NEW YORK, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- The other day on a CNN morning show all three hosts said what a glorious thing it would be if we brought back compulsory military draft. They then followed up with an e-mail poll that showed 90 percent support for their idea.
I'm sorry, but my Irony Meter couldn't keep up with this one. It circled around the dial three times and flew plumb off.
Was this the same CNN that's constantly hammered by Fox News for being pinkos? Haven't we tried this idea three times in our history already and found out that it pretty much stinks? Is nobody bothered by the idea of compulsory ANYTHING in a country devoted to the opposite ideal?
These were all old people, of course. CNN's demographics "skew older," as they say, especially since it was a school day, so everyone potentially affected by the draft was in class and couldn't vote. It's no novel thing to see old people sacrificing the lives and bodies of young people for their own causes, but why was there not a single voice saying, "Uh, I believe that you should poll people aged 12 to 24 before you base anything on these results"?
As I've said many times, the single most oppressed class in America right now is the teenager. He can't drink but he can theoretically be forced to die for his country. If he commits a crime, he's assumed to be a mature adult, but if he asks for a mature adult's privilege, he's told he's a child. He's constantly told when, where and how he should explore his sexuality. His tastes in music are routinely ridiculed by the mass media. And everyone pretty much ignores the fact that on college campuses, and even high school campuses, you have today the very strong beginnings of an anti-war movement, not to mention an anti-Israel movement.
If you want to see how much people REALLY believe in a compulsory draft, why limit it to age 18 to 25? Most jobs in our modern armed forces don't require exceptional strength or agility or even physical fitness. That's one reason we're able to accommodate so many women, no matter how petite they are. Many of the high-tech weapons are operated from inside bunkers and on the decks of battleships, and require more computer skills than anything else.
I once spent a day with the crew of a navy ship that can launch Tomahawk missiles from a thousand miles away. The duty officer ran a simulation for me, in which we blew up targets in Denver and Seattle, and I asked him what he does after the missile is actually launched but has that two-hour flight to reach its destination. He says, "Well, during the Gulf War, we would turn on CNN and wait to see if we hit the target."
In other words, it's not exactly risky duty. So why not expand the universal draft to, say, age 65? Bring EVERYBODY in.
Tell Bill Gates he needs to take off two years from Microsoft to serve his country. Check out Madonna on an M-16. Haul in those Wall Street guys who like to speculate on military contracts but might feel different about actually squatting in a tank all day.
NOW let's see how popular it is.
But aside from the civil rights aspect of it, the idea is just plain silly on several other levels. Not that it may not happen. The Universal Military Training and Service Act of 2001 was introduced in the House last December by two Republicans, and it's just waiting for activation. Lest you miss the import of the title, the idea would be to make EVERYONE from 18 to 25 serve six to 12 months, either in the military or, if that was not possible, some civilian corps. And this would be in times of peace as well as times of war.
First of all, six to 12 months is not long enough to train even the most common of infantrymen, much less the modern sergeant, who's more likely than not to have a masters degree. This is not the Vietnam era. Everything changed in Bosnia, when General Wesley Clark proved that you could fight a war with high-level precision air strikes and a bare minimum of ground action.
And even when we do use ground troops, they need two to three years experience on the sophisticated weaponry they carry. We've already got a problem with investing in these guys and then watching them fail to re-enlist. We need professional career soldiers, not guys who are bused in for a year to basically waste everyone's time. You can hardly get a guy classified, inducted and put through boot camp in six months, much less give him any reasonable training.
Secondly, and more important, it's just flat un-American. In fact, this is the first time since the founding of the nation that any large number of people have called for a permanent compulsory draft. The Founding Fathers were all about volunteer armies. George Washington didn't need a draft. Why should Donald Rumsfeld need one? If enough people perceive enough of a threat to their liberty, they'll sign up. This has always been the first rule of our civilian-controlled armed forces.
Even though we've had three drafts in the past, I actually think they're unconstitutional. The Constitution says that militias may be raised for only three reasons: to repel an invasion (not happening), suppress an insurrection (not happening), or execute the laws (not happening).
The first time Congress tried to institute a draft, in the War of 1812, Daniel Webster blew it out of the water. "Where is it written in the Constitution," he said, "in what article or section is it contained, that you may take children from their parents, and parents from their children, and compel them to fight the battles of any war, in which the folly or the wickedness of Government may engage it?"
This is the sentiment that prevailed for two centuries, but now, for some strange reason, we seem to be moving in the opposite direction. How long will it be before we have someone like Mordechai Bar-On, former Chief Education Officer of the Israeli Army, who speaks of "the sacred principle of a universal draft"?
A universal draft is most often the instrument of Third World dictators. Even in Russia, where they're not prone to observe the niceties of civil rights, the generals speak of their "great dream" -- to end the compulsory draft and have a fully professional army.
The great thing about a volunteer army is that it forces the military to offer something of value to the guy who signs up. He might get a free college education, he might get some kind of rare technical training, he might even do it for the money. But he's regarded as a free-thinking patriot who has to be taken care of in some way. Contrast that with the way the Vietnam draftees felt -- like cattle being sent to slaughter. Which is likely to create the greater social problems later?
Then there's the fact that we already have a MILLION reserves. How many guys does it take to defeat Saddam Hussein? Something tells me the total figure will be well short of a million.
Actually, I don't even think this discussion has anything to do with the needs of the military. I got the impression, from the comments and emails, that the people in favor of a compulsory draft were more interested in indoctrinating young people than in beefing up the armed services.
"There are no free rides in life!" was the sacred mantra from several of them. The idea was that 18-year-olds should be forced to go through military training because it would teach them some kind of lesson about how grateful they should be. For the ones unfit for military service, there was talk of sending them into ghettos, hospitals and nursing homes as a kind of domestic Peace Corps. There were constant references to Boot Camp, as though it were some kind of end in itself. The idea is that someone who goes through Boot Camp ends up a better person. They come out disciplined and patriotic and moral.
What a wonderfully Soviet idea -- that we have the power to MAKE people become good citizens. All those famous soldiers who passed through the rigors of Boot Camp -- Lee Harvey Oswald, Charles Whitman, Timothy McVeigh, John Muhammad -- no doubt cheated on their pushups or they would have become community leaders. The fact is, Boot Camp can be just as destructive as it is constructive, depending on the person. We've all seen "Full Metal Jacket."
So what is this about really? I think it's about fear and sacrifice. The vast middle class is fearful and paranoid. They want to offer some sacrifice to the gods of self-denial. So they offer up their children -- or, more cynically, other people's children.
We should heed the words of a famous man who explained just exactly why the compulsory permanent draft violates our freedoms. That kind of conscription, he said, "rests on the assumption that your kids belong to the state. If we buy that assumption then it is for the state -- not for parents, the community, the religious institutions or teachers -- to decide who shall have what values and who shall do what work, when, where and how in our society. That assumption isn't a new one. The Nazis thought it was a great idea."
Who said it? Some long-haired 60s draft resister? Some pacifist Harvard professor? Ronald Reagan said it. I had no idea he was such a wussy-boy.
(Joe Bob Briggs writes a number of columns for UPI and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his Web site at
joebobbriggs.com. Snail mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas 75221.)