The war against Osama bin Laden has finally begun, and homebound Americans have been issued their marching orders: Patriotically swarm the malls and charge, charge, charge, sparing no expense in the twilight struggle for positive corporate-earnings reports.
I have a different suggestion. Instead of piling into Neimans to pick up an extra Prada, now is the perfect moment for Americans to report to their local Selective Service office.
Once there, get ready to be "injected, detected, infected, neglected and selected," in the immortal phrasing of Arlo Guthrie. Thats right. I want to bring back the draft. Now. Today. By the close of business.
If we are actually spending $25 million per year to register our 18-year-olds for possible military service, whens a better time to start suiting them up and shipping them off?
Some 94 percent of the American people say they support the current military attacks on Afghanistan. Better than 60 percent claim they are ready to support this campaign for years, if necessary. Whos supposed to do all this fighting? An all-volunteer military seems faintly un-patriotic at this juncture. It robs ordinary Americans of the chance to serve their country. Or do you think someone else should do the fighting?
And thats the wonderfully clarifying nature of a draft. It keeps everyone honest. By escalating the stakes, the draft calls the bluff on hawks and doves alike. Those who argue for war must be ready to give their own bodies. And those who want peace must be ready for jail or exile, if necessary. No more cheap, empty theatrics by either side. Planting a flag on your Lexus or walking in circles in front of the Federal Building just wont cut it any longer. Under a draft, you either raise your right hand and step across the line, or you face the consequences.
This time around, I propose we improve the system. There will be no student deferments from military service. You want to finish UCLA and open your dental practice in Brentwood? No problem, darling. Well hold your place until you get back from Kabul, or Baghdad. No more exemptions for rich kids. As it is, combat troops in the U.S. volunteer Army are disproportionately poor and non-white. During the Gulf War, blacks made up 30 percent of the front-line troops, but only 14 percent of the general population. A congressional study found that in Beverly Hills, and in similarly privileged communities, the recruitment rate is only about one-fifth the national average. And some of those are probably the children of live-in servants.
So, stow your Beemers and fire up your Humvees. Unless, that is, you think that in time of national emergency the top wealthy 1 percent should get a tax cut and get their wars fought by their maids kids too.
The same goes for women. Youve come a long way, baby, since 1969, and all I have to say is pack up your gear, youre goin away. Feminists were the first to denounce the Taliban. Now, theyll have their chance to get even.
I write from both political conviction and personal experience. For three years, in the late 60s, I actively and successfully resisted the draft without ever securing a student deferment. I spent two summers working as a volunteer "counselor," advising my peers how to similarly dodge the call-up for Vietnam. But as I and millions of others resisted, our call was clear: Stop the draft. Stop the war. I cant recall anyone demanding the draft be ended but the war continued.
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The draft became the ultimate, popular and dem ocratic governor on the war policies of the state. When a consensus among the American people prevailed that the Vietnam War was a noble and honorable endeavor, the draft functioned without a glitch. When that consensus collapsed, so did the system of military call-up. And with American youth in rebellion, inside and outside the armed forces, the butchery in Vietnam was called to a halt.
Thats the precise mechanism of check and balance thats missing in the current conflict. Like most other Americans, I was sickened by the mass murder of 6,000 a monumental crime against humanity. I read of the anthrax scare in Florida, and I cannot but shudder. Taking out bin Ladens network and the religious fascists known as the Taliban are worthy and necessary goals that I support. But no blank check should be handed Bush and Rumsfeld. The just response desired by the American people, and demanded by our own security, should not be used to herd us into any sort of open-ended adventure.
The Democrats and Congress have so far proved useless to audit and scrutinize the initiatives pouring forth from the White House and the Pentagon. In such cases, Congress always trails behind real popular sentiment and acts only after excruciatingly long periods of wind-sniffing.
The only real guarantee the American people have is themselves. And the draft is the only reliable barometer of public sentiment. If this is truly a fight in the interests of the American people, then let the people fight. And let them decide what level of sacrifice they are willing to make. Given the opportunity to fight a just war, they will stream into service. And when and if they sense that the fighting no longer makes sense, they will not hesitate to shout, "Hell no, we wont go."