Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Draft Rumor

For the record, I don’t believe for a moment that either candidate intends to reinstate the draft. Nor do I believe that either one as president could get the measure through Congress even if he did want one (and this includes Kerry’s compulsory national service proposal scrubbed from his website earlier this year).

That being said, I’m not really angry about the Kerry campaign (with another CBS assist) trying to float the rumor. I’m actually mildly amused. I think it’s yet another example of Kerry’s Vietnam era nostalgia blinding him to how that topic might play to young people not from his own era.

A little personal background. Back around the time of the first Gulf War (late 1990 / early 1991) I was finishing up my undergrad degree in college. My roommates and I (two of them graduating the same year, another, the year following) all devotedly followed the buildup to what was even at the time described as history’s first “television” war on CNN. I vividly remember the dire predictions of casualties in imminent outbreak of the ground war. It was argued by some that the U. S. would likely lose upward of 100,000 troops in the first month of hostilities. This lead to inevitable speculation on the part of some media analysts that such an event would result in the prospect of a drawn out war, and the necessity of a new draft.

I could simply draw a lesson here that since the analysts were wrong then in their assumptions, they’re likely wrong now, and leave it at that. But there’s more.

At the time, I personally bought into the pessimistic analysis. I assumed that after the ground war broke out a new draft would shortly ensue. I discussed this with my roommates, who essentially shrugged it off as not something they worried about. But I wasn’t so blasé.

I discussed it with my fiancé at the time (who is now my wife). I told her that I thought a draft might be coming, and why. And I also told her that should there be a need for a draft, I wasn’t going to wait. I was going to volunteer.

Big deal. I’m a big frothing-at-the-mouth right winger, right? Probably couldn’t wait to blow up third-world children.

But actually, I wasn’t a conservative at this stage of my life. I was still a liberal (closer to the Roger L. Simon mold, than the Michael Moore one). I had opposed President Bush in the previous election, and would do so again in 1992 (I’ve long since apologized). So why didn’t the rumor of a draft send me to one of the campus protests (which never became more than half-hearted events, despite the best attempts of the radical campus groups)? Why did it darn near send me to a military recruiter?

For the same reason I think a lot of current college students wouldn’t respond like extras in a Woodstock revival, the way the Kerry campaign seems to assume.

That moment was more than a “wake-up” call to me, prompting opposition to the war. It was also a “grow-up” call.

I had a grandfather whom I loved and admired a lot. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, he had a new daughter on the way (my mother). He was already in his 30’s, a dentist, and not at great risk of being sent overseas even if he was drafted. But when he heard the news, he immediately joined the Navy and volunteered for combat duty. When I asked him about it (for a school project in high-school – the first time he talked seriously about the topic to me) he simply said it wasn’t a hard decision. He didn’t try to make himself a hero over it. Without him using the word, the sense he conveyed was one of civic duty. A sense that the sooner they all pitched in to get it done, the sooner regular life could resume.

I thought a lot about my grandfather the moment I had to consider a new draft on a personal level. Sure, I knew about the Vietnam era, and the draft-card burnings, and all the rest. But standing on the doorstep of adulthood, that stuff seemed like just more college goofing off to me. Not the way a man ought to handle himself when faced with that kind of need from his country. I certainly wasn’t eager to leave the comforts of home for a rigid military life, and the prospect of real danger. But if the need came, I wasn’t going to duck it either.

It never came to that, obviously (though looking back at the aimless wandering of my early 20’s, I suspect it would have done me good). But the lesson I draw from it now is not to assume the children of today will act like the children of the 60’s when faced with the prospect of a draft. Many of them might have the opposite reaction. It could even force some of them to start thinking like adults for the first time. It could make some of them wake up to the fact that they’re not so fond of a party that at times seems to be, if not actively supporting, at least not terribly concerned about U. S. failure in Iraq. Remember, these kids saw 9-11 as clearly as you or me.

So, other than being supportive of those exposing the draft rumor as a scare-tactic and a lie in the interest of simple honesty, I’m really not bothered by the draft rumor overall. I think the draft-card burning faction is already in Kerry’s camp, and the tactic may bump a few more over to Bush even should the rumor be widely believed.

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