Since today is Memorial Day, I’m going to dust off a nearly six-year-old Isthmus column in which I argued we should should restore the draft. Yup, everybody should serve their country. Here is an excerpt:
Former Gov. Tony Earl grew up in the postwar days of universal military conscription when everybody from Elvis Presley to Phillip Roth did a stint for Uncle Sam. After earning a B.A. from Michigan State and a law degree from the University of Chicago, Earl enlisted in the Navy for four years, from 1961 to 1965.
“It wasn’t a matter of whether you went into the military, it was when,” he recalls. “I had a couple of options: I could get drafted or I could join. I thought of the old line: ‘Join the Navy and see the world.’ I ended up spending better than two years in Norfolk, Virginia, which was not my idea of high adventure.
“But the military was filled with people in the same situation,” Earl says. “We all had to go. People weren’t necessarily crazy about it but you regarded it — this may sound high-minded — as part of your civic duty. You went. I think most of my peers felt the same way.”
Today, in an era of gated communities, privatized public services, Blackwater mercenaries and revived left wing suspicion of the military, the notion of everyone pitching in for the common defense is downright quaint.
Predictably, radio banshees like Vicki McKenna dig their talons into anti-war activists for protesting Army recruitment, but conveniently ignore that the leading Republican voices, as card-carrying members of the economic elite, also show their own personal disdain for military service.
The millionaire venture capitalist/presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and his five sons are a case in point. Not one has served a day in the armed forces. Yet candidate Romney seems quite willing as a would-be president to use other parents’ sons and daughters to enforce his bellicose worldviews.
Of course, graying boomers like me who avoided the Vietnam war belatedly realized how selfish people are when they let others do the dieing in times of war.
President Nixon, the ultimate political cynic, trumped the anti-war movement in 1973 when he ended the hugely unpopular draft, buying himself another two years of mass killing in southeast Asia.
Don Downs worries that the civilian-military gap is weakening the nation’s democratic fabric. On sabbatical from teaching, the UW prof is researching a new book on university life and the college-based Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
He notes that ROTC has traditionally been justified as a democratic mechanism to diversify an officer corps that otherwise would be dominated by insular service academy graduates. But he’s focusing his research on the other side of the equation: How the university experience is enriched by students being exposed to ROTC and by studying military history.
Like the social philosopher Christopher Lasch in his 1995 book, The Revolt Of The Elites And The Betrayal Of Democracy, Downs sees the upper class withdrawing from the common demands of citizenship, including military service.
“The elites are, in a sense, buying themselves out of certain obligations to the common culture,” Downs says. “Their attitude towards the military is symptomatic of that.”
Tony Earl agrees. “I don’t think it’s healthy at all,” he says. “When the elite of our society have enjoyed the benefits of society but disdain the military and regard it as more appropriate for people of lesser standing, they do themselves and the country a terrible disservice.”
To read the column, please go here.