need to put their lives at risk; and the only way to do that is through the draft.

The draft would also bring us closer to having a citizen-army. It was this kind of army, made up of Americans from all walks of life, which brought fascism to an end in Europe and Japan and ended slavery in the United States. Whatever your opinion is on the war in Iraq, keep in mind that fascism and slavery were brought to their knees with bullets and bombs – not with economic sanctions or an international peacekeeping force.

As it was last constituted until 1973, the draft, while not exactly egalitarian, required 17-year-old boys to register with their local draft board. A year later, if that 18-year-old man wasn’t in college, wasn’t a family’s lone son, wasn’t in poor physical condition, or wasn’t married, it was very likely that he’d be called up for military service.

Two million men were drafted to fight in Vietnam, writes James Ebert in his book, “The American Infantryman in Vietnam, 1965 – 1972.” In 1965, draftees made up 21 percent of the force deployed against the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. By 1970, 70 percent of the combat force had been drafted.

The hardest question to answer about reinstating and implementing the draft is how we ensure that one generation does not unfairly hand off this obligation to another. The best way to avoid the problem is to draft all men between the ages of 18 – 50, regardless of their marital status or whether they’re in college. Only prior military service should prevent a man from being drafted.

Conscripting 50-year-old men comes as close as possible to ensuring that an older generation does not unfairly throw this obligation onto a younger one. And while it might seem unfathomable to see a 50-year-old man in basic training, keep in mind there are many men that age and older who work out regularly. While not every 50-year-old will be fit for combat duty, there’s likely a military job they could handle, given their advanced age.

Of course, reinstating the draft would be highly controversial. It might be met with riots just as it was when Abraham Lincoln and Congress instituted the draft during the Civil War. But it’s the only way to stop the apathy that most Americans suffer from when it comes to being aware of the risks our soldiers face. If would also force President Bush and his commanders to come clean with their plans for the Middle East.

A larger cross-section of the country will be represented overseas in a conscripted military force. That should help us win the wars we’re fighting; and it may just give Iran and North Korea pause. We’d appear to be ready to fight them because we mobilized. And, quite possibly, a conscripted military force just might give the anti-war movement significance.

1 comment:

Darwin's Revenge said...

Well put. If W were to institute such a draft plan it would most certainly lose him the balance of the 33% of American's who have even a modicum of confidence that the oilman has the ability to rule our fine nation.

Lastly, lower the ager to 45 so I am not eligible. It is tough enough to beat these youngsters on the golf course let alone have one of those purple haired whippersnappers ordering me around like a short order cook.