Monday, August 25, 2008

McCain, Reality, and the Military Draft

The possibility that Republican presidential candidate John McCain, if elected, might reinstitute a military draft has become hot news lately.

Keith Olbermann devoted major time to the topic last Thursday and Friday on MSNBC's Countdown. The Keith O pieces were driven by McCain's answer to a woman's question at a town-hall campaign stop in New Mexico.

Here at Legal Schnauzer, this got us to thinking about the draft in larger terms--particularly terms that apply to the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

A strong case can be made that George W. Bush is both the worst and the dumbest president we've ever had. But bad, dumb people can teach us valuable lessons--in a "never again" kind of way.

To borrow a phrase from Keith O, the real "Worst Person in the World," perhaps was Adolph Hitler. But he taught horrible and indelible lessons, which are embodied in the Jewish Defense League's motto--Never again.

I can think of two "never again" lessons that George W. Bush has taught us:

* Never again must we allow anyone to corruptly use our Justice Department for political reasons.

* Never again must we go to war--a defensive (just) war, a preemptive war, or any other kind of war--without instituting a military draft.

When Congress abolished the military draft in 1973--I was a junior in high school at the time--I doubt that any Americans could envision a day when the United States would start a war, when we would attack a sovereign nation that posed no clear threat to our national interests.

But the Bush administration has shown that such a thing can happen. And without a military draft, it can happen with only a tiny fraction of the population making any sacrifice--and an even more tiny fraction actually serving.

This creates a political sense of unreality that my wife and I witness most every day, primarily because we live in what is generally considered the most conservative county in Alabama. I would guess that at least 95 percent of the people in our neighborhood who voted in the last two presidential elections, voted for George W. Bush. And quite a few of those people had boys (and girls) who were in the prime draft age range--or soon would be.

But the conservatives in my middle-class neighborhood aren't the least bit concerned that their Justins and Jessicas are going to wind up in Iraq. In fact, I doubt that it's ever crossed their minds. So they can slap a "Support Our Troops" bumper sticker on their SUV and drive around feeling patriotic, knowing they helped put Dubya in charge.

As a result we are living in a Through the Looking Glass world that even Lewis Carroll could not have imagined. The people who actually lived through World War II, and sacrificed as a result, must think, "Something isn't right with this picture."

What isn't right? We are at war without a military draft. And it must never happen again. We've allowed an incompetent president to redefine what war means to a democratic society. It has sanitized and marginalized war. And it has made it all too easy for the United States to actually initiate a war--something that once was unthinkable.

How bad is it for our men and women who are serving in the military? Time magazine recently reported that the stress is so great that antidepressants are being given in mass quantities to keep the troops functional.

Perhaps worst of all, our modern ability to conduct a "war without pain" has perverted our political process. A voter can mindlessly vote for a supposed "hawk" (like Bush) without ever having to worry that anyone he knows or cares about will actually have to sacrifice.

So what should we do about it? I don't like the thought of a military draft any more than most people. But I've decided we must have a draft, under certain circumstances, if for no other reason than to protect us from our own worst urges.

Our Schnauzer proposal: In times of peace, we will have a volunteer military. But we cannot go to war, or even prepare for the possibility of war, without instituting a military draft.

We could call it the "No War Without a Draft Law (NWWDL)."

I don't know what kind of political and legislative action would be needed to turn such an idea into law. But I think it is critical that action is taken so that we "never again" will have another George W. Bush fiasco.

Consider these questions:

* With NWWDL in place, what would the chances have been that the Bush administration would initiate the Iraq War? Almost zero.

* If Bush had started the Iraq War, with NWWDL in place, what would have been his chances of getting re-elected? Absolutely zero.

I'm liking this idea more and more.

And perhaps it would add a touch of sanity to modern politics. For now, the draft is such a touchy topic, that even veterans groups can't seem to agree on it.

On Countdown with Keith O last week, Jonathan Soltz of said the majority of vets are against a draft. The reasoning? No one wants to be serving on a dangerous mission alongside someone who doesn't want to be there.

The next night, Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America told Keith O the majority of vets support a draft. The reasoning? Those who serve are tired of putting their lives on the line while a huge majority of draft-age Americans don't contribute to the war effort.

Rieckhoff's reasoning rings more true to me. Even those who serve voluntarily probably cannot honestly say they "want to be there" when a dangerous mission comes up. They'd probably rather be back home on a base playing war games.

But if they are on a dangerous mission, they probably would like to be sharing that responsibility with a cross-section of their fellow Americans. And NWWDL would help ensure that we have enough bodies to conduct a war properly, without having our troops stretched nearly to the breaking point.

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