Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Why We Don't Need the Draft Back

July 2, 2004

In the Washington Post on July 1, Noel Koch made the case for “Why We Need the Draft Back.” He argued: “we do not have enough men and women in our armed forces. Reliance on reserves and the National Guard is creating strains along the socioeconomic spectrum and is not an endlessly sustainable expedient. If we are to fight elective wars, as we are told we must, we need more men and women on active duty.”

War, as humans killing one another using simple or complex killing tools, cannot be an “endlessly sustainable” enterprise. Eventually, everyone will be dead.

We need not fight elective wars: by definition, they are chosen wars, and American citizens choose them, through our elected government if it is responsive, and through our silent, tacit cooperation if our elected government is unresponsive. No one tells American citizens what to do – no one other than American citizens.

Koch made other points: that joining the Army in 1957 was, for him, one of many expectations to fulfill – like marriage and having children – and he suggested that the draft “shattered class distinctions,” although he listed numerous examples of clashes between rich and poor soldiers during training and on active duty.

Most distressingly, he suggested that because of the draft, “[c]lass lines blurred and so did racial lines. The military did more to advance the cause of equality in the United States than any other law, institution or movement.”

This is a shocking insult to the courageous, and non-violent, work of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement he led, which included outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War as immoral, racist and exploitative, until his tragic assassination.

It is a shocking denial of the current state of race relations in America, where black voters are still systematically denied the right to participate in democracy; where the racist legal system still disproportionately imprisons black and Hispanic males; where the racist economy still puts the burdens of unemployment and affordable housing shortages overwhelmingly in black and Hispanic communities; where racist school segregation is widespread and growing; and where the military still focuses recruitment efforts in poor black and Hispanic neighborhoods whose inhabitants – for all of the above reasons – see no possible route out of poverty other than learning to kill on command.

It is also a willful denial of the current state of class relations in America, ignoring the well-documented fact that for the past several decades, wealth has been flowing up the pyramid, out of the hands of the poor and middle class and into the hands of the wealthiest few.
Koch argues that draftees went home after Vietnam with “an investment in America not shared by those who did not serve” and suggests that readers “try to find a draftee who regrets his service to America.”

It is a lie to suggest that love of country depends upon killing in the name of one’s country; love and killing are incompatible. But perhaps Koch was not referring to the investment of love, but to an investment in war, in promoting war ideology, to retroactively justify the wars of the past by recreating them in the present. Such an investment would probably not be shared by non-combatants.

It is also a lie to erase from history and current events the thousands of Vietnam veterans who came home deeply scarred by what they had seen and done, full of incisive, vital questions about why they had been sent to Vietnam to begin with, and deeply committed to non-violent work against the Vietnam war and all war.

Many of those veterans were active in the movement against the first Gulf War. Many of them are active in the movement against the current war and occupation in Iraq. And many experienced military leaders who did not become pacifists during Vietnam nonetheless had grave reservations about our current elective war – before it was launched right up until the present day. They have written and spoken eloquently about the damage done to America’s moral standing and credibility in the world. Their speeches and letters have been filled with regret about atrocities committed by America’s military in America’s name.

Koch argues that America needs a new draft “to honor, and to even out, the sacrifices we call upon our young to make for our nation.” For American pacifists, however, there is nothing honorable about killing human beings, and we have no right to sacrifice the lives of our children on the altar of more killing. Our duty is the opposite: to make peace a present reality through peaceful means.


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