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Bring back the Draft–for Justice?

Sunday, April 13th, 2008

    I just heard a commentary on NPR in the segment “This I believe” by a woman from New Jersey.  She pointed out that her feelings about the war in Iraq were made less urgent by the fact that she has no personal stake in the policy of our government.  Her solution was to re-instate the draft as a universal requirement.  Then we would all have to care.

   I was in college during the Vietnam war.  I remember listening to the draft lottery the year that I turned 20.  At this point, I don’t remember the exact number–38, 43, or something like that–low enough that I was sure to be drafted if the war continued.  Fortunately for me, the war in Vietnam ended before my college days were over.

But suppose it hadn’t.  At the time, my father, a WWII veteran, was adamant that I go to Canada rather than serve.  It didn’t surprise me, having heard some of his stories from his service.  And having understood some of how he changed as he grew older.  I certainly knew that I was a “conscientious objector”, but at the time, it was impossible to claim that status without a religious justification–and I wasn’t a Friend, or, indeed, a christian at all.

It was certainly true that, during the Vietnam war, the existence of the draft focused the attention of young people powerfully on what was happening in the world.  Would the same thing happen now?  I’m not so sure.  The government has learned from that experience.  They’re very good at keeping the real cost of the war out of the newpapers or television–we’re not seeing body bags; we’re not hearing of the numbers of casualties.  By and large, the reporters have to travel around with the military, and they produce their reports from that point of view.  And the cost to the Iraqi people, from our government’s perspective, doesn’t seem to matter at all.

Would a requirement for national service for all young people between 18 and 20 be in the national interest?  Would it make society better?  Is it a move “toward a more perfect Union”?  And would those of us who are no longer young take our responsibilities to that generation any more seriously?   I don’t know….