Thursday, June 18, 2009

Do You Feel a Draft...?

Love and War (11/11/46) - Rilo Kiley (mp3)
Bible vs. Gun - Will Hoge (mp3)

America needs to reinstate the draft, and soon. No, I'm not kidding, nor am I talking about fantasy football.

If we don't go with a draft, then I'd recommend a flat-out military service requirement similar to Denmark, Israel and the Latter-Day Saints!

Reinstating "conscription" in the United States would have a Dan Quayle impact on our conscience in shit that matters most. What I mean is, if anything had happened to Bush 41 and Dan Quayle had taken over as POTUS, our national attention would have quickly focused on what the hell that cardigan-wearing Nancy-boy was doing daily. Screw L.A. Law and Murder She Wrote, 'cuz we'd be scared poopless about our idiot President doing something irreversibly stupid, like banning Potatoe Guns.

Another reason can be summed up in a single word: "Patriotic."

"Patriotic" gets bandied around so cavalierly you'd think it meant something stupid, like "peeps" or "krunk." Truth is, 95% of people born after 1965 wouldn't know patriotism from shinola, and many older folks hardly have any sense of it, either. We act like "patriotic" means stupid and simple and meaningless shit like holding up signs that say "We support our troops!" or "USA #1!" or "Can I be your lover, Condoleeza?" We have, as a country, determined that being "patriotic" requires only being capable of saying the word "patriotic" in some kind of sincere-sounding way.

Know why World War II holds such a special place in America's collective heart? Because practically every portion of America's collective society stepped up and donated. Ten percent of the country's population served during WWII, as opposed to less than a single percent during the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. When you focus most of that 10-percent on a 20-year span of males, you're talking a huge chunk of a generation of men, "the Greatest Generation," we claim.

I'm sick of the word "patriotism." The only word that's been more damaged and misused in the last 20 years is "Christian."

First off, our military could use a little bit more diversity, and by that I mean normalcy.

Did you see Saving Private Ryan? Remember the scene where Tom Hanks tells his comrades he's a schoolteacher? Well, those days are long gone, and instead you get soldiers who miss their Mustangs more than their spouses. You get people who want to be soldiers, which ain't really s'posed to be something people want to do all that badly. In the few conversations with the dozens of WWII and Korean War veterans I've known -- many long gone, including my father -- none of them were obsessed with being a soldier. None of them glorified the experience or even got all that excited answering my eager questions.

I remember especially one of my father's friends who served in the Korean "Conflict," who said something close to this: "Those were the most important years of my life, and I'll never forget them, but I wouldn't wish them on anyone if I could help it."

Old school soldiers are mostly proud, mostly patriotic, and mostly heroes. But don't confuse their pride and patriotism with glorifying something that's naturally ugly and scarring. Sure, you'll always have the "nothing beats the smell of napalm in the morning" types, but they're s'posed to be the outliers, not the standard-bearers. I have several relatives who did or currently serve our country, and a handful of past students I know are in the field. Only a couple of these were your "kick ass and take names later" kinds of people, but "normal guy" and "soldier" aren't as linked as they should be in modern times.

Secondly, nothing about the last 10 years of warring angers me more than how quickly our country turns away from its injured veterans. Soldiers whose service is cut short by a lost limb or worse are often discarded like yesterday's leftovers.

Most anti-abortion folks fight the noble fight of "a baby's right to live" right up to the point where the babies are born, and then they don't give a shit about the baby after it comes out of the womb. After that precious thing is born, it suddenly becomes less the responsibility or a morally-upstanding country and more that of the meth-addled single mom with an IQ of 25. After the birth, it's suddenly that mother's fault for not practicing abstinence. Then, when the mom buries the kid under the wood chips at a playground because she has no clue what she's doing, we can feel better that we fought for this child's right to live.

It's the same with our military. We support them so long as they can still carry a gun and guard that wall. But we sure as hell don't wanna have to pay tax dollars to nurse them, keep the IVs in them, provide 'round-the-clock care for them, or offer psychological counseling for them, once they return home.

But... what if all of us know the soldiers? If we all have an investment in Charlie Company, so to speak? We're sure as hell more likely to care about their potential conflicts, and we're sure as hell less likely to tolerate veterans being treated like doggie doo. It's hard to care about something until it lands on your doorstep. The numbers 9-11 are proof. Well, it's time we landed the job of defending and fighting for our country on more of our doorsteps.

Perhaps most importantly, our words would immediately carry more weight. Words like "patriotism" and "country" and "service" and "honor" would tug at our hearts because our own loved ones were on the other end of that barrel. Every death of an American serviceman or -woman overseas, every attack on our people, would rattle our souls to their core as we fretted over the safety of those we love, at least until we got their Twitter that they were OK, that it was some other family's tragedy.

A draft wouldn't guarantee that the likes of George Bush or a Kennedy child would have to serve. The super-wealthy and super-influential can find loopholes for anything, it seems. But a draft or other kind of conscription would force enough of us in the middle and upper classes to care that the entire political dynamic of fighting and war and abused words like "patriotism" in this country would have to change.

Our government would also have a much higher standard to meet before sending troops into a scrum, or a conflict, or a "peace-keeping mission," or a war. Because suddenly a significant majority of voters would be closely tied to the very bodies being considered for those fights. Flag-waving and Lee Greenwood songs might not feel quite so empowering and "patriotic" when you're sending your own kids to the front lines.

And I guaran-damn-tee you we'd all like the sound of the word "diplomacy" a whole lot more.

Both songs can be purchased on iTunes or at Amazon.com's mp3 site.

5 comments:

Jason said...

Billy,

I really agree with your last 2 points about the draft becoming mandatory again. I think the possibility of the draft being mandatory for all would really force governments to carefully choose their battles and having an army from all walks of life would change the dynamics quite a bit.

There is a saying in Korean which basically translates to 'a man does not become a man until he has done his military conscription.'

Finally I have read interesting articles from veterans who basically held the view that soldiers of earlier wars were superior than soldiers of today because of the fact that soldiers came from all walks of life, income brackets, intelligence, ethnicities and such. I am no war expert, and certainly war is different today with technology than it was 60-90 years ago but those are interesting opinions.

Bob said...

With the exception of the G.I. Bill after World War II, our country has treated its veterans very, very poorly, starting with the George Washington administration. Think Douglas MacArthur using tanks to clear out the post-WWI vets camping out in Washington, DC. While our current treatment of vets is reprehensible, it isn't something new. It would be nice to think that things would change if the army was mandatory for all.

While I kind of agree with your larger point, I'm enough of an anti-military guy to hope that you might consider expanding your argument to a broader concept of mandatory public service, not just military service. Then you've got me.

Tockstar said...

I'm definitely going to remember this one and post it on fb sometime near the 4th. Ah, the 4th of July, no holiday tears me more completely between joy and the desire to wretch behind a lamppost on the parade route.

Karos said...

I've had this same discussion with my husband many times - his instigation and damn if you don't sound eerily familiar on many of your points here. The service up here, too, seems absolutely loaded with puffed-up adolescents that cut their teeth on Socom and Grand Theft Auto; testosterone fueled manboys invested in an image of themselves as fighting heroes rather than doing honorable work in service to their country or in aid to another.

I would have a hard time agreeing with a draft, but it sure seems to be the way to restore balance, both within the troops and in the collective conscience of countr(ies).

troutking said...

He's five foot-two, and he's six feet-four,
He fights with missiles and with spears.
He's all of thirty-one, and he's only seventeen,
Been a soldier for a thousand years.

He'a a Catholic, a Hindu, an Atheist, a Jain,
A Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew.
And he knows he shouldn't kill,
And he knows he always will,
Kill you for me my friend and me for you.

And he's fighting for Canada,
He's fighting for France,
He's fighting for the USA,
And he's fighting for the Russians,
And he's fighting for Japan,
And he thinks we'll put an end to war this way.

And he's fighting for Democracy,
He's fighting for the Reds,
He says it's for the peace of all.
He's the one who must decide,
Who's to live and who's to die,
And he never sees the writing on the wall.

But without him,
How would Hitler have condemned him at Dachau?
Without him Caesar would have stood alone,
He's the one who gives his body
As a weapon of the war,
And without him all this killing can't go on.

He's the Universal Soldier and he really is to blame,
His orders come from far away no more,
They come from here and there and you and me,
And brothers can't you see,
This is not the way we put the end to war.

Universal Soldier by Buffy St Marie (recorded by Donovan)

This song really opened my eyes when I first heard it in college. While I agree with many of your points, Billy. I'm with Bob---I'd prefer national service rather than military commitment because we don't need more men and women in uniform to make more wars possible. If we're going to survive as a species, war (and fossil fuels) has got to go.