Friday, July 21, 2006

Maybe Time to Take Another Look at the Military Draft

Yeah, I know, nobody wants it and it took us long enough to get rid of it after the 2nd world war. But it’s just not fair to keep fighting our wars with the National Guard, a force that was never meant to be doing what it is currently asked to do.

Yeah, I know, nobody wants it and it took us long enough to get rid of it after the 2nd world war. But it’s just not fair to keep fighting our wars with the National Guard, a force that was never meant to be doing what it is currently asked to do. Doesn't serve our national interests very well either.
BootcampdrillinstrI’m always hesitant about big-picture recommendations that affect the whole country, but I did my own part-time soldiering a half a century ago and it gave me something back. Like many obligations in a less and less personally obligated society, it wasn’t all bad. Not to say I enjoyed it.
First of all, I was only in for six months of active duty, followed by six years of Reserves. The time was between Korea and Vietnam, while there was still a draft. I was just getting out of university. No one really wanted to do two full years and when the six-month program opened, a lot of us ran for it.
July 1st our train pulled into Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. It was hot. For the next eight weeks it never seemed to stop being hot. But we survived, learned to shut up and take orders, to drill and shoot and march, to make a bed Sergeant Funk could bounce a quarter off of, to work within a tiny, diverse society that was totally inter-dependent.
Bootcamp1Black, white, Hispanic, uneducated and doctoral graduates, rich, poor, Jesus-freaks and atheists, we made a community of wooden barracks bleached from scrubbing, double deck bunks, foot lockers exactly aligned and exhaustion.
By the time we graduated, I would have marched off a pier with these men and I knew that however tough life might get in the future, it would never be this tough again and I would survive.
There’s enormous personal and societal benefit in that.
Personal, in that we are victims of the particular hunk of world in which we grow up and it’s not enough to know intellectually that people live differently and are different. Depending, each upon the other, smelling our smells and sharing food, misery and common toilets, expands that intellectual knowledge into something real and personal and lasting.
Bootcamp2I was privileged and learned what it was like to be without privilege. Which leads to the societal benefit, the Karl Roves and Ted Kennedys having actually showered and crapped next to each and every strata of American society over which they exert influence. That’s something that's missing from our political world, with the rare exception of a John McCain here and there.
Here and there is not enough.
If I had my way, non-commissioned military service would be requisite for holding political office. That is said only in  half-jest.
There are so few ways to break our stratification any more. We grow up in pods, like peas. Advantaged or disadvantaged, rich, poor or middle class, we hunker down in our pod until harvest. When harvest comes, whether it be in terms of a bottom-rung job or in the shipping department of daddy’s business, we’re unaware of all the other peas in this grand country and no virtually nothing about their pod.
I would suggest a year of active military service, followed by three years of Reserve duty. Six months isn’t enough, two years too disrupting. Everyone would go after high-school or at 18, whichever comes first. No exemptions, except for extreme physical disability.
None.
The result, I would hope (and based upon my own experience), would be a more aware national experience and a shared investment in being American. Out of that might come a better realization of what it is we send ourselves off to do, militarily. Add to that a sense of our individual selves being connected to that world effort.
The depodification of America.
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