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September 6, 2006

It's No Panacea, but..."P-l-e-a-s-e, Bring Back the Draft!"

By Donald Archer

Learning from the experience of the 1960s, the draft was a major factor in the peace movements' power. Without a stake in national policy, many feel no incentive to engage in protest.


Coming of age in the 1960s, confronted with a war most of us regarded as folly if not unjust, my generation was left with no attractive alternatives: we could passively be drafted; we could enlist; we could pursue conscientious objection; we could go to jail; or we could leave the country. But we could not ignore the situation we faced, or escape it.

Vietnam was a defining moment---the draft wasn't positive; but the response it provoked was: vulnerability to the draft was a major catalyst for activism and change. That activism ended the war, and ultimately it ended the draft.

Many of us tried to make a difference, and hoped that the future would be brighter than the present. Forty years later one is still hoping.

I didn't like the draft then; I don't like to think of it now. But it was a bracing slap of reality. Today, ignorance and escape are---or seem---possible. And that's much more dangerous.

Many young men and women say they have no interest in voting, that it's irrelevant, that they have no stake. I understand their frustration and contempt, but not their complacency.

While they presently may not have to serve in Iraq, they nevertheless will be left with the mess: the skewed priorities, the flimsy values, the ill will, and the debt.

Activism---that concerted effort and struggle to mend what is wrong---has to begin anew, each generation. Older generations---the comfortable, the secure, and the established---have too much to lose, and so dismiss it.

The sad fact is that the sixties generation, my generation, brought us this war. Will this be our legacy?

We may find Osama bin Laden, we may bring Saddam Hussein to justice, but we will not be a kinder, safer, better nation for it. Not until we overcome our own demons. And these are much harder to root out and subdue.

Consumerism, injustice, hypocrisy, materialism, the 'establishment,' the 'military-energy-national security-industrial-congressional' complex, and complacency---the very things that spawned the sixties 'revolution'---again have brought us to the brink.

In fact, we currently do have a draft; it happens to be hidden and unspoken.

Since Vietnam, we have relied on what has been called an 'all-volunteer' military. Many young servicemen and –women---with little education, few resources, and no hope of opportunity at home---have virtually no choice. It is conscription for the underprivileged.

Not calling for a national draft, however cynical and irresponsible that inaction may be, is perfect political strategy: sacrifice and death are not popular. Having a quiet minority shoulder the burden makes a militaristic and imperialistic agenda less controversial, therefore more tenable.

Our current policy is neither just, nor democratic. In truth, it is un-American.

Like Roman legions, the United States has 350,000 troops deployed in nearly 130 countries around the world---not just in Afghanistan and Iraq---performing a variety of duties from combat operations, to 'peacekeeping,' to training with other militaries.

To curb expansionist policies, it should be mandated that the sons and daughters of those who promote military force and 'pre-emptive war' be the first to serve. If the children resist, the battle will be filial, not national or international.

Short of that, a universal draft---men and women, civilian and military---would bring reality, responsibility, and sacrifice to everyone's doorstep: except, of course, to that of the privileged and the rich.

Proposing conscription is never popular, but it would be refreshingly honest. The mere prospect of a draft might bring the young, if not everyone else, to the polls.

If most of us are unwilling to sacrifice or bear the burden, it's selfish and irresponsible to ask others to do it for us. If national service 'builds character,' then it's something from which we all would benefit. If America is worth 'defending,' then all of us should be responsible, in one way or another, for its well-being.

Looking back forty years, facing a Selective Service Board of expressionless old men, I couldn't---in my wildest dreams---imagine myself thinking: 'P-l-e-a-s-e, bring back the draft!'

Granted, it's no panacea; and granted, it will fail miserably if it's used to promote imperial aims and secure corporate interests.

But just the possibility of a draft, just that brief glimpse of stark reality and shared sacrifice may bring us to our senses.

Authors Bio:
Donald Archer is a painter, observer, and commentator living on California's Central Coast. His work may be seen at