“Bring back the draft!”


Some time ago, I was working in an office one night, and someone barged into the room. He had on a cut-off sweatshirt, I think cut-off jeans, and I know he had loafers on with no socks. I didn’t know who he was. He said, “Move and you’re dead.” And he had a gun pointed right at me. I didn’t move, so I am not dead. It turned out the office I was “working” in was the Douglas County Draft Board Office, in Alexandria, Minnesota, and it was a few minutes past midnight, forty years ago tonight, and the fellow with the gun, whom I didn’t know, was an F.B.I. agent. The first thought that went through my mind was, “So, Bill, this was not a treasure hunt we were on!”
I have heard too many times during the last few years, “If only we had a draft, people would have a stake in the war(s), college students would be protesting in droves, and we could put the war(s) to an end.” Even some who regard themselves as progressives take this position. This is a bad idea.
Whose stake? As usual, those who call for a draft are not calling for themselves to be drafted. It’s the 45- to 65-year-olds calling for a draft of young people. Given the technology of modern warfare, those supporting the draft could just as easily fire drones from Nevada as any young person could. It is so easy to give someone else a “stake” in the war.
“Poverty” Draft. The draft supporters say it’s immoral for low income people and racial minorities, whose opportunities are limited, to be forced to fight our wars for us. The only study I am familiar with about the “poverty” draft was done by the right-wing Heritage Foundation. Because of limited data, the study used median incomes for census tracts from which enlistees came. Using this data, it claimed that enlistees had incomes slightly above the median.
Should we equalize infant mortality rates too? Even if the data showed there was a “poverty” draft, that still wouldn’t justify re-instating the draft. There is also an income disparity in infant mortality rates. The lower the income, the greater the infant mortality. Maybe if we equalized that suffering, middle and upper income people would force changes in our Neanderthal health care system. To equalize the burden, maybe we should kill one out of every hundred of rich people’s newborn babies. That is obviously preposterous.
Why should the burden be on young people? Those who favor bringing back the draft lament the lack of protest among young people. If only we had a draft, young people would be expressing their outrage on the campuses and in the streets. These young people were not the ones responsible for failing to rein in those in whose interests our wars are fought. But the draft supporters want to put the responsibility on the young to correct the failures of the old. Young people shouldn’t have to bear the burden of ending wars for which they were hardly responsible.
Ending the draft was a victory. One of the major victories of the anti-war and anti-imperialist movements of the ’60s and ’70s was ending the draft. The powers-that-be no longer had an endless supply of bodies, of cannon fodder, to fight their wars. We should not voluntarily give back this hard-won obstacle to the war machine. Enhancing the government’s war-fighting capacity in the hopes of increasing protest is like bringing on fascism so we can have a revolution. Those least likely to suffer are often the most vociferous in pushing such strategies.
Opposition to the draft was not an isolated phenomenon. Rather it was part of an oppositional culture of the times: the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, gay liberation, drugs. It was part of emerging understandings of who we were as men and women, as sexual beings, as members of racial and ethnic groups. Bringing back the draft would not necessarily bring back that oppositional culture. Moreover, even in that environment of resistance, most just went along.
We should not minimize what we did in ending the draft. Does anyone seriously doubt, with the limitless supply of cheap soldiers a draft would provide, that we would not have already invaded Iran? The exorbitant costs of expanding even further the vast army of private contractors should not be minimized as a limitation on our imperialistic adventures.
In short, it’s up to us to end these wars. Putting the burden on young people by bringing back the draft is immoral, short-sighted and irresponsible. We are the ones who must assume the responsibility for our generation’s actions.