July 14, 2012 · 0 Comments
By Murray Polner:
When I first read Thomas E. Ricks’ recent NY Times Op-Ed piece “Let’s Draft Our Kids” I thought about my cousin Josef who was forced to join the Komsomol — the youth division of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union — or else. Later, he was drafted into the Soviet army. Of course he complied, or else.
But a draft and mandatory National Service in the United States? Now? After the massive miscalculations of Iraq and Afghanistan? Amid our profound domestic and economic problems?
Ricks’ convoluted argument would force one-third of each year’s crop of four million or so 18-year-olds of both sexes to join the military and “perform tasks currently outsourced at great costs to the Pentagon” such as “painting barracks, mowing lawns, and driving generals around.” Their payoff is “free college tuition.” Not a word about all those low-paid workers who would lose their jobs.
But what about our existing volunteer military? Aren’t they the ones who are expected to wage our next “Iraq” and “Afghanistan” conquests — against, say, Iran, North Korea, or Venezuela (each of whom the Times regularly views with suspicion), or eventually our next designated enemy, China? What happens to the one-third who believed they would “not be deployed” as Ricks proposed?
Ricks also suggests two more classes of draftees — those who would also do “stoop labor for menial jobs” (in the words of Richard Cohen in his Washington Post column taking issue with Ricks). Still, those who don’t want to join the military can teach in poor areas (anyone can teach, right?), clean parks, be commanded to reconstruct “crumbling infrastructure, or aiding the elderly.” “Libertarians” and unclassified objectors don’t have to serve but for the rest of their lives Ricks would offer these refusers, including presumably, even conscientious objectors, “no Medicare, no subsidized college loans and no mortgage guarantees.” Forever, that is. A life sentence for 18 year olds.
In other words: Or else.
Where else but in the New York Times — historical and contemporary supporter and reflector of America’s imperial war machine — could such a simplistic piece of top-down authoritarianism by a respected member of Washington’s foreign policy elite now serving time in one of that insulated city’s ubiquitous think tank have appeared? (In his dissent, Richard Cohen notes that Ricks never served in the military, as Cohen — and I — did). From the Civil War to the two world wars, through Korea and Vietnam, and in its unexamined faith in those WMDs and early initial for the Iraq invasion, the Times has rarely questioned the wars in which draftees and volunteers alike served.
One can argue that, well, it’s only an ephemeral Op-Ed piece but at this writing it’s number 2 on the paper’s list of “most emailed.” Like it or not, what appears in the Times carries a lot of weight.
Then, too, as if one day’s letters to the editor were insufficient, the Times published four additional letters on the second day, an unusual, rather unprecedented practice usually reserved for momentous developments. Virtually all the letters published were pro-draft.
I like best what 18-year-old Matthew Schweitzer of Oakland, California, who found the Ricks proposal “alarming,” said in his letter to the paper:
“How many teenagers will believe that a draft can ‘make Americans think more carefully before going to war’ as Ricks argued, “after the Civil War, World War I and II, Korea or Vietnam?” This is precisely the point. The draft has never prevented America from entering into and fighting its endless wars — and its reinstatement in any form would only encourage the warmakers.
Murray Polner has written books such as No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran (Holt Rinehart & Winston; co-authored Disarmed and Dangerous: The Radical Lives & Times of Daniel & Philip Berrigan (Basic Books; Branch Rickey: A Biography (Atheneum); and written (co-editor) The Challenge of Shalom: The Jewish Tradition of Peace & Justice (New Society); When Can I Come Home? about Americans who fled to Canada and elsewhere to avoid the Vietnam War; edited The Conquest of the U.S. by Spain, essays by William Graham Sumner; and written and edited many more books. His writings have appeared in the NY Times, Washington Monthly, Newsday, Nation, Commonweal, antiwar.com, Lewrockwell.com, academic journals, and History News Network, et.al. He edited Present Tense magazine for 18 years as well as Fellowship magazine and has been a book packager, book publisher and book seller.