Friday, June 23, 2006

Feel a Draft?

Uncle Sam Wants You Poster
The sad course of the war and now the occupation of Iraq has pointed out the limitations of a small, high tech, volunteer Army. War and occupation are nothing like life in the Pentagon or across the Potomac River in the fever swamps of the federal government. War and occupation are brutal and nerve-wracking tests of individual human beings in the deliberate act of conquest, of asserting power over and control of other human beings.

The casualties of war and occupation are not only soldiers, their minds and personalities, their limbs, sight, and sustainable health. Of course the casualties on the other side are usually much, much higher: the children, wives, mothers, civilians of all walks of life pay a tremendous toll at the hands of our soldiers. Enemy combatants in a lop-sided war and occupation like that in Iraq are unlikely to survive for very long. In Iraq the death count of combatants is ten to fifty times that of Americans (and the piddling contributions from other nations).

But, another casualty of war and occupation with a small volunteer Army is policy. Practically no one believes we can put up a credible fight for any purpose beyond our current activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, we reported the demise of PNAC the other day, doubtless a casualty of the realities of war and occupation, the realization that our legions are not endless and are not prepared to fight simultaneously everywhere.

Joan Vennochi in the Boston Globe wrote yesterday an OpEd piece that seemed to be calling for a reinstatement of the Draft, universal conscription. I have to agree with her. At every level meaningful to our democracy an immediate institution of the draft would so democratize this war as to make it completely unacceptable. In fact, I call on all people who believe that we should make a careful and responsible withdrawal from Iraq (and wherever else our troops are failing to achieve their mission and our national goals) to institute universal conscription to commence not later than January 1, 2007.

Yes, this should be an issue in the up-coming mid-term elections! Yes, to paraphrase Ms. Vennochi, if this war is worth spending another billion dollars a month on it is worth the efforts of the whole country!

Yes, I know, the draft will create its own problems. Men will be required to register for the draft, but for women it will be a choice. Yes, there is inequality in that, and we could sit here and argue it endlessly. I think huge numbers of women would register, frankly.

Yes, the sons and daughters of the rich and powerful would, as always, get special considerations or take the easy way out like George Bush did. As long as it is a complicated and difficult procedure to avoid the draft, then those who shirk their duty should pay for it with the righteous opprobrium that the society will (normally) give them. Or, they can move to Canada or Mexico and become immigrants.

Yes, the draft will fill our colleges and universities with kids who are borderline or less, and yes, grade inflation will rear its ugly head again and take decades to fix, but the overall effect will be to democratize the armed forces and to democratize the war.

Will the draft improve the armed forces? Yes and no. It will provide many more bodies to rotate in and out of combat, thus achieving the respite that has been eroded away in the all vol army. It will put pressure on military leaders to train those bodies so they do not get killed the first day on the line. It will give the U.S. Army more credibility, for now the view is that the volunteer army composed of kids with few opportunities and even less hope. A draft army will be more representative of American society.

That is the key. If America wants to bully the rest of the world, then everyone who votes that way should understand that their own sons and, perhaps their daughters, too, are in harm's way. That should cut down the bullshit by a factor of 100 immediately.