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The Fairness Draft

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During the final years of the Vietnam War, Congress, at the behest of President Richard M. Nixon, refused to extend the draft law. Military conscription expired automatically on July 1, 1973 ushering in a new era of the All Volunteer Force (AVF).   Throughout its existence, and especially as the cost in blood, sanity, and lives of the "War on Terrorism" became apparent, civic obligation, patriotism, and love of country proved insufficient motivation to bring adequate numbers of enlistees to the recruitment station. If the AVF was to succeed, more aggressive, though in the view of some, morally questionable, recruitment practices would be necessary. Highly funded and technologically sophisticated TV commercials for the military services that accentuate the mythological -- adventure, glory, heroism, nobility -- and the practical -- a steady paycheck, money for college, etc. -- while ignoring its less attractive aspects -- injury, death, loss of rights, etc. -- appear with regularity during broadcasts of sporting events, rock concerts, etc.   Military recruiters are frequent visitors to high school and college campuses, NASCAR races, air shows, street fairs, etc., trading military tee shirts, dog tags, key chains, violent video games, etc. for contact information, and impressing children and young adults with displays of military machinery, weaponry and interactive war games.

Probably the greatest asset, however, to enabling the AVF to meet its woman and manpower requirements as it strains to wage three wars and occupations is the state of the economy. With the unemployment rate at about 9.5% , with jobs being outsourced at a rate of about 12,000-15,000 per month, with over 1.2 million more Americans expected to lose their homes to foreclosure in 2011, and with deep cuts in scholarships and Pell Grants, recruiters can now entice prospective enlistees with generous enlistment bonuses, steady competitive salaries, and a comprehensive GI Bill to pay their college tuition, fees, and living expenses should they survive and be capable of continuing their education following military service.

While motivations may be complex, I think it fair to say that given these dreadful economic realities, military service in the AVF has become a "job to be filled by cash inducements" and the citizen- soldier, driven by civic obligation, patriotism, and love of country, has been replaced by a professional military of individuals motivated primarily by need and the realization that in order to provide for themselves and their families or go to college, few if any alternatives are available to them other than military service. To point out how the government exploits economic inequities to increase enlistment is not to deny that there are members of the military who are motivated by patriotism and love of Country, especially among the Officer Corps. Nor is it to belittle their service or personal sacrifices. Rather it is to call attention to the prevalence of unequal sacrifice, an injustice that must be remedied. In light of such coercive economic conditions, perhaps the term "All Volunteer Force" is a misnomer as enlistees can hardly be said to have chosen military service voluntarily.

Despite the deep recession, not all segments of American society are suffering equally. Banking and corporate executives, for example, continue to enjoy lucrative salaries and bonuses. Under the war economy, Main Street struggles, Wall Street thrives, and America suffers the largest income gap between its richest and poorest citizens in recorded history. Consequently, the children of the privileged and the wealthy, uncoerced by economic need, feel no compunction to enlist in the military, with the burden of fighting and dying falling upon the poor and the working classes. According to The Heritage Foundation's Study, Who Serves in the U.S. Military? The Demographics of Enlisted Troops and Officers, more than three-quarters (75.03%) of enlisted recruits come from neighborhoods with incomes of less than $65,000 and only 6.15% coming from neighborhoods with an income of over $90,000. Consequently, the AVF smacks of classism and is unrepresentative of American society.

Given war's extreme profitability for the privileged and the wealthy (the corporatists, bankers, politicians -- the military industrial Congressional complex) and the fact that with the AVF, they and/or their children will never step onto the battlefield and suffer war's deleterious effects, it is not surprising, therefore, that our nation is embroiled in quagmire, the longest and most expensive war in American history.

As the wars and occupations continue virtually ignored except by the small percentage of Americans who are directly impacted by the killing and dying -- members of the military and their families -- voices from both ends of the political spectrum are calling for the reinstatement of the draft as a means of sharing the burden of military service or to "reinvigorate" the peace movement.

I have always opposed the draft as immoral and unconstitutional, but as the situation in this country has grown dire, drastic measures are required. Consequently, a s much as it pains me to say, I think that the most plausible solution to what can only be described as war profiteering and a violation of the principle of universal obligation and shared sacrifice, is to reinstate the draft, but with a stipulation. Unless and until these gross economic inequities are remedied and educational and employment opportunities are made available to all, only those young men and women whose families earn an annual income exceeding $250,000 will be subject to mandatory military service with few if any exemptions other than REAL, documented, and severe medical impairment.

This "Fairness Draft," will accomplish three important goals. First, it will help furnish the woman and manpower necessary to sustain the AVF and the national defense. Second, it satisfies the principle of Distributive Justice by ensuring that the burden of military service is shared equally by all segments of the population regardless of economic status. Lastly and perhaps, most important, as the cost-benefit analysis changes, that is, should the lives and well-being of the children of the privileged and the wealthy -- the progeny of bankers, corporate executives, politicians, etc. -- be placed at risk, the frequency and number of wars will decrease significantly.

In a corporatocracy such as in which we live, there is no difference between the idle rich, those that benefit from the blood of the poor and middle class, and those in government who make decisions to wage illegal and immoral war. Perhaps it's time, therefore, that they understand the consequences of their actions, time that they share the sacrifices that they are requiring of others, time that they experience the horror of war firsthand.  

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Camillo "Mac" Bica, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, a long-time activist for peace and justice, a member of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and the coordinator of the Long Island Chapter of Veterans for Peace. His books include "Beyond PTSD: The Moral (more...)

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