Saturday, November 06, 2004

The Draft: After I Get Out of the Army

I remember hanging out with the guys in the "smoking pit" at the end of Oak Hall, at High school. It wasn't a pit but just an area at one end of that section of class rooms where smoking was allowed.

I and most of my friends were seventeen, on the verge of having to register for the draft, at 18.

The draft and the war, but mostly the draft, was a daily topic of smoking pit conversation.
It seemed that half the guys I knew were sure they wouldn't get drafted. Like Bob, a clean cut but cool guy who told us, at least once a week, that his aunts and grandmother assured him his back was bad and his feet were flat and none of his uncles passed their physicals in WWII. No way would he get drafted.

Everybody had bad knees or weak ankles, sick mothers, or some sort of get out of jail free card, regarding the draft. I don't know if they really believed it or if those were just reassuring stories they told themselves, to be able to ignore what was on the horizon for all of us. I do know that most of them, and their aunts, were wrong.

Standing in the cold morning air, crouched over cigarettes, stamping the penny loafers that were a 'must have' in 1967, guys in their last year or two of high school talked a lot about the things they were planning to do with their lives. Trades, businesses, marriages, schools, etc.

For this crop of working class boys, virtually every statement and rejoinder was prefaced with the phrase, "When I get out of the army?" I remember over hearing that phrase, several times, every day. Anytime a guy talked about what he wanted to do with his life.

We didn't actually talk about the war very much. We talked about the draft, we talked about girls, cars, jokes, and parents, told lies about girls and risky adventures, talked about the looming draft and talked mostly about "When I get out of the army."

When the draft was finally abolished, by Nixon, I hoped that mine would be the last generation of young Americans to view the future as something that happens after you get out of the army. Like so many of us, I thought that would be the case, until recently.

Even hard core Republicans, such as my father have come to see Vietnam as a "tragic mistake that should never have happened". Dad gives himself a pass on his former support for the war and his willingness to feed me to the war machine, because "We just didn't know what was really going on".

Well, I accept that. With a view of the world and America and the meaning of patriotism shaped by the experience of the second world war, his generation was damned slow to see and recognize what was going on around them.

That level of ignorance may be forgivable, the first time. But, not again.

No one in mine or my fathers generation can pretend that we haven't seen this particular evil raise it's head before. None of us can excuse, going along with this madness, with a pretense of ignorance and innocence. It's way too late for that. Our generations have lived that bit of history and there is no excuse for not recognizing what is happening in Iraq and the flimsy lies that are used to justify it.

Say what they will, the Army and Marines are grossly over extended. Recruitments are way down as the corporate and political motivations for this war become more apparent and as it is becoming obvious that a contract with the military is binding only on the enlistee. This government can and will change the terms of the contract on a presidential whim.

Massive numbers of new bodies are needed, just to maintain present commitments. Virtually our entire military is in Iraq, right now. They are over extended, under supplied, with troops who have been in a combat zone for much too long, already.

The draft is coming back. There is no other way to maintain the number of troops needed. America has under taken an aggressive imperial policy that will demand more bodies than a professional all volunteer force can provide. The draft is coming back.

Eighteen to thirty four year olds, this time. A whole new generation of young Americans viewing the future as something that happens after you get out of the army. Assuming you get out of the army.

Afghanistan was understandable, inevitable even. Iraq raises the thorny question of why, in the minds of future casualty figures. The young Americans needed to pull off this corporate coup, are asking that question. They will begin to ask it more and more. It is a simple and very important question that will not answered.

We've seen it before. I saw it before and I know how important the question becomes to those who view the future as something that happens, when you get out of the army.


At 11:51 PM, Blogger R said...

Ha! So prophetic. My best friend from college, Tom, was in the military in the 90's (post Gulf War I) then he got out to go to college. He wanted to go back in as an officer to get enough money to finish a masters degree, but they learned his eye sight wasn't so good. So not only was he not going to be an officer..they were about to boot him out of the reserves. Cut to this year. Tom is in Iraq. Not as an officer. Bad sight and all. God bless him.


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