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Should we bring back the draft?



What, am I nuts? That is a reasonable question, but for now, let's stick to today's topic. Anyone who pays attention and has the reasoning power of a chimpanzee knows that the war in Iraq is a horrible failure.

In fact, it may be the greatest foreign policy failure in American history. As Molly Ivins observed last week, "After three years, tens of thousands of lives and $200 billion, we have achieved chaos."

We have severely damaged our economy, served as a far better recruiting machine for al-Qaida than Osama could have imagined, and ruined our international standing. Yet the war goes on, and will go on.

Nobody cares enough to stop it. And why is that? Simple. We don't have to go, and the children of those who really own and run this country almost never take a turn in uniform. The middle and upper classes are insulated from this war, which is being fought mostly by poor jobless white kids from places like Flint, as Fahrenheit 911 made devastatingly clear.

Inner-city blacks, Hispanics, and other new immigrants are also doing their bit for democracy by being blown up by roadside bombs.

But few or none of them have fathers who are congressmen or college deans, and so we ignore them.

Richard Nixon, who was far brighter than Dubya, thought during the Vietnam War that if we went to an all-volunteer military, the vast majority of the protests would dry up. The all-volunteer army became a reality just after the peace settlement of 1973, and there hasn't been a mass anti-war movement since.

Those of us who marched against the Vietnam war did so in large part for self-serving reasons: because we didn't want to go, or we didn't want our brothers or boyfriends to go. When that threat ended, most of us brought out the brewskis and the Risk game board and began partying hearty.

Now we are moving to a world where we have a professional army that increasingly doesn't look like America. In turn, America doesn't pay very much attention to it. This strikes me as having the potential to be a very dangerous thing, for reasons that have little to do with Iraq.

History offers a good example of a society that slowly shifted from an army of average citizens to a mercenary army made up of soldiers who had little in common with the people they were supposed to be defending.

We call it ancient Rome. Though historical comparisons are never exact, this one is worth thinking about.

You can make a good case that if this war — or any war — is worth getting our soldiers killed for, then everybody should sacrifice and everyone of a certain age should have to take a chance on having to go.

But is it moral and right for our government — any government — to say to its citizens that they must go kill people and be killed?

I have great personal difficulty myself in calling for a return to the draft. I was all for an all-volunteer army when Vietnam was raging and I was of an age where I might have been drafted. No part of me wanted anything to do with the war; I don't know if I could have endured boot camp.

For me now to say, "bring back the draft" would be too hypocritical for even a journalist. Yet, there is something gravely wrong with a system that sends thousands of our young soldiers to die while killing tens of thousands of Iraqis in the process. Especially since all this is essentially being ignored by millions of happily partying Americans.

Last week I talked to David Segal, director of the Center for Research on Military Organizations. He is a sociologist who has studied things military for many years. "Nobody anticipated using a volunteer army to get us through a long ground war," he told me.

"What I think everyone thought was that if we got into a war that lasted more than six months, they would bring back the draft." Naturally, Dick Cheney and perhaps even his puppet know that would certainly do them in. No, there won't be any draft for this war — but they might have to bring back the draft sooner than you think.

The brutal fact is that if North Korea swarmed across the border and invaded the south again, or anybody attacked us or any of our proxy states, we'd be up a certain creek without any Charmin to squeeze.

Two years ago, for the sheer hell of it, I let some military recruiters talk to a large class of mine at Wayne. Afterward I chatted with an officer. The recruiting slogan, "An Army of One," came up.

"Do you know what that really means?" my new buddy said wryly.

"That's the number of soldiers we have who are not in Iraq, on their way to Iraq, or on the way back from Iraq."

Here's an arresting little fact for you. We now have fewer men and women in uniform than we have had at any time since 1940, when the United States had less than half the population it now does.

Everybody says we need more, but even if Congress would appropriate the money needed, good luck getting them. Last week, the Associated Press reported that the military considers up to three out of every four potential recruits not good enough to serve.

Why? Some of them — more than ever before in history — are too fat. Some — more than ever before in history — are on drugs to treat hyperactivity disorders. Others have recently used illegal drugs.

The military doesn't want recruits with gang tattoos or criminal records. They can't very well sign up any of the growing number of youngsters in jail or prison — and now for the bad news.

Most of those few who the armed services really would like to sign up don't have any desire to go. For some strange reason, college or a civilian job looks more inviting these days than having your legs blown off by an improvised explosive device.

Army recruiters are having a particularly hard time lately making their quotas. Not to worry, however; thanks to the way the Michigan economy, particularly the automotive sector, is going, the Mitten State should be an increasingly fertile burying — oops — recruiting ground.


Public radio follies: Many people have asked me about the scandals at WUOM, where two former fund-raising officials have been charged with embezzlement. This has now spread to WDET, where the station manager, Michael Coleman, has also been charged in the scandal; he worked at the Ann Arbor station when the abuse allegedly occurred.

Currently I am doing daily on-air commentary on WUOM, for which I am paid. Therefore it would be inappropriate for me to say anything about all of this. Not that I know very much; nobody was silly enough to ever let me anywhere near the money.

I am puzzled, however, by the reaction of many people, who think this means that one or both stations will change their programming or return to an earlier format. I don't know Coleman well and know nothing about his guilt or innocence in the funding scandal.

But for what it's worth, I think the changes made since he got there have made WDET more relevant and more competitive.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]

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